Why I love long pointless books


Photo by Regolare

I recently finished Infinite Jest. It's over a 1000 pages, and has no real arc or resolution, but I enjoyed it immensely. Before that I completed the 12 volumes of A Dance to the Music of Time, another sprawling epic without a conventional plot. Apart from literary masochism, or value for money (I picked up Jest second-hand for 50 cents), why read these monsters?

I realized I'm drawn to them because they feel a lot more real than most other fiction. The characters aren't driven to make decisions that the plot requires. Instead they're set loose on the stage, free to behave randomly, like people. That means you never reach a satisfying conclusion, but then my own life has never had clear-cut resolutions either.

I've also been on a Dickens streak recently, but that's mostly been motivated by the wonderful background characters that weave in and out of the stories. His protagonists and villains are clearly being maneuvered according to the author's plan, making them stilted and artificial. He's not constrained when he's sketching the unimportant people, so they can act like human beings. Little Nell is an alien, but I believed in The Marchioness and Dick Swiveller, despite their lack of purpose.

These books help remind me life's about the journey, not the destination. If you want to make part of your trip more pleasant, I'd recommend picking a long pointless book as a companion.

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