It’s time for my friend Sue’s Big Book Summer Challenge! The gist of this challenge is to read a book or books that are over 400 pages long between Memorial Day and Labor Day (May 28 – September 6, 2021).
Check out the details over at Sue’s blog, Book By Book. You don’t have to have a blog to participate and there is a giveaway for participants at the end of the challenge.
This’ll be my fourth year in a row participating in Sue’s challenge. Last year I managed to read four books over four hundred pages (here’s my wrap-up post for 2020).
One Big Classic
This year I’m focusing on one big book: Bleak House by Charles Dickens, which was serialized from March 1852 – September 1853. The Vintage Edition I’m reading comes in at 866 pages.
I haven’t read much Dickens and chose Bleak House because it is considered his most critically acclaimed novel.
The only Dickens novel I can definitively remember reading is Great Expectations, which I enjoyed wayback in high school. I’ve read more Wilkie Collins than Dickens. Apparently, there’s sometimes a rift between the fans of these two wordy 19th century male writers.
About Bleak House
Last year the Newberry Library in Chicago had a seminar on Bleak House and wrote, “Though it may look like a novel, Bleak House is really a variety show with a plot.” I’ve been watching the Apple TV+ series Dickinson and got a kick out of a scene where Emily’s sister and brother, Lavinia and Austin, are gleefully pouring over the latest installment of Bleak House, wondering who will do what next.
Publisher’s blurb: “In Bleak House, competing claims of love and inheritance–complicated by murder–have given rise to a costly and decades-long legal battle that one litigant refers to as “the family curse.” The insidious London fog that rises from the river Thames and seeps into the very bones of the characters symbolizes the pervasive corruption of the legal system and the society that supports it, targets of Dickens’s satirical wrath. Displaying Dickens’s familiar panoramic sweep and brilliant characters–including the mysterious orphan Esther Summerson, her gentle guardian John Jarndyce, the haughty Lady Dedlock, and the scheming lawyer Mr. Tulkinghorn–the novel is also a bold experimental narrative that unforgettably dramatizes our most basic human conflicts.”
UPDATED: Reading Schedule
My plan remains to start Bleak House on July 1st.
However, as of 6/30/2021 there’s an UPDATED READING SCHEDULE based on the 1852-53 serialization chapter breakdown. I’ve updated the reading schedule to reflect the flow of how Dickens originally presented the story. The main difference is that instead of taking 21 days to read, this schedule aims at 19 days. The page count for each day is more consistent (42-46 pages) except for the last day which is a bit longer (66 pages). But please read at your own pace/scheduling requirements. I’m hustling through the novel mainly because I have other projects coming up in late July and August.
Thanks to Jenny from Reading Envy for sharing the following resource that brought Dickens’ original chapter breakdown to my attention:
At the link above you’ll find scans of each issue of the original serialization. I hope you check out at least one issue to see the context for Bleak House’s entrance onto the world’s stage. The ads for products and other books are fun to see. These scans are part of The Furman University Scholar Exchange (FUSE).
If this schedule below doesn’t work for you, please read whenever you can and at your own pace. The only thing I ask is that if you post a comment with a spoiler, that you mark it as such.
Day, chapters, page numbers, and in parenthesis the # of pages to be read:
July 1: Chapters 1-4, pages 3-47 (44)
July 2: Chapters 5-7, pages 47-92 (45)
July 3: Chapters 8-10, pages 92-137 (45)
July 4: Chapters 11-13, pages 137-180 (43)
July 5: Chapters 14-16, pages 180-224 (44)
July 6: Chapters 17-19, pages 224-269 (45)
July 7: Chapters 20-22, pages 269-313 (44)
July 8: Chapters 23-25, pages 314-358 (44)
July 9: Chapters 26-29, pages 359-405 (46)
July 10: Chapters 30-32, pages 405-449 (44)
July 11: Chapters 33-35, pages 450-494 (44)
July 12: Chapters 36-38, pages 494-538 (43)
July 13: Chapters 39-42, pages 539-581 (42)
July 14: Chapters 43-46, pages 582-625 (43)
July 15: Chapters 47-49, pages 626-669 (43)
July 16: Chapters 50-53, pages 669-712 (43)
July 17: Chapters 54-56, pages 712-755 (43)
July 18: Chapters 57-59, pages 756-799 (43)
July 19: Chapters 60-67, pages 800-866 (66)
See the original schedule
My plan is to start Bleak House on July 1st and finish it on July 21st. This breaks down to three chapters a day, except for the last day which is four.
