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Poll: Longest Books Worth Reading?

les miserablesToday is a tribute to doorstops, bricks, and what many consider a waste of perfectly good paper. I am referring to books that are gigantic. Books that have comparable thickness and width. Books whose spines break by the time you reach page 400 because they disintegrate from the strain. Stories that take so long to tell that they make your neck and wrists ache from trying to hold them up in bed.

But it’s fairly easy to name a really, really long book. What I’d like to do today is discuss the longest books that I/we/you feel are actually worth reading, whether it’s because they’re edifying, entertaining, hilarious, educational, or all of the above.

I’ll start.

  • The Passage by Justin
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • The Terror by Dan Simmons
  • Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
  • Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (kettlebells make an appearance in this book)
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Interesting…I’m trying to come up with more modern books, but the 1000 page novel really isn’t what sells, unless it’s Tom Clancy. I’m sure there are more, but I’ll be hornswaggled (sorry, I just watched a WWE documentary and there is a leprechaun named Hornswaggle) if I can think of any.

Maybe you can. Ready, aim, set your brains to “nerd,” and go.

Josh

 

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  • Tony March 30, 2011, 10:25 am

    Well, I was going to say Ulysses but I guess it might be a tad short for this list. Practically a pamphlet compared to some of them.

    The most rewarding monster I have read is The Anatomy of Melancholy but it will certainly not be to everyone’s taste.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 30, 2011, 10:38 am

      No, Tony, Ulysses easily qualifies for length. I think it has approximately 9,000 words on each page, and I think there are at least 650 pages in the Modern Library edition I read.

      Can you explain the Anatomy of Melancholy to me? It’s on my floor–I work in non-fiction–and as many times as I have looked at it, I’m still not sure what the book is meant to be. I haven’t read it. If you had to pick a reason to read it, what do you think the best thing about it is? Good luck.

      • Tony March 30, 2011, 11:11 am

        A hard book to pin down. For starters it is my substitute for a full classical education. Burton puts forward positions on all manner of subjects and then “proves” them by quoting from all the great writers of antiquity. So, by the time you are done you have been exposed to an incredible breadth of writers and ideas without having to learn Latin or go back and take classics.

        It is a bit like the Internet for the 1600s. In one book you cover just about everything and the whole lot is tightly interconnected so you dance from topic to topic like a late night binge on Wikipedia but all tied together by Burton’s charming style.

        Finally, I find the book a terrific comfort. It connects you back to our history and makes it clear that all the ills that we feel so keenly today have been troubling people for centuries and even millennia and that while life today is different in the details, the real meat of being human is pretty much as it always has been.

        • Josh Hanagarne March 30, 2011, 12:40 pm

          All right, it is in my hands right now. Off to go start it.

          • Piers McCarney March 31, 2011, 6:03 am

            This description of this book reminds me that I’m halfway through “Cultural Amnesia” by Clive James. Sounds like a similar idea, tough Clive primarily references the works of the WWII era.
            Ever read any of that, Josh (or any other Clive)? If not, I recommend it; great wit.

  • Niels March 30, 2011, 10:54 am

    I loved War and Peace. More recent though:
    Almanac of the Dead, by Leslie Marmon Silko. A beautiful, deep, tome that writes about life in a way no other novelist has done for me. It takes you from Tuscon to Mexico to several countries in Latin America. A story from the bottom up so to speak, gritty, dirty, messy, real, heart wrenching, and a story about wrestling life from whatever has been thrown at you.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 30, 2011, 2:28 pm

      Thanks Niels. I’m a fan of Silko but haven’t read that one.

  • Andy Fossett March 30, 2011, 11:28 am

    I love long books because I feel that I really get much more deeply into their universes than I do with shorter works.

    My favorite is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I think the first couple hundred pages take some work to get into, but it gets addictive as things come together.

    I’m also enjoying Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver series, which taken all together is easily over a thousand pages (though I’m not precisely sure if each book is, since I’m reading them on Kindle).

    • Josh Hanagarne March 30, 2011, 12:39 pm

      Andy, I love all of those as well. Once again, they didn’t even cross my mind. Thank you.

      • Jeroen March 30, 2011, 11:58 pm

        Agree on Infinite jest. About 1100 pages incuding 100 pages of notes. But worth it.

  • Jon March 30, 2011, 12:00 pm

    Trinity by Leon Uris is somewhere in the 900 page range and takes some dedication to get through, but I thought it was well worth the time and effort.

  • Tony March 30, 2011, 12:31 pm

    After getting home and looking over the bookshelf for the “thickies” I have to add Godel, Escher and Bach. Well worth the considerable investment of time required.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 30, 2011, 12:39 pm

      Tony, that one I have tried and it thumped me. Would you have any advice for how someone might approach that book? A different angle than, oh, “I’m going to sit down and read this to prove that I’m smart?” That’s kind of what I did and blah….I stunk.

      • Tony March 30, 2011, 1:13 pm

        Life’s too short to read books you don’t enjoy.

        If you really want to tick it off then just skip to the next chapter when it starts getting too deeply into any topic. I read it first when I was half way through a Computer Science degree so my brain was full of primes and queue theory already.

        Now all the maths has long since dribbled out my ears and I only dip into it for the dialogues between Achilles and the Tortoise. 🙂

  • Michelle March 30, 2011, 12:33 pm

    Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (864) and The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear (704) might be on the short side for the list, but they’re both lovely. I can’t make it through more than a section of Captain Bluebear at a go, but it’s a fabulous book to come back to repeatedly and it’s chock full of places and characters that are absolutely fantastic (in both senses of the word).

