On Reading Long Books

Time was, I’d buy long books and devour them. I’d read them in the evening, often staying up late, absorbed by a work of fiction or non-fiction. I’ve always liked long books; the kind that you read for weeks at a time. I read fairly quickly – not through any form of speed reading – so back in the day when I had a one-hour commute morning and evening, having a 500-plus page book meant that I’d have enough to keep me going for a while.

I like the fact that with a long book – such as Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, arguably not one book, or James Joyce’s Ulysses, or lesser know big tomes such as Russel Banks’ unjustly ignored Cloudsplitter (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), or Gregory David Roberts Shantaram (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), or so many others – you immerse yourself in a world that is enveloping, absorbing, that takes you on a long journey.

But in recent years, I’ve found that I don’t get along well with very long books any more. Perhaps it’s age, perhaps it’s a reduced attention span, but I don’t find it as interesting to sit down to read one of these long books. Sure, I read some – Richard Russo’s astounding Anybody’s Fool (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), a sequel to his equally wonderful Nobody’s Fool, for example – but I hesitate now when I see a large page count. I keep putting off buying Richard Powers’ latest novel The Overstory (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), even though he is one of my favorite authors, because it clocks in at more than 500 pages, and I never even started John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), his latest book.

One reason for my shunning long books has to do with the publishers. More and more, long books in print use tiny fonts. This has lead me to buy Kindle versions of more books, because publishers try to keep the page count lower to save money. But even then, I often find myself bored, or at least less interested, in longer books. Part of this could be the authors and editors; maybe that book didn’t need those extra hundred pages.

Lately, I’m more drawn to books around 200 pages long, often in a size that is similar to the standard trade paperback. I can read these books in an evening, perhaps two, and there’s no fat. Julian Barnes’ masterful The Only Story (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is one example. At 224 pages, with a comfortable font, I read it in about three or four hours, one long evening where I couldn’t go to sleep until I finished it. And I have recently ordered two other short books: Last Stories, the final collection of short stories by the inimitable William Trevor (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), and Upstate by critic James Wood (Amazon.com, Amazon UK).

I won’t shun long books forever, but sometimes it’s nicer to read something that is concise, without Rushdian digressions or Pynchonesque casts of characters. A good story, well told, doesn’t always need to be 500 pages long.

Photo Book Review: Mont St. Michel, by Michael Kenna

Kenna msmMichael Kenna got access to Mont St. Michel at night, when there were no people, and shot these stunning photos of the island and its structures. Often long exposures, he captures this memorable site, its contrasts, and it’s shapes. As always with Kenna’s photos, he focuses on the light and shadow, the subtle contrasts between shades, and the forms and shapes that we often ignore.

Read the rest of the review on my photo website.

Photo Book Review: Bill Brandt, Shadow & Light

BrandtBill Brandt was born in Germany, and moved to England when he was around 30 years old. He began documenting British people, at a time when this wasn’t a common way to make photographs, and published two books in the 1930s. He then went on to shoot photos for popular magazines, and became one of the greatest British photographers.

This book, Bill Brandt: Shadow & Light (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is a retrospective of his work.

Read the rest of the review on my photo website.

Get More from Your Wi-Fi Network with Take Control of Wi-Fi Networking and Security

TCoWiFiNetworkingandSecurity 1 0 coverThe world of wireless networking is constantly evolving. For the past 15 years or so, Glenn Fleishman has been carefully studying the ins and outs of Wi-Fi in its various forms and helping tens of thousands of people understand how best to make use of this essential technology—in part, by way of five previous Take Control titles on Wi-Fi. Those earlier books focused mainly on Apple’s Wi-Fi products, but now that Apple no longer makes AirPort devices, Glenn has written a new book that takes his well-respected advice on wireless networking in other directions: Take Control of Wi-Fi Networking and Security

If your Wi-Fi network is unreliable or offers insufficient coverage, if you’re designing a new Wi-Fi system for your home or office, or if you want to take advantage of the enhanced performance and modern features of newer equipment, Take Control of Wi-Fi Networking and Security contains all the information you need to make smart decisions and get the most out of your hardware. You’ll learn about selecting and placing gateways (and when you should consider a range extender or mesh system), configuring devices, improving throughput, troubleshooting, keeping your network secure, and much more. And, this new book covers every major operating system—macOS, Windows 10, iOS, Android, and even Chrome OS.

This 122-page book costs just $12.99. And, although Glenn’s previous book (Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network) is no longer for sale, everyone who buys the new book can also download a free copy of the old one, for additional advice on setting up any existing Apple Wi-Fi products. (See download instructions on page 5 of the new PDF.)

Get Take Control of Wi-Fi Networking and Security now.

Get a Photo Book Every Month with the Charcoal Book Club

I like photography as a hobby, craft, and as an art. If you follow my writings, you’ve seen that both here on Kirkville, and on my photo site (photos.kirkville.com) I’ve written about photo books that I like. I’ve written about books by some of my favorite photographers, such as William Eggleston, Joel Meyerowitz, Michael Kenna, Gary Winogrand, and others.

There are lots of great photo books out there, but there are many by photographers who are not so well known. For example, I recently came across a beautiful book by Mark Steinmetz, Paris in My Time, which contains some beautiful black and white street photos.

I came across the Charcoal Book Club recently. It is a curated, monthly service which sends you one photo book per month. I like this idea, and I especially like that the books that they have sent, and currently sell individually through their store, include some photographers I appreciate, such as Todd Hido, Jan Koudelka, Michael Kenna, and others. There is always the worry that you may get a book you don’t want, but they let you know in advance what the next book will be, and you can swap it for something they have in their store, so I’m not worried about ending up with lemons.

So far I’ve gotten two books, and they are both very interesting, by photographers that I wouldn’t have found easily on my own. The service isn’t cheap – I’ve opted for the quarterly plan, which comes to $60 a book – but good photo books aren’t cheap, and I think it will expand my knowledge of photographers.

If you’re interested in joining, go here, and, when you get to the checkout, enter the discount code KIRKVILLE to save 10%. (I get a lagniappe for each person who signs up with this code.)