Way, way back in time… June 21, 2022 to be exact… I set myself the challenge of reading, in 2023, twelve very long books, one a month over the course of the year. Being a man of my word, come January 2023, I dived in head first, working through the shelf of twelve long books I’d set up months before, beginning with the longest of them, Tolstoy’s War & Peace, weighing in at an absurd 1500 pages spread over four volumes. I set schedules for myself, read, read some more, made notes in the margins, and was maybe as far as halfway through Volume One when January turned into February.

Undaunted, reminding myself that the challenge was to read twelve really long books in 2023, not necessarily one every month, I continued with War & Peace while adding The Essential Ellison, 1012 pages of the works of my favorite author of all time.

And I remained happily being prompted at random to read one of the books from my various collections, and all the magazines I subscribed to…

And now I’ve come to the last day in February, having been prompted more often that I’d imagined to read various books I really want to read, while inexorably plowing through two gigantic mega-tomes, and I just… can’t.

I surrender.

I am currently on page 480 of 515 pages of the first of four volumes of January’s long read, War & Peace.

I am currently on page 581 of 1012 pages of The Essential Ellison.

Yes, my computer monitor wallpaper is the classic Fiend Folio cover.

And I’m also reading Tom Swift and His Atomic Earth BlasterAsimov’s from a year ago (March/April 2022), Perry Rhodan #2: The Radiant Dome, and the ACE SF Double Bring Back Yesterday by A. Bertram, Chandler/The Trouble with Tycho by Clifford Simak.

And I also work full time, which, by the way, is, y’know… reading books.

And I occasionally sleep.

I have two dogs.

And errands.

And other stuff.

But worst of all, I had added daily reading goals to my to do list: Read two chapters of War & Peace, Read two Ellison stories, etc., which had the effect of changing reading for pleasure into reading for work—and I do enough of that already. And just as bad… there are a bunch of great, shorter books—even longer or semi-long (or whatever) books—I’m not reading, and that sucks. I’m not reading any non-fiction right now, for instance. No poetry. No plays. No graphic novels. That’s not okay.

So here I am, only two months into a twelve-month challenge waving the white flag of surrender.

Here’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to read two chapters of War & Peace a day until I’ve finished it—not because I feel compelled to do so (it will not be on my daily to do list), but because I want to. It’s actually an advisable and doable way to read a book like that.

I’m going to finish The Essential Ellison because I love it.

I’m going to keep reading all my random prompt books, because I love them, too.

And I’m going to keep my long book shelf intact.

When I finish The Essential Ellison, which I’ll surely finish before War & Peace, I’ll go back to reading other stuff—literary or other-than-SF/F genre fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, graphic novels… whatever I want to read in the moment.

When I finish War & Peace, I’ll dive into the next long book, which happens to be Don Quixote, so in the end I’ll be reading one long book, one magazine, various random prompt books, and one other book of my choice across any category or genre.

How long will it take me to get through this long book shelf one at a time? I have no idea, and in the spirit of fully shedding any sense of reading as work, I will not allow myself to care. I’m going to read these books because I want to, and that’s all the reason anyone needs to read any book.

—Philip Athans

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In Writing Monsters, best-selling author Philip Athans uses classic examples from books, films, and the world around us to explore what makes monsters memorable—and terrifying.

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About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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2 Responses to I SURRENDER

  1. mjtedin says:

    I loved War and Peace when I read it. I was young an energetic then. I tried Don Quixote and Les Miserable, both of which are loooong. I didn’t finish either of them.

  2. mjtedin says:

    Because I loved War and Peace, I thought I’d read Anna Karennina, also by Tolstoy. I didn’t finish that because it was boring. I guess some old masters have their duds too.

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