I am terrified of big books. About 325 pages is all I can handle. Any more than that (unless the cover is particularly inviting), I feel the clouds of panic closing in. It starts in my throat and makes its way downward until I have to remind myself to participate in the basic function of breathing, just so I don’t lose consciousness.
Though my terror of big books has been around for ages, I have found certain books worth risking the onset of panic. For example, I read Victor Hugo’s unabridged Les Miserablés, weighing in about 1,500 pages. This reading was a pilgrimage to pay homage to the musical production of the story. At that time, I’d seen the show 3 times and the 2 movie versions that were available for viewing more times than I could count. I felt I was doing my ardor for the production a disservice by not having read the original novel, so I set forth on this journey with gusto, my love of the story casting out all fear of its length.
Then there was the time I read Anna Karenina with a group of friends. The copy of the book I owned had the most beautifully designed cover. I also was reading another book where the heroine was reading Anna Karenina. I deeply admired this heroin and thought, “If she can do it, so can I.” I also had the added competition of a deadline and friends who were seeking to meet the deadline at the same speed. It just so happened that I was the only one who finished it by the time we set to meet and discuss. If I’d known this would happen, I might not have been so ambitious.
Then there is the Bible. I first read this at the age of 14. My purpose in doing so was out of guilt. If I could read so many other books but had never read the Bible, what sort of Christian was I? I also read this because we were reading it as a family and, once again, competition set in and I was determined to read it faster than the others.
Once I’d completed the Bible, I decided not to lose the momentum and read it through 3 more times in as many years. It’s not so bad once you do it.
And finally, the most recent big book I tackled was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Once I began the series, I had to finish. But I must admit, the size of this book induced panic that neither the Bible, Anna Karenina, nor Les Miserablés, had conjured. For months it sat on my shelf, until finally I called myself a “big chicken” and took it up with determination. After all, hundreds of teenagers were reading this book over and over again, there was no reason it should frighten me.
It took me a month to get through it, but that was a personal record for big books. I am now on my 3rd reading of the Harry Potter Series.
Upon reflection, I do not regret one moment of conquering the fear and reading these books. But I could not have done it alone. The motivation of love, the companionship of others (both real and fictional) and the aesthetic pleasure of holding a beautifully bound cover in my hands while I read were among the powerful forces that overcame the panic that typically set in.
And upon further reflection, are these not means to overcoming any fear? Even the most unexplainable?