We know not to judge a book by its cover, but some of us are still guilty of judging a book by its length. We mean well, but how can we commit to reading thousands of pages on faith? What if the book isn’t really as good as everyone says it is?
It’s a fair concern, but there are plenty of long books out there that are absolutely worth the time it takes to read them. We’ve listed ten of our favorites here. Check them out below, and don’t forget to add your own suggestions in the comments!
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Boris Pasternak’s remarkable book deserves to stand with the great classics of Russian literature in terms of both quality and sheer length! This book is good enough to spend some time with. Its stance on Russia’s communist October Revolution got it banned in the USSR, but it gained international acclaim and helped its author win the Nobel Prize in literature.
There are a lot of literary works on this list, but genre fiction writers like to go long, too. Dune is a huge book, but sci-fi and fantasy fans are used to that. The rest of us might be a little turned off, but don’t be – there’s a reason that Dune is widely considered the greatest science fiction novel ever written. Every reader can get something out of Dune, even if science fiction isn’t normally their favorite.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Fantasy epics tend to be on the long side – you can thank J.R.R. Tolkien for setting that standard. That can make many of them quite a slog, particularly for those who aren’t big fans of the genre, but George R.R. Martin’s novel stands as a major modern exception to that rule. A Game of Thrones moves quickly through its hundreds of pages, thanks to Martin’s action-packed scenes and fast-paced plot.
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
Gravity’s Rainbow is the first of several books on this list that don’t settle for being long, but insist on being confusing, too. Gravity’s Rainbow is a book that you’ll have to read slowly, but it will reward your efforts with humor, insight, and wild imagination. Nobody mixes the highbrow with the lowbrow quite like Thomas Pynchon.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Infinite Jest isn’t just long, it’s also complex and experimental. It also features a long section of endnotes from the author, which you shouldn’t skip. It’s a long book that you can’t read quickly, but it’s also the magnum opus of one of the most important American authors of this century. Read it!
1Q84 is so big that it was originally published in three parts in Haruki Murakami’s native Japan. The English version was released as one giant volume. Murakami has written other large books, including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but this may be the best of them. Shorter Murakami works are easy to find, but you’re not getting the full experience unless you dive head-first into his larger projects.
Moby-Dick is almost as famous for being long as it is for being one of the single greatest works of literature in American history. We’re recommending it because of the second thing. If you carve out some time to get through Melville’s extensive descriptions of boats and whaling equipment, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most meaningful and beautiful novels ever written.
We mentioned earlier that Thomas Pynchon was a master of mixing highbrow and lowbrow references into a complex narrative. We suspect he read a lot of James Joyce when he was developing his style, because Joyce’s Ulysses is a master class in that sort of thing. Joyce mixes obscene and earthy moments with references to art, classical myth, and the world of literature. Ulysses is a book that has to be studied as much as its read, but it’s worth doing both.
Underworld is the one book by Don DeLillo that everyone ought to read. It’s a huge, ambitious book that appeals to readers and critics alike. Its non-linear narrative jumps around in time while painting a compelling portrait of several unforgettable characters. It’ll take you a while to read Underworld, but it’s worth the investment.
It’s a shame that some people only know War and Peace for being very, very long, because it’s also very, very good. Like a few other books on this list, War and Peace feels shorter when you’re caught up in it. The Russian masters are rarely brief, but their work is always worth it. Read Anna Karenina, too!
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Stephen Lovely, writer