#20 in my 2007 book challenge was the 1474-page A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth.
But I too hate long books: the better, the worse. If they’re bad, they merely make me pant with the effort of holding them up for a few minutes. But if they’re good, I turn into a social moron for days, refusing to go out of my room, scowling and growling at interruptions, ignoring weddings and funerals, and making enemies out of friends. I still bear the scars of Middlemarch. (p. 1371-2)
My friend Thalia recommended A Suitable Boy to me to me at least a decade ago; it was so huge that I couldn’t work up the gumption even to buy it. But since Thalia was instrumental in helping me realize a recent three-week vacation (more on this, soon), I figured it was past time to honor her recommendation.
A Suitable Boy centers on a number several families and their criss-crossing lives. It’s set in post-Gandhi India. Family ties, and the tension between the Muslim and Hindu citizens of the newly independent country are two of the many themes that structure this complex, enriching and satisfying novel. I not only enjoyed the experience of reading ASB, but I also learned a great deal about a critical juncture in India’s history.
I also acquired an appreciation for the practice of bringing only one very long book on vacation. It allowed me a deep, focused reading experience and helped to situate me in a simple, relaxing, few-decisions-to-make, one-thing-at-a-time groove. All my reading life, I’ve fretted over what and how much reading material to bring on trips. I did the one-big-book-for-vacation thing once before, with Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, and had a similarly joyous reading experience. It takes some care, and some trust in the recommender, to choose the book. But it’s low risk, since bookstores, and other book sources (like informal resort libraries, personal collections, or other reading vacationers who are happy to pass on their just-read items) are often at hand. For my next trip, I’m considering Middlemarch, Mansfield Park, Bleak House and Anna Karenina.