I am a part of a new book club with some friends I met online. The most recent selection is called Dune by Frank Herbert. It is a science fiction tomb that I did not care for. Let’s just say I called it the “Phantom Menace of books”. It was so long and the characters never shut up. Far too much explaining about things I didn’t care about (a lot of carrying on about spices and trade) and no recognizable villain. I didn’t get that far in it because I kept falling asleep so I might be able to use it as a good insomnia cure.
But I went to book club hoping to find out why a member of the club had selected it and why she liked it. Her explanation was very interesting. She said she liked that it was dense without being old English like a classic. Meaning something that was full of details and every time you went to it you got more about the world and characters. She also liked that it was thoughtful without being philosophical which evidently she hates. Anyway, it made me think about my own reading and what ‘dense’ books I like. One’s I could read 1,000 times and I’d still get new details and information. I can’t think of that many. Most books I like are pretty straight forward in plot and story. Not sure what that says about me but there you go.
Here are some that came to mind.
1. Wrinkle in Time- a book I didn’t like as a little girl but I read it fairly recently and loved it. It is very rich in detail and not sure what it all means.
2. The Chosen/My Name is Asher Lev- this book isn’t dense in a way but the characters are so complex every time I read it I feel differently about them. When I read it in college I thought Danny’s father was a beast not fit to raise children. Later he didn’t make any sense to me and then I began to feel sympathy for him. So in the sense of its characters it is very dense.
3. Middlemarch- You guys know North and South is my favorite book but it is a pretty straight forward romance. Middlemarch is much more complex. Dorothea Casaband is a layered character that is tough to understand. On one hand she is foolish and marries Mr Casaband despite outward signs of his miserly ways. She’s so hopeful of a thoughtful intellectual man buried deep inside. Then her interactions with Will Ladislaw seem so different than what she was looking for with Mr Casaband. It seems like she feels sorry for Will who has married a stupid woman but didn’t know any better. It’s the motivations of the characters and their behavior to one another which is very compelx in Middlemarch.
4. Great Expectations- My favorite Dickens (aside from Christmas Carol) and one of my favorite books because it is so different. You’ve got Pip all of the sudden given a chance to improve his life but from who? He assumes it is the bizarre Miss Havisham and her daughter Estella who sit in a mansion with a decades old wedding that never happened. When I read it I learn more about the characters. Why Pip does what he does. What Dickens is trying to say in his strange story?
5. Autobiography of Malcolm X- This book may surprise you being on this list but it is one of the best autobiography’s I’ve ever read. Malcolm X is such a layered character and while I haven’t read it in a long time it is one I could read 100 times and get a new impression of him each time. He was a man who of many public personas that he was willing to abandon when he had change of heart. Especially for someone in the public eye that kind of change is remarkable.
6. Howard’s End- Another book with rich characters. I love the different class bubbles each of the families are in and how that colors their view of the world. The Wilcox’s, Schlegals and Basts are characters I never quite figure out. They have positive traits but fall sway to human weakness easily. The mere premise is interesting too. What is it that Mrs Wilcox see’s in Margaret? Why does she give her Howard’s End? What was she trying to accomplish or did she just get along with her? It’s a rare movie about class that doesn’t tell you who is right or wrong but gives you the story and you decide.
7. Watership Down- Another book that grew on me. Our troop of rabbits including Hazel, Fiver and Bigwig flee their home and come in contact with several societies including a communist like state and a totalitarian regime. On the surface it is an adventure story with the rabbits narrowly escaping death many times. But it is also a piece of social commentary on the flaws of various forms of government and how power corrupts absolutely.
8. The Book Thief- Do I need to praise The Book Thief more on this blog? It is so rich. Everything from the narrator, to the complex characters, to the number of characters, to the setting in Nazi Germany to the book within a book, to the messages on politics, writing and family are astonishing. I love this book!
9. Little Dorrit- A lesser known Dickens book that I really liked. It’s very melancholy but with Dickens family living in a debtors prison it has a closeness to the story that you don’t quite get in any of his other books. The society that develops within the prison and William’s inability to adapt to free life is very interesting. Little Dorrit is devoted to her father but in a way also imprisoned by him. She could be such a cliche of a character but she isn’t because she consistently thinks of others before herself almost too a fault. The big reveal at the end and the house collapsing is so great. It’s a book that says a lot about human group theory and our desire to do the right thing in the eyes of other people even if it hurts us in the end.
10. The Bible/Book of Mormon- I know this seems like an obvious one but it is absolutely the richest read in my opinion. What else could I read every day of my life and get new insight and inspiration from every day? But it’s not just the counsel that is rich. The stories are deep as well. There are lots of miracles that aren’t explained, characters whose motivations are complex like David. And of course Christ spoke in parables which are extremely layered and dense. By design we are supposed to work to understand the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan.
What dense books do you like? It’s interesting how few of these books have been made into great movies- really only 3, Malcolm X, Watership Down, and Howard’s End. Like the versions of Wrinkle in Time and The Chosen these kind of dense books end up feeling muddled, long and convoluted as a movie, which makes sense given they are such dense books!