Impossible Longing

It’s a paradoxical kind of longing, but I miss the days when I was able to plow through fat novels with nary a second thought about whether something else might sooner merit my attention. (I know, a very modern problem.) These days I read very few novels, let alone big fat ones. Pardon this lament; it’s not that I don’t have a score of tomes on my shelves that I want to get to. 

With this in mind, since I am always making such calculations, I thought I’d jot down a list of my so-called TBR pile. I know my reading is so undisciplined that I’m not likely to read more than perhaps max three or four of these before the year is up. But we shall see.

Likewise, I would be curious what you have been meaning to get to but haven’t been able to, whether from distraction, lack of discipline, or want of time. Comments are open. And if you want to advocate for or against any of the books in the below list, I am all ears, and very susceptible to influence. I remain a most fickle reader.


Hadrian the Seventh (1900) – Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo)

Parents & Children (1941) – Ivy Compton-Burnett (not all that thick, I might get to this before the year is up!)

Independent People (1946) – Halldor Laxness (trans. J.A. Thompson)

A Meditation (1969) – Juan Benet (trans. Gregory Rabassa)

The Death of the Detective (1974) – Mark Smith

Lookout Cartridge (1974) – Joseph McElroy (I’ve read this once before circa 2010, but I’ve got to get back!)

The Great Fire of London (1989) – Jacques Roubaud (trans. Dominic di Bernardi)

Mason & Dixon (1997) – Thomas Pynchon

Annals of the Former World (1998) – John McPhee (not a novel, albeit, but hefty nonetheless)


  • I don’t know that I can advocate, for or against, as I haven’t read any of your pile, but the Halldor Laxness has been on my to read list for a while. From what I’ve read, it sounds very good indeed. Mason & Dixon has defeated my interest several times but I’ve read a few excellent sections. Joseph McElroy is new to me (thanks mostly to bibliomanic!) & I’m looking to test the slopes sometime soon before tackling the heights. Any suggested routes up? On my own must-get-to big book pile at the moment are Middle C by William Gass & Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, both of which sound worthy of the hours.


    • Hmm… for a point of entry into McElroy’s oeuvre, I would recommend one of his early novels, either A Smuggler’s Bible (1966), Ancient History (1971), or Lookout Cartridge (1974). The story collection Night Soul & Other Stories (2010?) can be a good entry point, but as with all story collections, it can be difficult to gain & keep momentum across stories — my favorites stories from it though include “Character,” “The Unknown Kid,” “Mister X,” and “Annals of Plagiary.” I’ve read a lot of Gass’s work with pleasure, but I think I reached a point where I know that his work isn’t entirely what I’m after. Fond memories of The Tunnel, and I will return to his magnificent essay collection “Finding a Form.”

  • Cheers for the McElroy recommendations. Sadly, the only work of his that seems to have made it to the shores of Australia is A Smuggler’s Bible so I shall have to look further afield to get hold of some of his other books.


    • Ancient History and Plus are both available as ebooks from dZanc, I believe.

  • I have literally hundreds of books on my TBR list, it’s all rather depressing (or exciting, depending on how you look at it).
    In the big fat book section I have:
    – Fathers and Crows, by William T. Vollman
    – Palinuro de Mexico, by Fernando del Paso (translation Michel Bibard)
    – Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstory (which I bought ages ago) (translation Pevear & Volokhonsky)
    – Middlemarch, by George Eliot
    – Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon
    – Fragments de Lichtenberg, by Pierre Senges
    The only one I have read on your list is Mason & Dixon, which I heartily recommend, although I did find it very challenging at times.


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