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How to Tackle the Giant Books in Your TBR Pile

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Heather Bottoms

Staff Writer

Heather Bottoms is a used book lover, theatre geek, and compulsive volunteer. When she is not curating her Little Free Library, she is working at her local community theatre or over-preparing for book club. She hosts book swaps, leads an LGBT-themed book club, and loves to see people bonding over books. She lives with her computer nerd/musician husband and three kids in Tennessee. Follow her on Twitter @HeatherBottoms.

Anna Karenina sat on my TBR shelf for six years. It called to me. Every year I vowed to read it. From time to time, I would go over and pick it up and attempt to start it. But pretty quickly I would get overwhelmed by the sheer bulk of 964 pages and the ever-changing Russian names. Back on the shelf it would go.

This is a common scenario for many readers. Big books can be hard to start and even harder to finish. There are several reasons why even the most devoted readers find themselves avoiding those doorstop classics and mammoth works of nonfiction. Yes, it takes time and persistence to wade through a book of several hundred pages, but the journey can be so rewarding.

Here are five of the most common hurdles when reading long books and some suggestions for how you can finally tackle those big books in your TBR pile.

PROBLEM #1: It’s SO many pages. I’m totally intimidated.


SOLUTION: Try the Serial Reader App.

Serial Reader is an incredible app that makes free classics available on your phone. You choose a book and the app sends you a 10–12 minute installment to read every day. It shows you the percentage of the book you have completed to keep you encouraged, and even sends little congratulatory messages when you’ve reached your reading goals. This was the perfect answer to my Anna Karenina dilemma, allowing me to take in this daunting book in manageable chunks.

PROBLEM #2: It’s a long, hard, complicated book. Help!


SOLUTION: Try a buddy read.

Discussing a book with fellow readers can be invaluable. You can ask questions when you come across a confusing plot point, share the excitement and/or exasperation of a surprising character development, or simply cheer each other on to the next chapter. Try asking a friend or family member if they want to read the book with you. Or you may find a Goodreads group that is right up your alley. A friend of mine joined a buddy read going through Infinite Jest  on Litsy last summer. She swore that she could not have done it alone, and now it is one of her favorite books ever.

PROBLEM #3: This book weighs 400 pounds. I can’t take it anywhere.


SOLUTION: Try an ebook.

Sometimes the main problem with a big book is just that it’s, well, too big. Like many avid readers, I take a book with me everywhere. I like to have something to read when I find myself stuck in a long line, waiting at a doctor’s office, or just on lunch break at work. It took me a few months to get through The Warmth of Other Suns, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because it was simply too unwieldy to fit in my purse or hold comfortably in my hands for long stretches. Now when I read a book over 500 pages, an ebook format is my first choice.

PROBLEM #4: I am confused, baffled, and ready to give up.


SOLUTION: Try an audiobook.

Sometimes a book has unique issues that are compounded by enormous length: a particularly complicated plot, a colossal cast of characters, an unusual dialect, etc. Uncle Tom’s Cabin posed a few of these challenges for me, and I was struggling mightily to get going in print. So I requested the audiobook from my library, and listening made the whole book make more sense. The skilled narrator made the southern accent easier to understand, and the different voices helped me differentiate the characters. If you are new to audiobooks, here’s some great info to help you get started.

PROBLEM #5: This long book will take Forever. I want to read other stuff.


SOLUTION: Take breaks.

Stopping in the middle of most long-form fiction would prove troublesome, but this method is great with the right book. Sizable collections of short stories or essays would be ideal for this approach. Other lengthy nonfiction works, like historical books for instance, are often broken up into parts. Read part one, take a break to devour the latest new mystery, and then get back to the big book again.

Now that you are armed with strategies to succeed, be brave! Gather up your courage and go attack those ginormous books languishing on your dusty shelf. You’ll be glad you did.