Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Summer BFB

BFB = Big F____ Book


Fat. Fun. Famous. Ferocious?

Or, you know. The other thing.

For a few years I've been using my summer as a chance to tackle big books. Classic books. Books that people I admire have read. For me, beach reading is the kind of book that barely fits in your hands and takes many a lazy July afternoon to finish. And I allow myself to destroy them. I am not being figurative here. I get them wet at the pool, I cram them into my purse and they end up with gum between the pages. I get all up in these books.

These BFBs are not always great literature, but they can be. I try to find balance -- especially when I started BFBs and I made myself read one classic for every new book. (That part has since gotten a little messy, which is fine...) They almost always fall into the category of things that I would not have time to read when I am teaching/in school/reviewing.

Previous BFBs: Gone With the Wind, The Thorn Birds, East of Eden, Middlesex, and Anna Karenina.

What's funny about looking back at those reviews is that my feelings about many of those books have changed over time. Some that I was not a fan the day after finishing have grown on me. And honestly, with things like Anna Karenina there's a nice confidence that comes later from being able to jump into a conversation about a big-ass classic and know what you're talking about. It makes me grow to love the book more than I did when I was like crap, I just read a thousand pages and I need a rest.

But the point of summer BFBs is not really enjoyment, per se. It is challenging myself in some tangible way to read more than I think I can read. It's the grownup equivalent of that Summer Reading Challenge at the library when I was 8 where I could earn points on the library wall and win at reading. The point is winning, basically.

There are no page requirements for a BFB. But it has to feel hefty. It has to be doorstop of a book. I have read all but one of my previous BFBs in actual book form. Even though I'm a fan of ebooks too, there's something about having a book that looks like nobody in their right mind would pick it up that appeals to me.

So, okay. This summer. I have actually read one BFB, and I am just over 10% through the other. The first was the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, which is the basis for the HBO Game of Thrones show. It's not a literary classic (let's not argue, okay?), but it is over 800 pages. It qualifies on length alone. And in terms of how much goodwill it buys me with my fantasy book-loving husband. I just finished it this morning (I'll compose my thoughts on it soon) but I definitely have that glad I'm done feeling.


My second BFB this summer (modeled for you on the couch next to me by Puppy) is Middlemarch. I bought Middlemarch as a joke to myself about three years ago after a conversation with my (then to be) program director, Tod Goldberg about how students in the UCR Palm Desert MFA program choose their own reading lists. "You can read whatever you're interested in," he said. "It's not like we're going to make you read Middlemarch. I mean, if you want to read Middlemarch you can, but we're not going to make you." That phone call changed my life--I found out I was accepted to my MFA program and immediately set off reading books that were not Middlemarch for the next three years. When I saw a brand new copy in a used bookstore soon after, I took it as a sign.

And I promised myself I'd read it once I was done with the program. I had absolutely no intentions of liking it, but since I know I can make myself read (and finish) anything, I didn't care about that too much.

But here's what I'm finding, and this means I am a hopeless nerd and I should just surrender any cool cred now. I am actually liking Middlemarch. Like, really, really liking it. I know you're not shocked because you already get what kind of grade A dork you're looking at, but I am pleasantly surprised. It's really good.

I decided to attack this particular BFB from all sides. I have the paper copy, and I had a copy on my Kindle from a long time ago. I bought the audio book from audible, so I am also listening to it when I walk my dog. I am never without Middlemarch, you guys. It's fabulous. I am really taking my time and trying not to rush this one, and so far it is the perfect summer book.

Any suggestions for BFBs?


  1. Reading Infinite Jest this summer for my BFB!!

    1. Nice. IJ is on the list for someday. :) Also War and Peace. And a million other things.

  2. Middlemarch is one of my most favorite books! I read it in high school (not required reading - yes, total nerd), re-read it years later and loved it even more. My first BFB was Watership Down in 6th grade, and I always love me some Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged (super-BFBs!) Most recent is The Goldfinch, and now I want to read Middlemarch again!

    1. Ooh, The Goldfinch was SO good. I can't believe how much I am loving Middlemarch. It's wonderful.

  3. Since you mentioned Gone With The Wind, have you read Scarlett? I loved it. Cathy Ann