Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Long Attention Span is Not Dead

Bound up in the debates and discussions around digital reading and the more general effects of media on the reading experience (Hi, Philip Roth!) is the idea of attention span. Of course, I have no doubt that attention spans have been shrinking in the last few decades (and I would argue TV already did the most damage and texting, twittering, and other small bite social media are just exploiting and exacerbating the new human attention) but this hasn't stopped some authors from churning out huge books. The Millions posted an article a few weeks ago that deals more thoroughly with this topic but I just wanted to highlight two big books on our shelves now that might be worth your attention.

The biggest of the big is The Instructions by Adam Levin. A 1,030 page behemoth is described thusly by the publishers: "Beginning with a chance encounter with the beautiful Eliza June Watermark and ending, four days and nine hundred pages later, with the Events of November 17, this is the story of Gurion Maccabee, age ten: lover, fighter, scholar, and potential messiah. Expelled from multiple Jewish day-schools for acts of violence and back-talk, Gurion ends up in the Cage, a special lockdown program for the most hopeless cases of the Aptakisic Junior High. Separated from his scholarly followers, Gurion becomes a leader of a very different sort, with righteous aims building to a revolution of troubling intensity."

I'm currently reading and loving Witz by Joshua Cohen, an ambitious, funny, dangerous, linguistically playful intellectually dense 817 pages about a mysterious plague that wipes out all of the Jews on Christmas Eve 1999 (though I'm almost 150 pages in and have only sort of encountered the plague) with the exception of first born males. What happens, though, is far less important than how it is told, and Witz has the narrative ambition of Joyce's Ulysses.

And if you're looking for a door stop vetted by time there are a few classics in the genre; Infinite Jest, Underworld, Gravity's Rainbow, and the doorstop to end all doorstops the seven volume In Search of Lost Time (or Remembrance of Things Past).

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