11 Big, Extra-Long Books Worth Reading

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Big, long books allow readers to spend more time lost in the fictional worlds they love. Here’s why those big books and epic series might end up being some of your favorites, as well as a list of thick books worth reading.

A reading confession: one of my deeply held and not-really-true beliefs (but I still kind of feel it in my bones) is that the best books are long books. Usually books with 450-500 pages or more (and I don’t mind a good 1,000-page book either).

Obviously, there are plenty of great books that don’t come near these massive page counts. Publishers tend to shy away from books that long unless they have a really good reason.

And even I, as a reader who LOVES long, epic books, sometimes think twice about taking those big novels off my shelf.

Not only are those heavy, thick books tough to hold (an argument for using e-readers), but they take so much time to read. I’ve heard it referred to as “opportunity cost”: extra time spent reading one big book could be spent reading several shorter ones.

And with our endless TBR lists (that’s “to-be-read lists,” for the non-bloggers) looming over us, who wants to sacrifice the time that one big, long book requires?

But my belief persists, because the truth is that most of my very favorite books are long books. I’m guessing that one reason for this is that I tend to vet a big book a little more carefully than a shorter one–I want to be sure it’s worth my time before I pick it up–but there are other reasons as well.

Why Reading Long Books is Worth It

I could go on about why I love long books, but I thought a short list would be sufficient (since the long reads are all ahead). Here’s why I love them:

  • Long books tend to have deeper character development
  • I can spend more time in the fictional world of a big book (bonus if all the books in a series are long–I can be there for months!)
  • Many of these thick books are multi-generational, span across decades, or could be called epic novels–something I tend to love
  • It’s rare that an ending feels rushed when the author has space for the full story.

There are so many long books that I love, but these are a few of my favorites. I hope you’ll love them, too!

11 of the Best Big Books to Add to Your Reading List

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, a book book worth reading

1Q84

Author: Haruki Murakami

Set in Tokyo, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is one of the strangest and most compelling books I’ve ever read. Between the two moons that suddenly appear in the sky, the small people that creep into rooms at night, and the tangled web of connections leading to–among other things–a cult and a philanthropic dowager–it doesn’t seem like this story should work. But somehow it does.

At the heart of it are Aomame and Tengo, who are brought together through a series of strange circumstances that lead them to believe they are living in a parallel existence. Very long, strange, and difficult to summarize, this book is a commitment. But you’ll keep turning the pages just to find out what outlandish thing happens next.


Body & Soul by Frank Conroy, a long book worth reading

Body & Soul

Author: Frank Conroy

Body & Soul tells the story of Claude Rawlings, a piano prodigy discovered by chance as a six-year-old on his lonely wanderings through New York. Left largely to himself while his mother drives a taxi, Claude picks out tunes on a piano and befriends the owner of a music store.

His genius propels him to fame and riches–and eventually into a crisis of creativity and obsession common with brilliant artists. It’s been a number of years since I read this, but I remember it as sweeping and completely immersive (and at 450 pages, it’s not as long as the others on this list).


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, a thick book everyone should read

The Goldfinch

Author: Donna Tartt

When Theo Decker survives an explosion at the museum, his life is forever changed. His mother is killed, setting Theo on a journey to several homes and a rootless existence. Complicating Theo’s sense of disquiet is his secret: in the confusion of the blast, he took a priceless painting that he carries with him through the years. When he finally finds a sense of home and belonging in an antiques business, Theo’s secret could be his undoing. Tartt’s book won the Pulitzer Prize and I found it just as compelling as The Secret History.


The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The Heart’s Invisible Furies

Author: John Boyne

Cyril Avery was born to an unwed mother in Ireland in the 1940s–an unthinkable and shameful thing, at that time. Cyril is adopted by Charles and Maude Avery, who are indifferent and self-centered, but not neglectful.

From an early age, Cyril knows he’s different: not a “real Avery,” as Charles is quick to remind him, and realizing that he is not attracted to girls like his friends are–something that’s even more shameful at that time in Ireland. In fact, Cyril harbors a deep love for his womanizing friend and eventual school roommate, Julian Woodbead.