    The Brothers Karamzov is a classic that makes a great beach towel anchor/paperweight.

    A Short History of Nearly Everything (560) probably doesn’t make the cut, but it definitely qualifies as edifying, entertaining, hilarious, and educational. Plus, it’d be all ironic, since it has “short” right there in the title. *sigh*

    • Josh Hanagarne March 30, 2011, 12:38 pm

      I’m losing my mind. I’ve talked about all of those books here on the blog and they didn’t even cross my mind.

  • Johan March 30, 2011, 1:30 pm

    Does Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings count? I know it is sometimes sold as separate books, but I have a deluxe hardback that is 1198 pages.
    I also have a Flora for the BeNeLux that is close to a 1000 pages, but that is not the kind of book you actually read.

  • Daisy March 30, 2011, 2:21 pm

    I would add The Other Boleyn Girl. The culture, the workings of the royal court, the whole picture of their society – fascinating.

  • wil March 30, 2011, 5:35 pm

    I enjoyed The Terror as well. I’ll add two more 600+ novels: House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski and Rumo bu Walter Moers.

  • Jim Lochner March 30, 2011, 7:15 pm

    I’m in the middle of “Middlemarch” by George Eliot and thoroughly enjoying it. It’s a book I’ve picked up countless times in the bookstore, scanned it, and just haven’t been in the mood for it. Having it on the Kindle helps with the weight, plus I can up the font size since my eyesight gets worse and worse as I get older. 🙂

    I’m also fond of the doorstops, I mean books, of James Michener, even though they’re not high on most critics’ lists. In particular “Hawaii” and “The Source” are highly entertaining reads. Michener may not be the most beautiful writer, but I learn so much and he’s a damn good storeteller…stilted dialogue and 2-dimensional characters be damned!

  • David B March 30, 2011, 8:05 pm

    I enjoyed the Count of Monte Cristo. Picked it up on a whim while I was traveling across Europe, and it definitely made the train trips bearable, if not enjoyable.

    Also, I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged, but I haven’t read that in ages.

    • Evan March 31, 2011, 9:19 am

      +1 for Atlas Shrugged here. It is especially action-packed and captivating in the concluding 200 pages. I thought since it’s a long book I would start to lose steam and would have to drag myself to the finish line. Instead I sped up at the end!

  • Pim March 31, 2011, 4:31 am

    The stand by Stephen King? I was going to say LOTR but I saw it has allready been mentioned. Shogun by James Clavell? By the way I loved the 131/2 lives of captain Bluebear. The size of a book usually doesn’t scare me. It does work like that for my students. If they get a reading assignment they’ll always choose the thinnest books. I have tried again and again that those aren’t necessary books that are fun.

    Maybe you could put up a post on how to motivate people to read? I’d be interested to hear your ideas and the ideas of the people who follow this blog.

  • Mel March 31, 2011, 6:26 am

    I see no one’s yet mentioned Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. At 1504 pages, it is epic in heft and story.

    Though Sartre’s Being and Nothingness is rather impenetrable, it only comes in at 688 pages. Slacker. I need my obfuscation to be verbose and long winded!

    Great blog, I’m a new arrival. I shall be staying if you don’t mind.

  • Heather March 31, 2011, 6:42 am

    I also vote for Ulysses, as well as King’s The Stand. I’d vote for Finnegan’s Wake as well. Two others that I don’t think have been mentioned: Kerouac’s Town and the City and Desolation Angels. Oooo, almost forgot about Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, with all the “smoking” food!

  • Courtney March 31, 2011, 9:47 am

    I’ve never read it, but my sister swears the 692-page “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen Mccullough is worth reading.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 31, 2011, 2:29 pm

      I haven’t read it either. I’ve had it in my hands a few times but…not…yet.

  • Isabella April 1, 2011, 7:27 am

    The bible. That’s the thickest book that I have still yet to get through.
    Same as with the LOtR series, if put all together, the Chronicles of Narnia is thick and good.
    The dictionary….just kidding. Although my mother did read it like a book once. Got through “D”. 🙂

  • Jeanette Swalberg April 1, 2011, 9:49 am

    Harry Potter series. I’m counting it.

  • Paul Anderson April 3, 2011, 8:59 pm

    Sandman Neil Gaiman

  • Steve M April 4, 2011, 3:17 pm

    Back in the early 1970’s (shows how old I am) I picked up an Oxford Classics edition of War and Peace (3 volumes in one compact hard back book printed on that thin but still opaque paper like that used for Bibles). I carried it around with me everywhere including in the car. I read it while waiting on the horrific gas lines of the 70″s. A great experience (the reading, not the gas lines) – too bad you can read War and Peace for the first time only once.

  • Jennifer April 5, 2011, 6:47 am

    Gone with the Wind is a good read and fits the criteria at 1037 pages.

  • Joel Friedlander April 5, 2011, 12:55 pm

    Well, at the risk of elbowing into this very high-toned list, I put the mammoth Harry Potter books. Goblet of Fire is 752 pages, Order of the Phoenix comes in at 870 pages, and Deathly Hallows staggers to the finish line with 784 pages. I read and enjoyed every one, and Rowling keeps you glued to your seat so well you’re sorry to see them end. But nothing compares to watching your 11-year old sit there with those big books and just plow through them. Then he read them all again. What a way to get kids reading!

  • Jim Lochner April 5, 2011, 1:02 pm

    Two more great, long Pulitzer winners: Normal Mailer’s “The Executioner’s Song” at 1,053 pages and Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” at 843 pgs.