Is sheer length a measure of greatness? I absolutely disagree.

I have a streak of impulsivity with regard to book or novel purchases, because most of the time novels that one wants are in short number. This is most evident especially in second-hand bookstores: more often than not, the novels that one has failed to purchase because of a lack of money or other reasons cannot be found when one returns to the same bookstore (unless one returns immediately after getting the required amount of money, but even then there is still high chance that it may have been purchased, especially if the novel is rare). This is the reason why I tend to rely on impulse whenever I purchase novels, because I primarily buy them from second-hand bookstores.

The only redemptive factor of Bleach right now

I employ a tempering effect to these impulses, however, by making vows to read or to finish the novels that I purchase. (I succeed most of the time, unless I know I am reading utter garbage, like Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.) This ensures me from wasting all my money on bookstores, because there are so many good novels one can read. This was the case with my purchase of Dream of the Red Chamber, vol. 2. I purchased the second volume and allowed it to act as some sort of coup de grace to my short break from school, with the vow that I will complete it (the second volume) before the start of classes. While I very much desired to purchase the first volume (as that would be more apt of an introduction to the epic novel), I did not have much choice: after all, I was only buying from a second-hand bookstore: I could not find the first volume, or the rest of the novel.

With the vow, I started reading the volume, and I discovered to my dismay that it was a very slow volume. I was initially attracted to the novel because it was one of the Four Great Classical Chinese novels; it is also considered by many Chinese scholars to be the quintessential Chinese novel: it is the best of the best, at least for them. For me, however, it was a chore (nonetheless, it was still an excellent waste of time). Nothing happened for the first 120 pages of the volume: that was roughly a fifth through the volume already, and all that the volume discussed and described were the mannerisms and life in the pavilions. After this, there was a suicide. In the next 460 or so pages, Bao-yu was beaten up, and there was another suicide. The novel was a panorama of Chinese culture, and while historians and scholars could use the novel to paint a picture of China at that time, regular Chinese people like me would mostly fail to appreciate the novel (I did not appreciate the volume). It did not help that I was disconnected from the superfluities and excesses of Chinese culture, because both my father and grandfather (who was purely Chinese) were more practical than superstitious. My grandfather realized that he was living in a foreign place with foreign sensibilities, and so he adapted. My father followed my grandfather’s thought, and so we, his children, are more Filipino in nature than we are Chinese.

Wait, did I say only? I meant the only two …

I finished the novel early this Sunday morning. Shia distilled (with the very essence of wit) the novel in four words: Chinese Romeo and Juliet. As I read from online sources (not only Wikipedia, mind you), I have grown to believe he is right. At the heart of the novel is the romance between Bao-yu and Dai-yu; at its background are the Chinese customs and traditions at that time. While I admire Cao Xueqin for his perspicuous (mental fortitude at writing such a lengthy work) social commentary, I disdain his affability with prolixity. And really, Shia’s a much better storyteller.

P.S. I actually initially planned to admix the novel with series such as Bleach and Naruto for their excessive length, but I refrained: Bleach and Naruto were very interesting early on in their run; they were only bogged down by a lack of story (when both manga series were exhausted), and so had to result to fillers. In essence, however, they are much more interesting representatives of their medium compared to Dream as a representative of the novel.

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12 Responses to “Is sheer length a measure of greatness? I absolutely disagree.”

  1. DrmChsr0 Says:

    Mike: Libraries.

  2. Michael Says:

    Well, just to set thing straight. Our library disallows borrowing and isn’t open for the most part of the break. It’s called a break for a reason, and if you haven’t paid your tuition they won’t allow you to borrow. I had to utilize different measures.

  3. Ryan A Says:

    Wow thats a strange position for a library.

    With the lengths stated is seems that the story was over-descriptive and not eventful-enough. Someone should construct a graphic novel representation of the novels, and see how it works.

    Bleach, I wish I had kept up, I think I stopped reading after Rukia was saved (v23 or something?), but definitely awesome fun for the time.

  4. hounddog Says:

    I have a long-standing and expensive addiction to purchasing books – from used book stores, especially – so I feel your pain. Still, if you’re willing to give up a few from your bookshelf (or pay a small fee), is an amazing resource. Admittedly, you’re probably not going to find anything really rare, but it’s always my first stop when I have a book in mind.

  5. Michael Says:


    It’s not really weird: why would they lend books if there were no classes? That would only increase the chance of the books ending up as lost. I’ve borrowed novels with a lot of variety in them. From Sartor Resartus (I couldn’t finish it, before people cry out pretentious) to Billiards at Half-Past Nine, I’ve gotten a lot of seminal reading from our library.

    Frankly, I don’t know if it’s just the Classic Chinese way of writing, but it seemed as descriptive as an epic, only less eventful. Scholars fond of Sinicisms will get a lot from this novel, but other than that, Shia really culled what needed to be said: just watch its opera for 2.5 hours, and you’re done.

    As for the construction of the graphic novel, I believe people have undertaken and have done it (Dream being a, if not the, most popular novel in China).

    In its early volumes, and in episodes 1-64, Bleach was most definitely a fun and exciting ride of ‘can you top this (with swords)?’


    I have that addiction too. I usually act on impulse, as I’ve said, since the novels and books in used bookstores are SO transient and temporal. I’m willing to give away most of the novels I’ve read for better ones, actually. I can practically give up a lot. For example, I’ve just read Dream, vol. 2, The Wars, Queen of the Dark Chamber, and Sophie’s Choice. I’ve already given away Queen to my friend who wanted to start reading (since it’s a simple religious book, why not?), and I don’t really want to hang on to Sophie’s Choice because while it was great, I didn’t really love it.

    As for the site membership, does it include the Philippines? I’ve practically lost hope with regard to Philippines having any usable websites on its own. Yes, I live here. :c

    Thank you for the recommendations, however. 😀

  6. Ryan A Says:

    I suppose I understand since it is a university facility, but if it is open to the public then I just don’t know. I believe my university library is open to the public, so it’s basically always open. ^^

  7. Michael Says:


    Wow, that’s grand. Our library is not open to the public. Visitors are allowed, but they pay a price to use our resources. 😀

  8. Susie Q Says:

    I’ve been going to a Borders near my house sometimes and reading there…they have those comfy armchairs set up just for people to read! I try to be a good customer too though- if I’ll want to read something again I’ll buy it. And I agree, quality is definitely more important than length of a series…I mean I’ll watch(/read) what is interesting and entertaining, whether long or short series. Lots of people end up dropping shows that get too long and filled with, well, filler.

  9. lolikitsune Says:

    You didn’t mention the production quality of Naruto/Bleach. Please do note that it’s absolutely atrocious.

  10. zzzzzzz Says:

    “Is sheer length a measure of greatness?” You ask like you have never known poetry.

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