Once upon a time, there was a girl who thought a good book could never be too long. If the story was amazing, why would you want it to end?
That girl was me, age 17. How times have changed.
I do love a good long read, truly. But these days, I get hung up on the opportunity cost—a fancy way of saying I could read five full-length novels in the time it would take me to read Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, for example. And wouldn’t I rather read five books than just one?
I know it’s not just me.
The seventh category for the 2018 Reading Challenge—for those who want to get more out of their reading lives in 2018—is “a book that’s more than 500 pages.” Why? To nudge you to intentionally tackle a looooong book you really want to read, but never seem to want to read next. Those big fat books you keep putting off because they look so darn intimidating.
This is your chance.
The books on this list tally 13,194 pages, with an average page count of 659. They’ve all been well-loved and well-vetted by your fellow readers—because if you’re going to devote 500+ pages to a book, then by golly, it had better be good.
Funny story: I just received an email about this book from a reader, with the all-caps subject line THE HOUSE OF BREDE: WHY YOU NEED TO READ THIS NOW. And it is in fact on my TBR because I've heard this is wonderful, and many readers count it among their lifetime favorites. I've also been warned that while a novel based on life in a Benedictine monastery may sound dull, it's anything but. The story centers around Philippa Talbot, a successful professional woman in London who gives it all up to become a nun. 672 pages. More info →
I'm looking forward to reading this with the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club this fall. 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. 904 pages. More info →
In this sweeping domestic drama, shortlisted for the 2018 RUSA Historical Fiction Award, Lee tracks four generations of a 20th-century Korean family back to the time when Japan annexed the country in 1910, affecting the fates of all. Lee portrays the struggles of one struggling Korean family against the backdrop of cultural and political unrest, as they endure fierce discrimination at the ends of the Japanese. A compelling portrait of a little-explored period of history. At 496 pages, we're calling it close enough. More info →
This is the story of two brothers born into a big, messy, complicated family. One is trying to keep his own life together as he attempts to watch over his schizophrenic twin. It's an emotional and challenging read, on many levels, but I thought it was so well done, and Lamb wrote one of the best endings I've read in a long time. 912 pages. More info →
This engrossing story combines medicine, family, and politics to great effect. Moving between India, Ethiopia, and New York City, we follow the story of identical twin brothers, born of a secret union between an Indian nun and the British surgeon she assisted. Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, part sweeping family story, this novel defies easy genre categorizations and ranks as the favorite book EVER of legions of readers. There are some difficult scenes, and it starts slowly—but it is 100% worth its 667 pages. More info →
This epic novel revolves around four large extended families in the post-colonial India of the 1950s. By following these families, Seth takes his reader into their homes, the courts, their religion, workplaces, academia, violent riots, and domestic disputes. Lush descriptions and well-developed characters make this an enjoyable long read. (Or so I'm told—it's still on my TBR!) 1474 pages. More info →
I took this to the beach last year ... and didn't read it. (Don't worry—it's happening!) A friend who loves this calls it "the longest book you'll never, not once, lose interest in." Setting: Tokyo, 1984. A young woman begins to notice troubling discrepancies in the world around her, which makes her think she's living in a parallel reality, which she names 1Q84, the "Q" standing for "question." If you'd like to tackle a shorter Murakami work for a book in translation, you're in luck. He is prolific. 925 pages. More info →
My high school English teacher assigned us The Grapes of Wrath instead, so I didn't read this until a few years ago. 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.") 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. 620 pages. More info →
In this genre-bending adult science fiction novel, set in the not-too-distant future, a Christian pastor travels from earth to a far-off planet to evangelize its settlers. A big novel, dealing with big questions—religion, politics, philosophy—and permeated by a feeling of anxiety. This book is often mentioned in the same breath as The Sparrow, with good reason. I recommend this to Seth Haines in episode 4 of What Should I Read Next. 594 pages. More info →
