2020 Big Book Summer Challenge

Big Book Summer Challenge

This is the ninth year that my friend Sue, who blogs at Book By Book, is hosting her Big Book Summer Challenge.

The challenge runs from Memorial Day Weekend (May 25 this year) through Labor Day Weekend (September 7) and the goal is to read one or more books of 400+ pages. Please visit Sue’s signup post here for more details. You do not need to have a blog to participate.

Here’s my stack of hopefuls:

Big Book Summer Challenge 2020 (chriswolak.com)

Forever Amber

972 pages. Forever Amber by Kathleen Windsor was published in 1944. Historical romance.

Forever Amber

As a child, I remember asking my parents what they would have named me had I been a boy. Willie was a top contender. I never thought to ask them what other girl’s names they’d considered for me. A couple years ago on a road trip with Mom, my wife, Laura, asked that question. This is one of the things I love about road trips — you never know what conversations you’ll get into. I’ve learned a lot of family history during road trips, and on the one with Mom and Laura, I learned that I was almost named Amber.


While Mom was pregnant with me, my parents read Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. According to the back cover copy of the edition I own, “Forever Amber sold 100,000 copies in its first week in 1944, was banned in Boston, and eventually sold over two million copies in hardcover.” I’d never heard of it before but knew I had to read it.

A funny thing about the name Willie: that’s a nickname Laura bestowed upon me early on in our relationship. Willie Wolak does have a nice ring.


481 pages. Scrublands by Chris Hammer was published in 2018. Australian thriller


I’ve read more by Australian women writers than male writers — actually, come to think of it, I can’t recall knowingly reading an Australian male writer — but I have heard lots of praise for Hammer’s Scrublands.

The Nightingale

564 pages. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was published in 2015. Historical WWII Fiction.

The Nightingale

This is another novel I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about. My friends Kristen and Erin both loved this novel, and Kristen hand-delivered it to me when she visited last fall. It’s been calling to me from my bookshelves ever since.

The Makioka Sisters

562 pages. The Makioka Sisters by Junichirō Tanizaki was published in 1948. It was partially serialized in 1943 but then censored by the Japanese military. The edition I’m reading was translated into English by Edward G. Seidensticker.

The Makioka Sisters

My YouTube friend Shawn the Book Maniac, a Canadian living in Japan, sent me this novel and it, too, is one that has been calling to me from my bookshelves. According to Penguin Random House, it is “arguably the greatest Japanese novel of the twentieth century and a classic of international literature.”

Writing the Big Book: The Creation of A.A.

782 pages. Writing the Big Book: The Creation of A.A. by William H. Schaberg. History.

Writing the Big Book

As a friend of Bill’s and a history buff, I’ve done some reading about the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous. Last year Laura and I visited Stepping Stones, the home of Bill and Lois Wilson, co-founders of, respectively, AA and AL-ANON. You can see some photos of our visit HERE.

I saw a pre-publication notice for this book and immediately contacted the publisher to request a review copy. As often happens, life got in the way and I didn’t jump into this book when it arrived as planned, but I’m looking forward to diving into it this summer. I have to say, I was a bit shocked by the size of it!

So, as you can see in the photo above, these five books make up about nine inches of books or 3,361 pages. Will I read them all? I’m not sure. Of course as I write this, I want to read each of them, but you know how other books have a way of sneaking in and derailing the best laid plans.

I hope you’ll consider joining in the challenge and tackling a big book this summer. Is there one you’ve had your eye on?


  1. Welcome back to Big Book Summer, Chris! Glad you’ve joined the fun again!

    I love your photo with the ruler – that puts things into perspective!

    The only one in your stack I’ve already read is The Nightingale, which is excellent (as everyone else told you) – a very different view of WWII, about women at home in France who did their parts to resist occupation, each in her own way. As with all of Hannah’s novels, have the tissues ready.

    I love the family story about Forever Amber! Very cool that your parents both read this book (and funny that it was banned in Boston!).

    Hope you enjoy all of your Big Books this summer!


    2020 Big Book Summer Challenge

    • Oooh! I have’t heard of The Book of Forgotten Authors and just requested it from the library. It sounds like a fascinating read. Thanks so much for letting me know!

  2. I’m reading a big book right now – 900 pages of The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel. It’s superb but so heavy I can read only a few pages at a time before my hands start aching….

    • Oh, gosh, I didn’t realize the third book is so big, not being in a bookstore or library since it came out. How is it? Is Mantel on track to win a third Booker? I’ve not read either of the first two. Are they novels you can really get lost in?

      • You should have seen my face when I collected my copy from the bookshop. I knew it was long but not that heavy.. Absolutely you can get lost in these books once you become accustomed to her style of writing

  3. I really liked The Nightingale. I read The Goldfinch earlier this month (not sure if it was since Memorial Day weekend or not). 760 pages, and I enjoyed it more than I expected 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • It’s nice to hear from another reader who liked The Nightingale. Thanks for letting me know. I just read your review of The Goldfinch on your blog and it sounds interesting. I haven’t read anything about that novel and didn’t realize a painting is involved. Now I’m curious!

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