HOW NASA TAUGHT ME NOT TO FEAR LONG BOOKS

On December, 2014, NASA and I took arduous, successful, and fortunately for both of us, separate journeys. NASA’s Orion capsule left lower Earth orbit and climbed to 3,600 miles. That was a big deal, when you consider the International Space Station is about 250 miles from Earth.

And I read Eleanor Catton’s 830 page tome, THE LUMINARIES, winner of the Man Booker prize. The last time NASA ventured beyond lower Earth orbit was in 1972, when Apollo 17 went to the moon. It’s been about that long since I’ve read a book as long as THE LUMINARIES. It’s a masterpiece and I congratulate her. The setting is New Zealand, 1866. The story follows thirteen, disparate people working to solve a mystery, actually three mysteries that may or may not be related. It’s complicated – you might even say it’s rocket science.

The mathematical structure of the book has been widely talked about. The first chapter is the longest. The second is half the length of the first. The third is half the length of the second. And so on. Tension and pace build as the reader is propelled through the ugliness and decency of New Zealand’s gold rush. Some critics called this a gimmick, but I think it’s a message to the reader. Any idiot can go into the unknown, but treatment of the details will get you to your destination and back safely. The book has no sagging middle. It never loses altitude.

The scientists at NASA are no slouches at math, either. Four and a half hours after takeoff, Orion returned to Earth at a speed of 20,000 mph and came within a mile of its target.

In interviews, Catton discusses her interest in astrology. Her chapter headings give clues to the life of the point of view character for the section. Like, “Mercury in Pisces.” I have no idea what that means, but I do know that NASA plans for Orion to go to the house of Mars in the 2030’s.

The success of the mission seemed to give NASA a much needed confidence boost. I knew the feeling. Could I handle the 640 page BONE CLOCKS by David Mitchell? Was I ready?  I read it and I loved it, too. Two long books in a row and I lived to tell the tale.  Woohoo!

What’s the longest book you’ve read — or attempted to read?

Lane Stone, Tiara Investigations Mysteries

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