Taking on Chunkster Books

I like big books and I cannot lie

I started reading Les Miserables about a week ago, and tackling this nearly-1500-page tome got me thinking about chunkster books: how to classify them and methods of reading them.

What is a chunkster book? According to the rules for the Chunkster Reading Challenge, books over 450 pages are considered “chunksters.” I’m not sure this is the standard I would use, as most of the books I read fall in the 250 to 400-page range; 450 pages is a bit on the long side, but I don’t know if I would call a 450-page book a chunkster. Another measure I’ve heard is 500 pages, which seems a bit more fitting to me, even though it’s merely 50 pages longer than the CRC metric. It’s all perception, though, I think.

For example, genre and difficulty play a part in this perception; to me, classic chunksters are more daunting than contemporary ones. For example, although a few of the later Harry Potter books and Anna Karenina are similar in length, I could easily dive into a Harry Potter book and expect to finish reading in a week or two. Anna Karenina, however, took me an entire month to read. Perhaps the length of time a book will take to read has more bearing on it’s chunkster status than its physical page length?


The ultimate chunkster test: can it prop open doors?

How do you classify a chunkster book? Do you consider length, difficulty level, classic/contemporary status, time commitment, or a blend of these components?

How do you read a chunkster? When it comes to contemporary chunksters, this question isn’t really an issue for me. Deciding to read 518-page The Time Traveler’s Wife is a snap; although it’s on the long side, I know the reading won’t be difficult and the pages will fly by. However, when it comes to lengthy classics, a little more consideration is in order. What’s the best way to tackle a dauntingly long, 700+ page book like Les MiserablesAnna Karenina, or Bleak House?

Although I’m usually a strict book monogamist, I’ve found that I like reading classic chunksters a little bit at a time while also reading something shorter and more contemporary. Instead of spending an entire month (or more) reading just the one doorstopper book, I like to set a relaxed reading schedule. This worked really well when I read Bleak House for the Unputdownables read-along last year, and it’s working nicely for Les Miserables right now. I plan to read 100 pages per week of Les Mis, or roughly 15 pages per day. This keeps me engaged with the story without getting burned out on it.

How do you read chunksters? Do you devote yourself solely to that one book, set a reading schedule, or balance reading it alongside other books in a more go-with-the-flow manner?


28 thoughts on “Taking on Chunkster Books

  1. I was (happily) forced to read most of the chunkster classics when I became an English major at Barnard College. The books were huge – many were 900+ pages – I’m thinking Bleak House, Middlemarch and others – but the instructor set a reading schedule on the syllabus. You had to read up to a certain page by a certain class and you could read ahead if you wanted to. This made it completely managable. Other than that, I make it my business to read one chunkster per summer. Last summer it was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, the summer before that Kane and Abel, the summer before that Gone with the Wind. I don’t tend to read chunksters during the year and haven’t read a chunkster Victorian classic since college.

    • That’s great! I somehow didn’t find the time to take any English classes until my very last semester of college, but the one I did take was amazing. I wish I had taken more classes that got me to sit down and read classic chunksters; that seems like a great way to read at a comfortable pace, and I’m sure you got so much more out of reading them from your class lectures/discussions. Summer does sound like a nice time to read a chunkster 🙂

  2. I love chunksters!!! I’ve just never had the vocabulary to scream it from the rooftops before. I do like to stick to just that one novel when reading them; it lets me think back to certain parts of my life and define them by what I was reading: “I must have read the Sunlight Dialogues in spring of 2009, because I remember reading it in Marie Park everyday, and I moved out of the neighborhood later that summer.” Chunksters become part of our lives in ways shorter books can’t.

    • Ooh, that is an interesting idea! It is nice to be able to look back and remember how a book was part of your life at a certain time. I read most of The Great Gatsby for the first time laying on a blanket outside my college dorm on a warm spring day, which is a nice memory.

  3. I also love chunksters 🙂 I think more than half of books I’ve purchased recently would go under the chunkster category.

    But you have some interesting points there. I have also thought of the chunkster definition. First obstacle for me is – obviously there are more pages in pocket-size book than in big ones. How do you categorise this? My Wilkie Collins’ “The Woman in White” had 750 pages in pocket version but I know that usually it has about 600 pages. Dilemma.

    I’d also say 450 isn’t really a chunkster for me personally… “Jane Eyre” was 402 pages, which is closing to a chunkster in that case, and it just isn’t.

    And as you say, it’s also tricky depending on genre. Classics are definitely more, well, sizable also in contents, not only by page count. Some rather slim classics book may actually be more “chunkster-ish” than 600-page YA novel, right? I think. Yet I wouldn’t hesitate to count for example Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” as chunksters. Even though they are not exactly rocket science literature, but rather easier reading.

    And when it comes to reading a really big book, I usually read something on the side. For one thing, because I like seeing some “progress”, as in actually finishing something, and secondly to give the chunkster time to sink in, pretty much like you.

    Welll that came a wall of text now… but it was a very interesting post, too 🙂

    • I was thinking about that too — book size and font/type size also make a difference in the number of pages; a book that would be chunkster length in mass market size might not qualify as a trade paperback.

