I have never been afraid of long novels or large-scale reading projects.
I have read Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. I have read all of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, albeit in translation. I have read the three volumes of Alan Walker’s immense biography of Liszt.
And, of course, I have read long nineteenth-century novels such as George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
The pleasure of starting a large reading project is not one of intellectual or cultural snobbery. There is no intrinsic correlation between the number of pages a book has and its quality. Nevertheless, there is a joy there.
I have been dreaming recently of other reading projects. One common idea is to set out to read all the works of one author in the order they were published. You could, for instance, plan to read all of Agatha Christie’s 'Poirot' novels in sequence. I suspect, though, that repetition might doom this particular quest for many.
In the last week I have read two stories by Honoré de Balzac: ‘Sarrasine’ and ‘A Passion in the Desert’. I am now half way through the novel Eugénie Grandet.
This last forms part of the author’s great sequence, Comédie humaine or The Human Comedy. This run of connected narratives amounts to ninety or so texts in total.
Such a fact suggests a stunningly immense project: to read all of the novels that form La Comédie humaine. This project would be the work of a lifetime (just as it took Balzac his lifetime to write the books). I suspect it would also be largely impossible. It would certainly be extremely difficult to find English translations of all the novels.
I won’t be starting this reading project. Nevertheless, the very idea of it appeals.
Perhaps I will re-start the Poirot books after all.