17 big, fat books for your summer reading.

17 big, fat books for your summer reading.

I used to adore long books: the longer, the better.

As I’ve gotten older, and reluctantly come to terms with the fact that I’m never, ever going to cross every book off my TBR list, my love of long books has waned: if I can only make it through so many pages in my life, I can make it through more books if I choose shorter ones.

However. I still love a big, fat, meaty doorstop of a book, especially in the summertime. A 500+ page behemoth can pack in more characters, more meaty plot lines, and more interesting complications than your standard 300 page novel, simply because it has the space to do so.

The thick books invite you to enter a new world and camp out for a good, long while.

And the most compelling reason, at least in my book: if you’re reading a great book, why would you want it to end?

Here I’ve gathered a few of my favorite 500+ page novels, plus several that have been hanging out on my TBR list a while. I’d love to hear your take on these titles and your other favorite lengthy reads in comments.

Series: Big fat books for your summer reading
Outlander

Outlander

Talk about big fat books: This time-travel romance series has 8 books to date, totaling 8,479 pages, and 300+ hours on Audible. If you read the words "time-travel romance" and rolled your eyes, you're not alone: I did the same, until I read the backstory. As she tells it, Gabaldon intended to write a realistic historical novel, but a modern woman kept inserting herself into the story! She decided to leave her for the time being—it's hard enough to write a novel, she'd edit her out later—but would YOU edit out Claire? I didn't think so. You could happily lose yourself in this series for a whole summer (but heads up for racy content and graphic torture scenes). More info →
11/22/63: A Novel

11/22/63: A Novel

In King's beloved Maine, high school English teacher Jake Epping discovers a doorway into the past: into 1958, to be precise. Epping soon realizes he has the ability to change the past: any action he takes in 1958 inevitably changes the present day. Before long, Epping commits himself to a bold mission: to tinker with the past and prevent the Kennedy assassination. King's weird blend of history is decidedly creepy, but not scary, and I found it enthralling, if a wee bit long. More info →
The Brothers K

The Brothers K

This one spent years on my TBR list, because so many friends with great taste called it THE best book they ever read. I finally read it this year and am so glad I did. It's a great book, but it's not the un-put-down-able sort: it took me almost two months to get through it. (It is 645 pages, but I've finished much longer Outlander books in a week. This is an incredible, heart-wrenching story, remarkable for its ability to reveal the deep joy present in a family's lowest moments. Due to some tough themes, this one isn't for the faint of heart. More info →
Angle of Repose

Angle of Repose

I nearly included this Pulitzer winner in the Summer Reading Guide but decided maybe not too many of you would be interested in a 672-page book published in 1971, at least not for beach reading. This enthralling story spanning four generations is based on real events, and offers a fascinating look at both one family's history and the history of the American West. I loved the structure, which invites the reader to come alongside the narrator and examine what makes a friendship or a marriage work—and what may cause it to fail. More info →
The Thorn Birds

The Thorn Birds

This sweeping Australian saga tops many a reader's favorite books list, and its overall rating on Goodreads is an impressive 4.19. McCullough's modern classic tracks an Australian family across three generations. (It should be noted that for every two people who adore this book there's one who considers it a schmaltzy romance. Read it and decide for yourself.) More info →
The Shell Seekers

The Shell Seekers

This thick paperback seems to be a permanent fixture at beach condo rentals, and I've never touched it—solely because of its cover. (I know, I know!) But recently several of my favorite reader friends have told me that if I just look past the cheesy cover I'll be rewarded with a captivating story about love and heartbreak across a family's three generations. They tell me there's a reason it's one of the top 100 novels in the BBC's Big Read, but I haven't found out for myself—yet. More info →
Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone

This engrossing story—which has been on my TBR list for ages—combines medicine, family, and politics to great effect. I've heard to start this book with no preconceptions because the description doesn't do it justice. I've also been told the writing is beautiful, that there are some difficult scenes, and that it starts slowly—but that it is 100% worth its 667 pages. More info →
Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall

A hefty, believable, meticulously researched fictional take on Tudor England in the Cromwell era. Cromwell is one of the more mysterious characters of history, and Mantel does a solid job of filling in the blanks. The readers with great taste I rely on for recommendations are split on this one: some love it, some hate it. Either way, this 2009 Man Booker Prize winner is widely praised for its inventiveness. I picked a beautiful red copy up at a library book sale a few years ago and its been mocking me from my shelves ever since: I'm hoping to knock it off this summer. More info →
Middlemarch

