The Tunnel Big Read: Slow Reading

Sisyphus

We are group reading William H. Gass’s The Tunnel on this website from September 30 through November 3. We are currently in Week 3, covering pages 247 through 379. Get the schedule here. Purchase the book here and benefit this site. All posts related to this group read are here.


Picking up on a theme that’s becoming more and more prevalent in the comments as our Tunnel Big Read moves through Week 3, a lot of us are slowing down. Interestingly, “being behind” doesn’t seem to correlate at all with “dropping out”; in other words, the fact that people are slowing down doesn’t seem to have any impact on their desire to finish reading this book.

This is interesting, and really the first time this has ever happened with a Big Read—actually, if anything, we tend to see the opposite. One of my goals with these things is to read though the book a very measured, stately pace; to essentially allow for a read that’s a long duration and that forces contemplation. As such, I like to chart out chunks of text in the 100 – 120 pages per week range, somewhere between 15 and 20 pages per day, which isn’t a whole lot.

What usually happens is that a number of people read faster than the schedule. This is the first time that we’ve seen a mass response toward reading behind schedule, and that clearly says something about the size of The Tunnel (there are a lot of words per page; I’d estimate around 400) and the complexity of the prose.

I’m curious as to how this has affected everyone’s experience of this book and if you’re determined to keep up, even if this ends up taking you 2 months. For my own part, I’m determined to stay on schedule, challenging as it is becoming. But, of course, all our commentaries will be up on this site indefinitely, so go at your own pace, comment on the threads as you see fit. Most of all, enjoy the book; read it the way you think best.


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I was behind on the readings until this week, when I think the novel started to pick up for me. As others have noted, the second week’s segment was a source of frustration, and couldn’t hold my attention for more than a few pages at a time. The prose seemed very inconsistent; at times really effective at what it was doing but at others bloated. I think that the style only works to the extent that its depth is justified by the subject matter. I also didn’t really buy the equation of interpersonal quarrels with armed conflicts between nations – part of a trend, at least in what I see as Kohler’s intention, of trying to increase the scale of his own misfortunes (and deprecate that of the larger ones that he studies, in capital-H history which doesn’t leave room for him as an individual).

The third week’s reading has reinvigorated my interest, even in spite of (maybe because of) Kohler’s appearing less like a victim of terror personal and historical, and more of a source.

I was keeping up, getting everything read at least by the end of its respective week, but another commitment has me thinking I’m going to accept being a full week behind for the last two sections.

Things do pick back up or begin to take better shape in week three, I’ll say that. What the shape is isn’t all clear to me yet, but I’m seeing there’s something there.

And really I just suspect more and more I’m only setting myself up for a second read at this point, which, I suspect, is when the novel would or could really fully click into place for me.

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