The Case for Long Reads

The pilot’s voice was deep and fuzzy over the intercom as he told us all we were holding for just a moment as the gate cleared. I flipped the page of my book frantically, eyes scanning at twice their normal speed, ignoring those who were already unbuckling seat belts, turning on cellphones and starting to stretch. I was on page 557 out of 562, and I wanted– no, I needed– to finish the book I was reading, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski by the time we reached our final destination.Sawtelle

I had picked up the doorstop of a book at an estate sale two weeks before on a whim—I mean, it was $.50, and what kind of writer would I be not to stock up?—and had dug in, not sure of what I’d find. Over the next few days, during travel and vacation, I sat engrossed for hours at a time. In fact, when I was waiting at the airport to be picked up at the start of my vacation, I had been sucked so far into the story, that I actually needed to stop reading, because the story had become too intense.

Time, work and school don’t always allow for me to read such big books, but on occasion, they do. In the fall I sat for two days straight, plowing through East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. Some of the same themes—Cain and Abel, love and loss—actually bridges between the books, and I found myself thoroughly entrenched in the Salinas Valley and the large and small changes in the town, the aging characters and their deaths, and of course their redemptions.East of eden

Don’t get me wrong, I love shorter books. I read novellas and short stories and novels that come in under 300 pages. They’re all wonderful. But there’s something to be said for spending days wrapped up in the workings of the Sawtelle farm, training and raising pups and wandering in the woods. I picked it up after a few days off and felt like I was back among family. I was never at a loss for something to do because I knew they were waiting.

I don’t always want my books to be doorstops. I have a pile—just as most readers and writers do—that could stack from floor to ceiling multiple times, which I desperately want to read. But in the days of clickbait, constant scrolling and fleeting attention spans, it’s so very nice to stick with something for a long time and really soak it up.

We pulled up to the gate as I hit page 562. I—as an empathetic and emotional reader—had to push through the desire to get teary-eyed in order to reach the end. Everyone was unbuckled and those passengers with a close connection were already up and moving to the front of the plane as I reached the final paragraph. My chest was tight not just because of the final moments of the story, but because I was leaving the Sawtelles, probably for good. I closed the book, put the hardcover in my backpack and stood up to leave, sad, grateful and fulfilled all at the same time.

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