The Norman Mailer Incident

When I was 18 or 19, I routinely read 1,000 plus page books. A Thousand Days and Robert Kennedy and his Times by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to name just two. So book length has never intimidated me. I was assistant coaching debate for a local high school and we took the kids to Stanford University for a debate tournament. Naturally, I made my way to the campus book store. Instead of buying a sweatshirt of other Stanford gear, I bought a copy of Harlot’s Ghost by Norman Mailer. I had read The Executioner’s Song a few years prior and since I had a fascination with the CIA and Harlot’s Ghost was about the CIA, I got it.

I immediately started reading. It was a monster of a book. 1,282 pages of text. That’s not counting the notes at the end. I looked at the last page to get a page count, but I deliberately did not look at the end because I didn’t want to ruin anything. Had I done so, I probably would have thought twice about reading the book at all.

While Harlot’s Ghost was touted as a “history of the CIA,” no one mentioned how long it was. Or that it ended with three words you never, ever want to see at the end of a 1,282 page book – “To Be Continued.” When I read those three words, I closed the book and hurled it across the room. It is the only time I have ever thrown a book. I was so mad. I invested so much time into reading this book and following its convoluted plot, I thought I was being punished with the end. And, as it turns out, it was not continued because Mailer died before he wrote a squeal, though I am not convinced he ever intended to.

Because of that no fun surprise at the end of the book, I ALWAYS read the last paragraph of the book I am starting. Most of the time, it makes no sense, but at least I know what’s going to happen. And I will never get to the end of a book that says, “To Be Continued” and be surprised.

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