I recently went to the bookstore (of course) and bought several new books (of course) (In my defense, I had a gift card). Among them was 1Q84, Haruki Murakami’s 1,157-page novel that I’ve had my eye on for years. So many things about this book intrigue me: the fantasy elements, the connection to George Orwell’s 1984, and particularly how long it is. I absolutely love the feeling of being deep in the middle of an extremely long book and never wanting it to end. It’s rare that a writer is talented enough to write a book that’s not only gigantic, but truly needs to be that gigantic in order to properly tell its story. I’m always searching for books like that.
Acquiring a gorgeous new giant book for my TBR pile made me start to think about the longest books I’ve ever read. To be clear, these are not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read or my favorites (although some of them are!)–they are just the most colossal.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke ( 849 pages) – Actually one of my favorite books. Two British magicians are bringing back magic during the Napoleonic Wars, and I could not be more on board. It’s fantasy, it’s alternate history, and it’s written in this gorgeous crafted old-fashioned-sounding prose. And there are footnotes! And Faerie! This is the type of book where you don’t notice length at all until you’re at the end and lament the fact that it’s over.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (1,137 pages) – I’m counting this as one book because the edition I own is the all-in-one movie cover edition, and I’ve only ever read it as one continuous novel. I actually read through this twice during middle school, which was right before the Lord of the Rings films started being released. At the time, I was hesitant to start The Lord of the Rings because I was disappointed by The Hobbit (I thought it was too childish, and I really hated that there weren’t any female characters). But once Gandalf and the hobbits reached the Council of Elrond, I was completely on board–political machinations in fantasy realms hook me every time. Unlike a lot of readers, I didn’t mind the descriptive prose–Tolkien knows how to write, and the book deserved every one of its pages.
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin (768 pages) – For me, this would go in the “not worth it” section of extremely long books. It’s not that Winter’s Tale is a bad book, but it did not need to be even half as long as it was. I did not find any of the characters interesting, and kept wishing for more fantasy elements. All through the book, I felt like I was waiting for some sort of big payoff or climax which never arrived. I bought the movie edition thinking I’d read it before the film came out, and didn’t quite make it. It became sort of a joke with my friends, who noticed the fact that snow was persisting that year into March/April in Boston and attributed it to the fact that I was still reading a book called Winter’s Tale that I’d started in January. Well, I eventually finished it, and winter ended, so you’re welcome, I guess.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1,069 pages) – People tend to have very strong political opinions about Ayn Rand–libertarians love her, and most other people can’t stand her views–but my reading her books had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the fact that she was my grandfather’s favorite writer; he passed away when I was a child and before I was able to get to know him as an adult. In high school, I decided to read all of her books to connect with that part of him, and I’m glad that I was able to do so. I don’t agree with her extreme political stances, but I do respect her as a storyteller–Atlas Shrugged is a gigantic feat of a book with a twisty plot that never lets go of your attention. I think more people need to let go of their prejudices against her politics and read her books purely for the storytelling.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (901 pages) – I really hate this book cover. The book is actually a very beautifully written fantasy that I devoured one summer. It’s set in an alternate medieval Europe, which is something I often have a problem with in fantasy because it can show a lack of creativity, but in this case Carey created a really interesting historical and religious context for her world. Also, Joscelin. How can you not love Joscelin?
The Name of the Wind (722 pages) and The Wise Man’s Fear (1,107 pages) by Patrick Rothfuss – Again, these books fall into the trap of pseudo-medieval-Europe fantasy, but I’ve really enjoyed them.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (870 pages) – I feel like I don’t talk enough about Harry Potter in this blog. My favorite book in the series is The Prisoner of Azkaban, but this is the longest, and I love them all so much. The thing about Harry Potter is that I feel like we’d all have been completely happy with 2,000-page volumes every year; I loved the amount of detail, humor, and heart in each new book.
Edit: I can’t believe I forgot The Stand by Stephen King (1,167 pages)!
What are some of your favorite giant reads?