From the author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Told in seven segments, set every seven years, this novel spans one Irish boy's entire lifetime. This is the story of one specific life, and also the story of Ireland itself, as it grows and evolves over the same time period. If you loved A Prayer for Owen Meany, think about giving this one a try. Book of the Month members chose this big, immersive novel as their book of the year in 2017. 567 pages. More info →
I was so excited to bring this book home from Nashville's Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club paperback swap! This novel, set in 1970s India during the Emergency, weaves together the lives of four people in India during a time of great political unrest and social upheaval. The titles comes from this line: "You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair." I've been told it's not an easy book, but it's a good one—even if it might just break my heart. 628 pages. More info →
McCullough's modern classic tracks an Australian family across three generations. This sweeping Australian saga tops many a reader's favorite books list. (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.) 704 pages. More info →
It's kind of shame to wait years for a book and then devour it in 24 hours once you have it in your hands. But it's also kind of awesome, and it happens to me with every Kate Morton novel. In 1933, a young child disappeared without a trace. In 2003, a disgraced young detective stumbles upon the cold case and soon discovers its ties to one of England's oldest and most celebrated mystery writer (think Agatha Christie). I absolutely loved reading a mystery novel about a mystery novelist: the pages are filled with fascinating references to the fictional author's writing process and working life. 606 pages. More info →
Jodi Picoult's particular talent is taking hot-button contemporary issues and giving them flesh through the lives of her characters. This time she tackles racism, bringing together a skilled African American nurse and a white supremacist family who don't want her near their child. When the baby goes into cardiac arrest, the nurse is the only one there to intervene. Many readers call this latest novel—until October 2, when A Spark of Light drops—her best yet. We've discussed Small Great Things SO MUCH on the podcast, with Annie Jones, Kristin Economos, Madeleine Riley and others. 510 pages. More info →
When several thriller writers tell you that Daniel Silva writes the best spy thrillers out there, and The Black Widow is the best of the bunch … you read The Black Widow. The story opens with a bombing in Paris, and to make sure another attack doesn't occur, Allon recruits an unlikely woman to infiltrate the terrorist cell responsible. This book stands alone just fine, but now I’m inspired to go back to the beginning of the series. 595 pages. More info →
I've been recommending this nonstop. Fashion, romance, and … espionage. If you loved Casablanca, try this novel set during the Spanish civil war. Sira Quiroga works her way from dressmaker’s assistant to a premier couturier, putting her in contact with the wealthy and powerful. When the British government asks her to spy for them as World War II gears up, she agrees, stitching secret messages into the hems of dresses. This has been a Summer Reading Guide pick and a Book I Can't Stop Recommending, but it's perfect for your Reading Challenge book in translation. The dialogue is a little bumpy in places, but the story is worth it. 626 pages. More info →
In 1967 Nigeria, the Igbo people of the East seceded to form their own nation of Biafra, inciting a bloody three-year civil war followed. This novel from the author of the wonderful Americanah tells the story of that conflict, known as the Biafran War—an event largely forgotten outside Nigeria—through the eyes of five diverse characters: a university professor, his privileged girlfriend, their servant boy, her twin sister, and her British journalist boyfriend. This is a story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. (Hot tip: the audio version is fantastic.) 562 pages. More info →
The characters are interesting and unexpected, right down to the unusual narrator. "You are going to die," begins this 2006 novel. A fitting beginning to a story about hard things: a little girl and her family struggling to endure in WWII Nazi Germany. You'll see why this was an instant staple on school reading lists when it was published ten years ago, and why it has captured the hearts of readers from age 10 to 110. Beautiful, haunting, fascinating, hopeful. (Psst—Zusak's much anticipated new book Bridge of Clay hits shelves October 9. 562 pages. More info →
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. 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 love Kingsolver; this is one of her best. 570 pages. More info →
What’s the longest book you’ve read? What are you reading for this category? Tell us all about it in comments!