Just to prove a point to myself I took George R Martin’s tome, A Dance with Dragons, and weighed it on my bathroom scale, where it clocked in at just under 2 kgs. Can you believe it? TWO KILOGRAMS of book ?!! I hope Martin and his publishers wince every time they see a tree. They should. I’m sorry, but 2 kgs of book is just way, way too much. I’ve been eyeing this monster, tucked away in my cupboard, in the towering stack of Waiting to be Read, and I’ve been avoiding it. It was so big, and so fat and so heavy, I was intimidated before I ever opened the darn thing.
Finally I got round to hauling it out of my cupboard, and was appalled to discover how physically heavy the book was. It was at this point that I went and weighed the book. Shaking my head, I sat down in my comfy old black office recliner, propped the book up on a firm cushion – it being way too heavy to hold up to eye/reading level – and started to read.
After about ten pages I gave up. There’s a cast of thousands, with a fat appendix at the back of the book that helpfully lays out the cast of characters in each kingdom, so that you can navigate your way around the saga. The story terminates at page 959, followed by an additional 50+ pages of the aforementioned appendix.
No can do. I’m sorry. It’s just too much. I know George R Martin is wildly popular in the fantasy field but I’m not joining his kingdom of fans. Reading should not be hard labour, whether in the physical act of holding up the book or in the mental act of digging through dense chapters. I need something altogether lighter, both in terms of the volume and contents.
Oddly enough, soon after this abortive GRM attempt, I came across a small book in the Library, titled Weight by Jeanette Winterson. Now I’ve been wanting to read Jeanette Winterson’s novels, she’s an award winning author, held in high regard, and seeing the book was skinny I thought it would be a good entré into the world of Winterson. It’s more than ironic that the book is titled Weight when it contains a trifling 151 pages, in a small A5 format. While I haven’t weighed the book I’m pretty sure it comes in at under 500 grammes.
The title refers to the contents. Winterson re-tells the old classical myth of the punishment of Atlas by Zeus: Atlas is to bear the weight of the world and the cosmos for eternity. Woven into the story are the background stories of the gods, goddesses, the challenges, trials, misdemeanours of gods, titans and men, plus the twelve labours of Hercules for good measure. For all the book’s small size it’s a treasure chest of myth and legend, with an ending is both poignant and unexpected. I’ll give you a clue: who would have thought that the suffering Atlas would have found a dog to keep him company in his lonely task. Dog? What dog? Where on earth – or in the heavens – could Atlas have found a dog? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
The book is part of The Myth series wherein Canongate have invited famous authors (Margaret Atwood, AS Byatt among others) to re-tell the famous myths. Canongate have produced a classy book, printed on lovely creamy paper stock, with elegant type – annoyingly, they don’t tell us which font they used, but this is a minor quibble – and the end result is a beautiful little book that will merit several re-reads.