Middlemarch

Eliot’s hefty masterpiece combines her “study of provincial life” with a close look at several young couples who fall (or think they fall) in love. Who will find lasting happiness, and who won’t, and why? By focusing on the narrow disappointments and particular joys of this small community, Eliot cuts to the heart of human nature. A novel about love, happiness, and second chances. More info →
City on Fire

City on Fire

I had heard good things about this one from a few readers I trust (which surprised me, given the book's solid 3-star rating on Amazon) but was hesitant to invest 944 pages of my reading life in it. But then I interviewed Seth Haines for What Should I Read Next? and he convinced me to give it a try. I'm so glad he did. The novel revolves around a punk-rock band, a wealthy, dysfunctional NYC family, a pyrotechnics expert and his daughter, and the invisible threads that bind them all together in 1976 Manhattan. If you're deciding if this one's for you, you should know that it's being compared to Wallace, Wolfe, Franzen, and DeLillo, and is full of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. More info →
East of Eden

East of Eden

This is Steinbeck's most ambitious novel, and in his opinion, his finest work. ("I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.") My high school English teacher assigned us The Grapes of Wrath instead, so I didn't read this until a few years ago. The title references the fall of Adam and Eve, and the subsequent embattled relationship between brothers Cain and Abel. Grounded thoroughly in its California setting, interweaving the stories of two Salinas Valley families, Steinbeck's magnum opus feels tragic, yet hopeful. More info →
The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch

Author:
Genre: Literary Fiction
This Pulitzer winner begins with a terrorist attack: an explosion at The Met that kills 13-year-old Theo Decker’s mother and forever changes his life. The novel takes on an epic feel as it winds and twists through New York City, then Vegas, then Amsterdam. I would have given it up during the dark and depressing Vegas sojourn if I hadn’t read that The Goldfinch was Donna Tartt’s artistic response to 9/11. I’m not certain that’s even true, yet framing it that way fundamentally changed the way I read the book, and kept me from abandoning it during the unrelentingly gritty middle. More info →
A Prayer for Owen Meany: A Novel

A Prayer for Owen Meany: A Novel

Irving is a masterful storyteller, and has a knack for drawing compelling characters. This novel, which gently addresses heavy themes of fate and faith, is widely believed to be his finest. Read it and see why it’s on so many readers’ desert island lists. (My own copy is on my nightstand right now, poised for a re-reading.) More info →
Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove

Author:
I'm reading this book this summer for the 2016 Reading Challenge. It's not my typical genre but I keep hearing how fabulous it is: essential reading not for Western-lovers only, but for all fiction-lovers. The title comes from a dusty Texas border town. The story revolves around a 3000 mile cattle drive in the 1880s, and features a motley cast of characters including illustrious captains, notorious outlaws, ex-slaves, Texas Rangers, sheriffs, and more. More info →
All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

Author:
Genre: My Favorites
A captivating story, well-told. The characters in this war novel are fascinating and altogether unexpected, and the book’s setting couldn’t be lovelier: much of the action takes place in Saint-Malo, France, a unique walled port city on the English Channel. It doesn't feel overlong: its 500+ pages give Doerr plenty of room to build a believable world, and give his characters depth and feeling. An intelligent, detailed, literary novel that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. More info →
Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind

This 1936 epic novel and Pulitzer winner is enjoying a resurgence, and for good reason. More than a Civil War novel, this is a tale of the breadth and depth of human emotions, set against the backdrop of the Old South from the dawn of the war through Reconstruction, and is told through the eyes of Scarlett O'Hara, a beautiful, vivacious Southern Belle pressed into the unforeseen challenges of war. Scarlett is but one of a cast of many unforgettable characters that has been bringing readers back to this book for 75 years. Don't let the word "classic" make you think this can't be a beach read: it's a real page-turner. (Psst—Scarlett's strong ESTP personality landed GWTW on the popular the perfect summer reading for every Myers-Briggs personality type list.) More info →
The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

Southern Baptist Missionary Nathan Price heads off to the African Congo with his wife and 4 daughters in 1959, and nothing goes as planned. Though they bring with them everything they think they will need from their home in Bethlehem, Georgia--right down to the Betty Crocker cake mixes--the Prices are woefully unprepared for their new life among the Congolese, and they all pay the price. I've read this several times, yet it's so good I never realized it was a LONG book until a fellow book-lover pointed out the page count to me. More info →

What are your favorite big, fat books?

