Doorstops: Books that offer physical exercise as well as mental training
By Vikas Datta
Some news portals may have a small blurb next to an article title that tells the reader how long it will take to read it – usually five minutes or less. The feature, which can also be found on some online editing tools, seems like a rather telling indictment of our contemporary time-stressed and hyper-regimented lives, but it’s unclear why it’s limited to reading. uniquely.
Assuming this trend is also transplanted into books? Will it work on what are known in the literary field as “door stoppers”, or works so thick and heavy, say over 500 to 1,000 pages or more, that they can be used as the eponymous article.
For such books, reading time will need to be measured in weeks or even months, and for casual, uncommitted readers, it could be up to a year.
While many leading comprehensive dictionaries, encyclopedias, and textbooks, from various fields of science to law to computer languages, are doorstops, the category is still common in fiction. These should be differentiated from omnibus editions in which two or three “medium” works by one author, or even more than one author, are printed together.
Door stops in fiction usually include what we call literary classics, say George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” (nearly 900 pages), or Count Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” (over 1,000 pages in most editions), or “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes. ” (nearly or more than 1,000 pages, depending on the edition).
They can also be about titanic conflicts between good and evil – everything from Alexandre Dumas’ great revenge saga “The Count of Monte Cristo” (over 1,000 pages in most editions) to the Harry Potter series (especially the last four episodes, with “The Order of the Phoenix” being 700 to 800 pages, depending on the edition), to great sweeps of history, spanning several generations, as by authors such than James Michener and James Clavell, or novels (Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind”, 900-1,000 pages), or a mixture of everything, say MM Kaye’s “The Far Pavilions” (over 950 pages).
And you can count on them to have tons of characters – “The Count of Monte Cristo” starts with half a dozen and has three dozen major characters by the time it kicks into high gear. Others are not lacking and some helpfully have a list of characters, usually at the start, to help you keep track.
The advent of technology has made actual doorstops rather rare, as e-readers and tablets can accommodate multitudes of the bulkiest of books, saving avid readers the drudgery of lugging them around – although some aficionados still do. Owning them is also a mark of pride for avid librarians for the gravitas they bring to their shelves.
Let’s look at some door stops in different genres.
As mentioned, literary classics, such as Tolstoy – whose surname derives from the Russian word “tolstii” (meaning thick or big), or by his compatriot Fyodor Dostoyevsky, or others, such as Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo or Dumas, turn out to be door blockers, since they are paid by the page, and seem to have benefited from it. Most of their famous works began as serial episodes, so they didn’t consciously – one might assume – set out to write heavy tomes.
Dumas was a master. His “The Three Musketeers” is the first of three novels that make up the Romances D’Artagnan, and was followed by “Vingt Ans Après” – both are at least 700 pages and more in most editions. The last episode, “Le Vicomte de Bragelonne”, is usually divided into three or more books – the last being “The Man in the Iron Mask”, and each of them is over 700-800 pages.
Dickens was not far behind – of his 14 completed novels, eight, including ‘The Pickwick Papers’, ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, ‘David Copperfield’ and ‘Our Mutual Friend’ are well over 800 pages in most editions, and some extend to 1,000 pages plus with annotations and footnotes.
But the tradition continued beyond the 19th century.
JRR Tolkien’s epic high-fantasy adventure “The Lord of the Rings”, well-known because of the movies, is a great example of this.
Although Tolkien intended it to be published as one, it was eventually published in three volumes of two books each – ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, ‘The Two Towers’ and ‘The Return of the King’ – between July 1954 and October 1955, for various reasons, such as paper shortages, high production costs, and publishers’ uncertainty about its reception.
Fortunately, the publishers then published it together – a special hardcover, illustrated edition that came out in 2021 included 1,248 pages each and a paperback, 1,216 pages.
Even before him was Kathleen Winsor’s hit historical romance “Forever Amber” (1944), set in mid-17th century England when the monarchy was restored under Charles II. It tells the story of Amber St. Clare, an orphan, who advances in society by sleeping and/or marrying successively wealthier and more important men, while nurturing her unattainable love. It was quickly censored by the Catholic Church, making it a bestseller.
What prevents the book, which is 992 pages in its Penguin paperback edition, from being a precursor to Jackie Collins or, say, Shobha De, is the meticulous historical research covering food and candy fashion, such as how the tea habit took hold of England, as well as contemporary politics and public disasters, including the plague and the Great Fire of London.
Austrian writer Robert Musil’s modernist work “The Man Without Qualities” (first published 1930 in German; 1953 in English) is a quasi-allegorical, existential – and satirical – look at the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hungarian Habsburgs in its twilight period. , just before the First World War.
The main protagonist is a rather vague, ambivalent and indifferent mathematician named Ulrich, “the man without qualities”, who depends on the world to shape him. The work also shows how a celebration of international peace and imperial unity leads to national chauvinism, war and collapse.
It was unfinished, but the English version is over 1,150 pages, while the original German version is over 2,100.
After “full size” works such as the interracial love story “Sayonara” (1954) and the depiction of a radically different Afghanistan in “Caravans” (1963), Michener began producing doorstops with its multi-generational pageants set in a specific context. geographical area.
“Hawaii” (1959) is 1,136 pages in paperback; “The Source” (1965), where a team of archaeologists excavate a mound in Israel, and their story is interspersed with a narrative of each level they uncover, is 1,104 pages in paperback; “Caribbean” (1989), stretching from Columbus to Castro or thereabouts, is about 900 pages.
Several other works in this tradition, whether dealing with a specific U.S. state — Texas (1,472 pages), Alaska (1,152), or Colorado (1,104) — or countries like Poland (about 700 pages) or South Africa (1,200), are also heavy reads.
Francis Edward Wintle aka Edward Rutherfurd also follows the same pattern, traveling through the millennia of the region he dwells on, featuring many characters and not skimping on details. “Russka: The Novel of Russia” (1991) has 1,024 pages; “London” (1997), the history of the city from Roman times to the present day, covers 1,328 pages; and “New York” (900–1,050 pages in various paperback editions).
Clavell’s final four “Asian Saga” books are over 1,000 pages, including “Shogun” (1975), set in 1600s Japan, is 1,136 pages, and “Noble House” (1981), which is about Hong Kong in the 1960s, runs to 1,296 pages – although the latter, after an interlude in the past, is only a few days long.
The penchant for doorstops still persists.
Horror maestro Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series began with “The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger” (1982) at a modest 225 pages, but “The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass” (1997) went up to 887 pages, and the latest — “The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower” (2004) — stretched to 845.
The fourth part of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” saga, “Breaking Dawn” (2008), is well over 700 pages.
Some Indian writers are also eligible. Vikram Seth’s ‘A Decent Boy’ (1993) can reach 1,500 pages in some editions, while Vikram Chandra’s Mumbai detective saga, ‘Sacred Games’ (2006), is nearly 1,000 pages or more, according to the editing.
Doorstops, in addition to satiating avid readers, can also double as makeshift exercise equipment – simply holding them up to read will do wonders for hand and arm muscles and wrist flexibility , and even as a weapon, giving a whole new meaning to the “throwing” idiom. the book to”.
Who said books are only for the mind?
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at [email protected])