Readers, I have to admit: when I’m looking for my next great book to read, the longer the book, the more encouragement I need to pick it up.
This hasn’t always been the case: when I was a teen and twenty-something, I loved long books: the longer the better. I would deliberately seek out those tomes that stretched towards 1,000 pages or more—because if I was reading a good book, why would I want it to end?
As I’ve gotten older, 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.
Today I’m sharing 20 books—mostly, but not all, novels—that hover around the 500-page mark (or, in some cases, greatly exceed it). I’ve already read and loved most of these, but I include 5 long books still on my TBR. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these titles—because like I said, I need encouragement to pick up a hefty tome, even if it’s rumored to be terrific. And of course, we want to hear your favorite long books in comments.
I had NO IDEA this book was so long, because it moves so quickly! Moriarty's works are compulsively readable: whenever I get my hands on a new one I inhale it in two days. Alice is 29, expecting her first child, and crazy in love with her husband—or at least she thinks she is, but then she bumps her head and wakes up on the gym floor, to find that she’s actually a 39-year-old mother of 3 who’s in the middle of divorcing the man she’s come to hate. She doesn’t know what’s happened to her these past 10 years, or who she’s become. She’s about to find out. I spreed through this like it was the fluffiest chick lit, but found myself mulling over its themes for weeks after I finished. 546 pages. More info →
If you're new to this novel, brace yourself: Francie Nolan is about to win you over. Her Irish Catholic family is struggling to stay afloat in the Brooklyn slums, in the midst of great change at the turn of the century, while her charismatic but doomed father is literally drinking himself to death. But Francie is young, sensitive, imaginative, and determined to make a life for herself. A moving story of unlikely beauty and resilience, wistful, satisfying, and heart-wrenching. 528 pages. More info →
Couture, romance, and ... espionage. This unusual Spanish novel earned its own episode of One Great Book. 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. The translated dialogue is a little bumpy in places, but the story is worth it. 626 pages. More info →
The story centers around a smart, strong-willed Nigerian woman named Ifemelu. After university, she travels to America for postgraduate work, where she endures several years of near-destitution, and a horrific event that upends her world. She finds her way, winning a fellowship at Princeton, and gaining acclaim for her blog, called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black." A highlight: Adichie seamlessly weaves blog posts—about race, national identity, class, poverty, and hair—into the narrative. The novel grapples with difficult issues without becoming overwrought. I would not have read this based on the flap copy, but I was hooked from page one. Haunting, moving, incredibly well done. Terrific on audio. 610 pages. More info →
This family saga tells the story of three generations of a modern British family, brought together again during a time of crisis. The action moves between Cornwall and London, and between past and present, spanning the period from Penelope’s childhood between the wars to Pilcher’s current day, the 1980s. Pilcher aimed to write a “big, fat novel” and this one spreads out over 600 admirably paced pages, giving the reader ample time to get to know her interesting, well-developed, flawed-but-likable characters. Stay tuned for a future episode of One Great Book! 654 pages. More info →
A brilliant, difficult book—easy to read, but the content will make you want to weep for humanity. This meticulously researched, journalistic account of what went down in the aftermath of Katrina reads like a novel and won the Pulitzer to boot. The setting is New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center, which lost electricity in the wake of the storm—and a hospital can't function as it should without power, which forced the medical personnel to make incredibly difficult decisions. But were they the right ones? (No.) So good and so readable, but so very sad. 546 pages. More info →
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. The narrator is Lyman Ward, an injured, wheelchair-bound man who fills his days by working on a history of his grandparents, and much of this "history" is the novel the reader holds. This interesting structure invites the reader to come alongside the narrator as he tries to puzzle out what really happened between his grandparents many years before, and as he reflects on what makes a friendship or a marriage work—and what may cause it to fail. 674 pages. 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 →
My high school English teacher assigned us The Grapes of Wrath instead, so I didn't read this until a few years ago. This story has it all: love, poverty, wealth, war, betrayal, abandonment, murder. An epic tale of the Trasks and Hamiltons, two families doomed to reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel’s rivalry across generations. Steinbeck examines class, identity, and what happens when we are denied love. Grounded thoroughly in its California setting, Steinbeck's magnum opus feels tragic, yet hopeful. 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.") 620 pages. More info →