Big, fat books for your summer reading.

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154 comments

  1. Audrey says:

    Y’all need to read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. That book destroyed me emotionally. I literally sobbed during some parts and I don’t cry in general. It was a flawless book. On the other hand, I found The Goldfinch to be really mediocre. At some parts I felt like I was forcing myself to finish the book. Really disappointed by it tbh because I was so hyped for it.

  2. 13 years ago, I made a reading resolution to read 1 doorstop book a month for the whole year. I did it! I read War and Peace, Moby Dick, David Copperfield, and Vanity Fair that year. I don’t know if I could pull that off anymore. I wasn’t working then, and now I have a lot to read for work as well as my fun time reading. I’m working on Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours right now, but it’s not going well. I keep getting distracted by books with a due date.

  3. tdgl says:

    I’ve read 7 of the 17 (more than I would have thought). I’m also in the 300-page rut. But recently, more and more of the books I’m reading (even highly recommended ones) I’m finding kind of so-so. Starting to wonder what’s the point of checking off LOTs of books rather than getting a lot out of the ones I read….. I have recently been thinking about reading “Gone with the Wind” again. I think I read it in Jr. High (yes, I’m THAT old). It would be interesting to see how I like it as an adult.

  4. Nicky says:

    Oh, this is such a wonderful combination of different types of books! I will definitely be saving this list and coming back to it.
    I’ve been trying to get through Tolstoy’s War & Peace. I’m really enjoying it – but I’m finding it hard to carve out time to dedicate to it consistently.

  5. Sheryl Esau says:

    So thrilled to see Cutting for Stone on this list. I’m not usually a “big” book reader, but I had read The Tennis Partner also by Abraham Verghese and knew I loved his writing. I have no idea how to explain this book but I loved it. Maybe I’ll break down and read a few more “big” books. I also read The Goldfinch, but it was just OK. I think they could have cut out a few 100 pages, while with Cutting for Stone I was sad when it was done and wanted more.

  6. SarahL says:

    Last year I listened to The Count of Monte Christo, and it earned a slot on my list of favorite books of all time. It was nothing like I expected. It was sweeping, adventurous, exciting, funny, thought-provoking, heart-breaking, and eeply moving. I was arguing with the characters and yelling at the villians. I flat-out loved it! (In fact, since I just finished #5 in the Outlander series and I think I need a new big fat book, it might be time for a re-read.)

  7. Angie Howell says:

    It’s not summery and light (quite the opposite!), but Kostova’s The Historian is one of my favorite books of all time. Could not put it down. Almost from page one. FANTASTIC!!!

  8. Terry says:

    Yes, yes to Cutting for Stone, Angle of Repose (hardly ever see this one on anyone’s list anymore but one of my favorite books of all time, and Middlemarch (yeah, English major). I loved Les Miserables and think it is a must read, and I’m going to tackle 11-22-63 this summer. Thanks, Anne!

  9. Jackie says:

    I forgot how much I loved The Poisonwood Bible, it stayed with me for weeks after I finished it. I also agree Pillars of the Earth is a must read.

  10. Jana says:

    I recently read The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour. Just wonderful, a great historical novel. I read tons of LL when I was a kid, but I missed this one. I probably wouldn’t have appreciated the goodness therein at 11 or 12 years old.

  11. Liz says:

    Love this list-I’ve read many and am looking forward to reading many more. I was surprised Donna Tartt’s the Secret History didn’t make the cut. Although this was long I read it in just a few days-I found it intoxicating and I was unable to focus on other things in my life while in the midst of it!

  12. Lisa Ford says:

    Roses by Leila Meacham was recommended to me by a stranger at the library. It is a phenomenal generational story.

  13. JoAnn says:

    When a book is good, being long is a bonus…so much more to enjoy! I’ve read a number of books of this list and you’ve captured a few favorites like Outlander. Two personal favorites are the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a retelling of Arthurian legend from the female perspective, and The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly (The Tea Rose is also very good).

  14. Sally says:

    I’ve read 12 of the 17. Nice list that includes some of my all time favorites. Brothers K , Angle of Repose, Cutting for Stone, Poisonwood Bible,…I wish I hadn’t read them so I could look forward to reading them. Just starting Middlemarch right now and can’t wait. Awesome list.

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