“Large, loose, baggy monsters”: On Reading Really Long Books Through Winter

  • by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

Winter is coming”, they say. Well, it’s not just coming—it’s here. And, while Winter may be cold and dark and seemingly never-ending, the upside is that these characteristics surely make Winter the very best time of year to really indulge the yearning common to all readers: to be truly lost inside a really good book. And what better manner of book in which to do that losing – during these long days and even longer nights – than one of fabulously inordinate length?

And what better place to find such a voluminous tome than the vast and fathomless holdings of Leeds Central Library? There, the budding peruser of the prolonged will find many choices in the deep, dark depths of our collections: among other epic titles, the library holds copies of such dauntingly drawn-out works as Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past; and those Titans of the time-consuming – the enormously epic works of 18th and 19th-century novelists such as Samuel Richardson, William Makepeace Thackeray, George Eliot and Charles Dickens.

Just one of our vast and fathomless stacks, which contain around 250,000 books

Those lengthy Victorian novels of Dickens and others were famously described by American literary titan Henry James as “large, loose, baggy monsters”; James himself is the focus of another Leviathan of length held at the library: Leon Edel’s magisterial six-volume biography, one of the greatest works of its kind in the last century and a series of interest to anyone wanting to be fully immersed in the kind of life that defines an Age. James, an inveterate reader, was himself an admirer of the gigantically-ginormous 18th-century memoirs by the Duc de Saint-Simon – another life that is actually the story of its times; and we hold a copy of that monumentally-massive work – over 1,500 pages across three volumes.

The first page of Saint-Simon's memoirs...just 1,499 to go
The first page of Saint-Simon’s memoirs…just 1,499 to go

Memoirs and diaries are, of course, a truly fruitful source of the magnificently-mammoth. We hold many, many such works – with perhaps the most immense being that Cthulhu of the colossal, the diary of Samuel Pepys, which weighs in at a ludicrously limitless 12-volumes. About half as long are the diaries of Pepys’ contemporary, John Evelyn, while other masterpieces of literary munificence include the 10-volumes of Casanova’s History of My Life; the 9-volumes of James Agate’s complete memoirs; Gladstone’s 14-volumes of diaries; and the 12-volumes of Frances Burney’s journal.

Cthulhu of the colossal?
Cthulhu of the colossal?

And yet…the current reigning boss of the behemoths (as far as we can tell) in our collection is the immeasurably-infinite History of the Popes by Ludwig von Pastor: 40(!)-volumes of a dense (but fascinating) study of the Papacy since 1305, much of it sourced from the “secret archives of the Vatican”.*

So, pick up any one of these titles, get reading—and we’ll be into May before you can add “the Force be with you.”**

*That’s not including the 36-volumes of the History of the Second World War (United Kingdom Military Series), or the 47-volumes of Marx and Engels’ Collected Works, nor the 47 of Lenin’s, nor the 56-volumes of Martin Luther’s writings….

**Which seems an appropriate time – given George Lucas’ debt to its analysis of myth – to mention the 10-volumes of James Frazer’s eternally-everlasting The Golden Bough

On your Marx, get set - read!
On your Marx, get set – read!

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