Jung Chang writes a sprawling true history of three generations of women in twentieth-century China: herself, her mother, and her grandmother. Wild Swans gives a big picture account of Mao Zedong’s impact on China with the real life effect on Chang’s family. Parts of this are horrifying but it is just as much a story of courage and resilience. 713 pages. More info →
N.K. Jemisin is one of the most notable science fiction writers of our time. Everyone is trying to survive the Stillness’s unforgiving, unstable environment as the next Fifth Season approaches. With stellar world-building, we follow three girls trying to make their way as the catastrophic threat looms ever closer. Exploring systematic oppression and the gift of found families, it’s easy to see why The Fifth Season has garnered so much praise. The trilogy clocks in at 1424 pages. 512 pages. More info →
In this sweeping domestic drama, 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. 496 pages. More info →
This book turned around my sagging reading life in October: I read 400 pages in a day while camping! I enjoyed the mystery aspect, which begins when a mentally ill man bursts into Cormoran's office raving about a murder he witnessed as a child. But my real interest in this fourth novel lay in the personal lives of the detectives, especially after book three's cliffhanger ending. (Sensitive readers will want to know that Lethal White is much less gruesome than books two and three. It's intense, but not gory or graphic.) An altogether satisfying addition to the series. Robert Glenister's narration was fantastic, even though I switched to the hardcover so as to get to the ending faster. (This series should be read in order.) 657 pages. More info →
This May 2019 release (and Summer Reading Guide selection) is the newest book on the list. Chiaverini's novel was inspired by the life of Mildred Harnack, a real historical figure whose story was previously untold because the U.S. government deliberately buried it after the war. Harnack was one of dozens of members of the network of American and German resistance fighters the Gestapo called die Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra). The bulk of the action takes places between the wars, beginning in 1929; I was initially surprised that a novel about Nazi Germany before and during WWII began SO early, but Chiaverini's chosen timeline serves her story well: as a reader, you see events escalate over time through these women’s eyes: first they’re incredulous, then increasingly horrified, all the while asking each other, what do we do? The setup feels leisurely but the payoff is worth it. 608 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. I love Kingsolver; this is one of her best. 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. 570 pages. More info →
I haven’t yet read these next 5 titles, but they’re plenty long and high on my TBR. (If you’ve read them, share your thoughts in comments?)
Set in 1984 Tokyo, a woman enters a parallel universe, while a ghostwriter takes on a project that's not what it seems. The two storylines converge over the course of the year, exploring fantasy, self-discovery, religion, love, and loneliness. The translation itself has been highly praised. On my TBR because a friend who loves it calls it "the longest book you'll never, not once, lose interest in." 925 pages. More info →
This is one of the few nonfiction works on this list, from the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. An essential read about a slice of forgotten American history detailing the decades-long migration of almost six million black citizens from the South to the North and West between 1915 and 1970, hoping for a better life, and how their resettlement changed the face of America. Wilkerson focuses on the stories of three individuals, giving us both an intimate portrayal and Big Picture view of what they experienced and how this changed the country. Listen to Traci Thomas rave out this book in Episode 162 of What Should I Read Next: The best bad ending you'll ever read. 622 pages. More info →
What’s not to love about an intersecting tale about an unmarried queen who must bear a daughter to save her kingdom, a spy posing as a lady-in-waiting, and a dragonrider? Fantasy is often composed of series and this standalone is a welcome exception. 846 pages. More info →
Magic is forbidden in Orïsha but Zélie Adebola remembers and now she has a chance to bring it back and bring down the monarchy. I downloaded this as an audiobook when it first came out; it clocks in at nearly 18 hours. 537 pages. More info →
Renowned culinary historian Michael Twitty traces his family roots (both Black and white) from Africa to America and the history of Southern cuisine in this richly drawn memoir. I've had this ARC on my nightstand since well before the book was published. 477 pages. More info →
How would you describe your relationship with long books? What titles would you add to this list?