Comfort reading

Yesterday evening I picked up The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope, just to look at the cover and flick through a couple of pages... and before I put it down again I was two chapters deep. This evening I shall certainly read more: I'm hooked again.

The last time I read TWWLN, it was with an email reading group, in the mid-Nineties when email was terribly chic. The idea was that we all read three chapters, twice a week, and shared our thoughts in mass-posted reflections. This made a group of, no doubt, intelligent and well-read people into self-consciously Literary Correspondents... and the result was that we all read the Trollope but not each other's emails. (They fell mainly into two groups: the fatuous and the spoilers. Mine were strictly fatuous; spoilers are such bad manners.)

These days, email is regarded as unfashionably "long-form" – but not as "long-form" as Trollope, a man who wrote 1,000 words an hour, for three hours, every day. He's the archetypal 19th century author who wouldn't have found a publisher in the 20th because no editor would have permitted him to run on for a quarter of a million words.

And yet that's the joy of his novels – they are engrossing, enveloping. Every new character is introduced with a two-page portrait, so detailed that they are virtually photographic. Perhaps this kind of writing will return, as novels migrate from the printed page to the e-reader and it becomes as cheap to publish a three-volume novel as a pamphlet. I’d even try another book discussion group... as long as all its dissertations were confined to Twitter.