Day, chapters, page numbers, and in parenthesis the # of pages to be read:
July 1: Chapters 1-3, pages 3-35 (32)
July 2: Chapters 4-7, pages 35-92 (57)
July 3: Chapters 8-11, pages 92-151 (59)
July 4: Chapters 12-15, pages 151-215 (64)
July 5: Chapters 16-18, pages 216-255 (39)
July 6: Chapters 19-21, pages 255-301 (45)
July 7: Chapters 22-24, pages 301-349 (48)
July 8: Chapters 25-27, pages 350-384 (34)
July 9: Chapters 28-30, pages 384-420 (36)
July 10: Chapters 31-33, pages 421-464 (43)
July 11: Chapters 34-36, pages 464-509 (45)
July 12: Chapters 37-39, pages 510-554 (44)
July 13: Chapters 40-42, pages 554-581 (27)
July 14: Chapters 43-45, pages 582-616 (34)
July 15: Chapters 46-48, pages 617-655 (38)
July 16: Chapters 49-51, pages 656-689 (33)
July 17: Chapters 52-54, pages 690-732 (42)
July 18: Chapters 55-57, pages 733-773 (40)
July 19: Chapters 58-60, pages 773-812 (39)
July 20: Chapters 61-63, pages 813-841 (28)
July 21: Chapters 64-67, pages 841-866 (25)
The page numbers refer to the Vintage Classics edition that I’ll be reading. My friend Kate has reached out to buddy read Bleak House with me. If you’d like to buddy read with us and have a different edition, I assume the chapter breakdowns are the same.
If you are interested in doing a buddy read, you can connect with me here, or if you’re on Goodreads, I’ve created a discussion thread on the Book Cougars’ group there. Here’s the link: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/22006723-bleak-house-by-charles-dickens.
If you have zero interest in Bleak House and instead would like to read Anna Karenina, my Book Cougars cohost Emily has chosen Tolstoy’s novel as her Big Book Summer read. Here’s the link for that buddy read: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/22006716-anna-karenina-by-leo-tolstoy.
Are you reading a Big Book this summer?
Are you a classics reader or reader of Big Books? I’d love to hear about your summer reading plans. Let me know in the comments.
I have wanted to read Bleak House for a while. I have it somewhere. Books are still in boxes & we moved a year ago. For Sue’s challenge, I’m reading Dune by Frank Herbert. I’ll be interested in your experience with Bleak House.
I bought Barack Obama’s book “A Promised Land” when it was first released, but the size of it intimidated me. I have read several books since the President’s book arrived, but they were less intimidating, page-wise. Your challenge has motivated me to ‘take it on!’ The text is 701 pages, so it will indeed be a challenge!!
Bleak House is by far my favorite Dickens work and one of my all-time favorites! It has everything — humor, romance, social commentary, and a cracking mystery. I wish I didn’t have so many big books unread or I would absolutely join you! But I am cheering you on from afar.
When you finish, I highly recommend the 2005 TV miniseries adaptation, it’s brilliantly done. The casting is PERFECT and I love that they’re nearly all half-hour episodes, like a serial novel. It’s SO GOOD.
The last big book I read was “Drood: A Novel” by Dan Simmons, clocking in at 777 pages. I recommend it because it’s a rift on an unfinished novel by Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” Simmons’s book knocked me off my feet, it was that good, and with a twist you’ll never see coming.
You’ve inspired me, Chris, though I already have a stack of Big Books for this summer that are more than I will be able to get through!
But I love Dickens. I also read Great Expectations in HS (9th grade) and remembered liking it, but when I listened to it again on audio a couple of summers ago, I was delighted by the clever writing and sense of humor! We also read Tale of Two Cities in HS (not so funny). Last year for Big Book Summer, I read David Copperfield, which took me all of August, but I really enjoyed it.
So, I can’t join you right now, but Bleak House (which I’d never heard of!!) is going on my TBR – may Big Book Summer 2022?
P.S. Remember to add the link for this post to the Big Book Summer Sign-Up list:
2021 Big Book Summer Challenge
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