      Those are some great points! It seems to be a very imprecise science when we take genre, ease of reading, and level of sophistication into consideration.

      I am so with you on needing to see progress. I get so frustrated when I haven’t finished a book in a long time — and I need to be finishing books so I have something to write about on the blog! I think reading a classic only part-time takes some of the pressure off, too; I can enjoy reading it and letting it sink in without worrying about my progress.

      Haha thanks for taking the time to write all that! I love hearing other people’s perspectives 🙂

  4. I just finished reading A Suitable Boy which clocks in at nearly 1500 pages. Even though I often read multiple books at a time, for A Suitable Boy, I didn’t feel like reading anything else. For one thing, I was enjoying it so much, but also the story has so many different interacting sub-stories that I didn’t want to have any more stories cluttering the brain.

    • So funny that you should mention this book! I was just about to say that I have that sitting on my shelf to read and I am avoiding it purely because of its chunkiness. I suppose I should just take the plunge and read it. I’m sure I’ll have a great sense of achievement when it’s done!

    • I’ve somehow never heard of A Suitable Boy, but it’s a great recommendation that you want to spend all of your reading time with it. I can definitely see how it might be difficult to keep complex sub-stories straight when reading another book on top of A Suitable Boy, so that seems like a good approach!

  5. How do I read a chunkster? The classic stuff by Tolstoy, Hugo and Dumas is pretty easy I think in comparison to modern chunksters. As soon as I can see that I have ten pages of political opinion, I skip it. I have never missed out on any part of the story as I find that the political stuff doesn’t really add a lot to the story that you can’t pick up from the characters anyway. Modern chunksters are hard though, as they aren’t full of politics like the older chunksters, so if you skip anything then you miss things. With those I generally just push on and hope for the best!

    • That’s an interesting perspective that I hadn’t thought of. I’m always afraid to skip things in classics — what if it’s important later on! — but I did actually just very quickly skim a chapter in Les Miserables where Hugo just describes every single mundane thing that happened in Paris in 1817. You have a good point!

  6. Anything over 600 pages is a chunkster for me. I read a lot of books that fall in the 400 page range, so like you, 450 is a little long but not long enough to get its own classification. Although, Les Mis is certainly a chunkster! Chunky classics are most definitely scarier than any other big books (classics are scarier, in general, though).

    • I think 600 pages is a good standard for chunkster classification! And I agree that classics are often scary, but I wonder why we feel that way. Usually when I start a classic that I’m a little afraid of, I’m surprised by how not difficult the reading is. I somehow expect older books to have difficult language, but most of the ones I’ve read were fairly easy to read. Why do you think we’re so intimidated by classics?

      • I think for me it’s because we had to read the classics in high school, and instead of simply reading them we had to dissect. I don’t enjoy searching for symbolism, foreshadowing, alliteration, etc. I just like reading the book and enjoying the story and noticing what I notice. When I remember that a classic is a book/story and NOT something to dissect, I usually enjoy them, but it’s hard to do that because we’re trained to apply more meaning to it. Or at least, that’s my thought.

  7. I’m with Allison, anything over 600 is a chunkster for me. Les Mis is the chunkiest chunkster I’ve read so far, second Under the Dome by Sephen King and I’m not sure how many pages (I read it on my Kindle and didn’t look) but Pillars if the Earth must be up there too. I’m doing a year long read-a-long of War & Peace and its pretty intimidating. Nice post – a great discussion topic.

  8. Lol, love the chunkster doorstop test 😉 I would say the average length of the books I read is around 400 pages so I couldn’t consider that some giant book usually. You’re right though, it depends on the style of the book. I love BIG books. I love knowing that I’m going to be sunk into a tale for a longer amount of time than usual. 🙂

  9. Great post, and something I’ve thought about before too! For me I guess anything under 300 pages I consider a short book, 300-700 is a normal range and really only the quality of the book will affect my enjoyment/how long it takes. Anything over 700 pages I’d consider a chunkster, especially over 1000 pages. I think I agree with you though – some more contemporary books of that size are much easier to digest than a classic. And there’s a few books that I want to read that are that big, but which I will just wait until I’m retired (this is actually the next post I am going to write when I find the energy…maybe later tonight).

  10. I love a good long book, and agree it’s not the page count alone that matters, but the complexity of the book. Last year I read War and Peace in pieces, so I could read other books as well. This year I hope to tackle Daniel Deronda. How was Bleak House? I started that one and didn’t get too far, but I mean to try again one of these days. Right now I’m reading Storm of Swords, and while not literary, it is a LONG book.

  11. I pretty much always read several books at once. Chunksters usually stay at home instead of traveling with me, because they don’t fit in my purse.
    Unless I’m at a really good part when I leave the house. 🙂
    How quickly I finish a book depends on the same thing–a riveting book I’ll read straight through, with a less attention-grabbing one I might read several other books before I finish it.

  12. Pingback: Thick As A Brick | Eleventh Stack

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