Saturday, September 17, 2011

How Many Pages Does It Take To Get To The Center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?

I'm about to start racking up overdue fines again. I placed a hold on Adam Levin's THE INSTRUCTIONS at the beginning of the summer, back when I would have had time to read all 1,030 pages of teeny-tiny print. But it didn't arrive at the library for me until 2 weeks ago. School was gearing back up and my time for reading was shrinking. I went to pick up the book and had quite a shock. It was over 3 inches thick. My hand barely reached from the back cover to the front. A brick pile of a book.

I started reading. Great voice, creative use of language, intriguing opening and premise - kind of a unibomber meets CATCHER IN THE RYE. But 1,000 pages? Really? Are you absolutely sure you couldn't tell this story in less than that? Where was this guy's editor? How in the world did this get published? Looking at the name of the publisher (McSweeney's Rectangulars) and Levin's bio, I'm guessing his short story successes opened the door for publishing THE INSTRUCTIONS. It seems well written (granted, I'm only 20 pages in), but I really don't believe you need that many pages to tell a good story. Honestly, it's like a dare to the reader.

Yes, yes, I know. Proust was 3-4,000 pages long, at least, depending on the edition. And there are actually people who've read the whole thing. You think he'd get it published today?

I really have no business judging if I don't finish the book. But returning it after 20 pages isn't likely to keep me up at nights - because, so far, the book isn't keeping me up at nights. I think the last book I read that was a similar length was probably MISTS OF AVALON by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It kept me up at night. I'd show up at work bleary-eyed because I couldn't stop reading. So far, that hasn't been the case for THE INSTRUCTIONS.

Anyway, I guess I'll never know if Levin's massive tome is worth it. Time's up, late fines are mounting and school's in session, which means my reading material can no longer include a 1,000 page experiment. I'll have to take the reviewer's word for it that this book was a "must-read." As in, someone has to tell you that you must read it or you'd never crack that huge block of paper.

Anybody else out there read THE INSTRUCTIONS? Am I being too snarky and cynical? Should I try again next summer when I have more time? Did it really need to be that long? Have I simply succumbed to the shortened attention span of the new millenium?

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