Reading long books

By Gary Lloyd

I’ve got a heap of long, unread books that, if I stacked them up and stood on the top one, I could clean the leaves from my gutters.

“Don’t you need a ladder, Gary?”

“Who needs a ladder when you have Tolstoy and Thoreau?”

In college, I was sternly instructed that “To be a good writer, you need to be a great reader.” I heard this statement made – let me count really quick – 782 times. Don’t mistake my sarcasm for negligence or youthful rebelliousness. I agree with the statement, to a point. Prior the publication going mad, I read Sports Illustrated issues cover to cover before their heat from a day inside the mailbox went cool. One college instructor joked about me sitting in the hallway outside a locked room one afternoon, reading Rick Bragg’s “All Over but the Shoutin’” for the second time that year.

I like to read. I do. But I’ve struggled with these long books, and I need to improve that part of my reading life. Like anything else, if it’s important to you, you must make it a priority. I was thumbing through “My Reading Life” by Pat Conroy recently – surely because it’s close to 350 pages – and in the latter stages of the book Conroy writes about Leo Tolstoy, the author of “War and Peace,” a book so long that if you read one page per day, you’d finish it sometime in 2025. I’ve written six books at an average of 182 pages each, and all six combined fall short of the page count of “War and Peace.” A deep thinker, that Tolstoy.

I have a 400-plus-page biography of Tiger Woods that I haven’t finished, and I find the second-greatest golfer of all-time fascinating. Speaking of fascinating sports figures, I had a biography of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, and I must have donated it to 2nd and Charles because how do you misplace a 608-page hardcover book? Bragg is and always be my favorite writer, but approximately 452 of the 476 pages of his 2014 biography of Jerry Lee Lewis remain unread on my office bookshelf, and I suppose that’s because I’m generally not that interested in Jerry Lee, but I need to read it to improve my own craft. Finally, I have a 530-page paperback about President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Works Progress Administration that I need to get around to. That book’s index, bibliography, notes and acknowledgments alone are almost as long as my first book, “Trussville, Alabama: A Brief History.”

I have the topic for my next book selected, and I’ve been collecting information and outlining it in recent months. I’ve interviewed many folks. It’s clear that this book will surpass 300, maybe even 400 pages. If you know me well, you already know the subject. This brings me back to Conroy’s chapter on Tolstoy. In it, he writes that “he possesses the tireless generosity to give back to the world that made him vertiginous with a passion for life and nature – the gift that took the form of this miraculous, life-altering novel.”

What a dream that is.

Gary Lloyd is the author of six books and is a contributing writer to the Cahaba Sun.

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