The book follows Cyril through his life, from his youth and twenties spent in hiding and public denial in a repressive Dublin to a more open life in middle age in Amsterdam and New York. Cyril’s search for identity, belonging, acceptance, and family is by turns funny, frustrating, and sad.


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a big thick book worth reading

Americanah

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

After leaving a Nigeria under military rule, Ifemelu and Obinze plan to move to the United States to start a new life. But 9/11 keeps Obinze from joining Ifemelu, and over 15 years they each seek their own identities in very different ways.

Ifemelu pursues academics while facing her own blackness for the first time, now living in a country where her race is defining in ways that it wasn’t in Nigeria. Obinze, meanwhile, lives a life in dangerous limbo in London, where he is undocumented. When they finally come together, they must determine if what they’ve learned about themselves and the world can allow them to be together in a new Nigeria.


Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, a big book worth reading

Outlander

Author: Diana Gabaldon

In 1945, English combat nurse Claire Randall walks through a circle of standing stones in Scotland and finds herself in 1743. Separated from her new husband by 200 years and at the mercy of a suspicious clan embroiled in conflict, Claire must use her cunning to survive and make her way back to the 20th century.

Young Highlander Jamie Fraser emerges as a potential ally and protector in an alien time and land. As she and Jamie grow closer, Claire faces decisions about her life–including when and where she wants to live, and who she wants to be with.

This entire series was completely immersive for me–dramatic, a little sexy, and unputdownable. I raced through all of the big books in this series.



A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life

Author: Hanya Yanagihara

Four friends move to New York after graduating from college with big dreams of successful careers. JB is an artist, Willem an aspiring actor, Malcolm an architect, and Jude a lawyer. The story brings the reader into the lives of each of the men, finally landing on Jude. It’s at this point that it’s clear that this is not just another post-collegiate New York story. Jude is insular and mysterious, and as the story progresses, the degree of his damage and suffering emerges.

A Little Life covers decades in the life of the men and it is one of the most devastating, riveting books I’ve ever read. Many readers count it among their favorites–just as many say they loved it but could never read it again. For more, also check out The Story of the Story: 15 Things You Didn’t Know about A Little Life.

Related: 11 Devastating Books Like A Little Life


A Column of Fire by Ken Follett, a thick book worth reading

A Column of Fire

Author: Ken Follett

This third book in the Pillars of the Earth series and is set several hundred years after the previous two. These books are what I call “soapy historical fiction.” They are epic stories that span decades and are filled with drama, conflict, and romance, as well as history. This story takes us back to the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England, as well as to France, Spain, and Belgium during the time of the Tudors and the Inquisition.

What I love about reading this whole trilogy is the very strange feeling that comes with realizing that the characters you knew intimately from the previous books have died. All of the events and cares that drove their lives have passed into history and are largely irrelevant to the current story, but they also reverberate through the centuries and shape the lives of future generations. Another book that does this (with a very different story, and in much fewer pages) is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

Also of note: a prequel is coming in September 2020!


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a classic long book that will help you start a reading habit.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Author: Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the much-loved classic about a young girl, Francie Nolan, growing up in poverty in turn-of-century Brooklyn. Francie is a bookish, resourceful child, caught between her dreamer of a father and her work-worn, practical mother.

Francie is self-aware and a keen observer of people and the life around her, a heroine who manages to continue to seek beauty even as it seems determined to elude her. I finally read this thick book in 2017 and it made my list of best books of the year.

Related: 11 Moving Books Like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn


The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History

Author: Donna Tartt

This is the story of a group of classics students at an elite New England college and their relationships with each other and an eccentric but compelling professor. The students seem to strive for elitism and arrogance, and often toe the line of morality. They eventually cross it when they kill one of their own. You learn this on the first page and then are drawn into the tale of how they got to that point and the aftermath.

None of the characters in this big book are likable, but they are compelling in their insularity and self-destructiveness. The Secret History is among my favorite books, but it is divisive–people seem to either love it or hate it.

The Way the Crow Flies by Anne-Marie MacDonald, a big thick book worth reading

The Way the Crow Flies

Author: Ann-Marie MacDonald

In this long Cold War-era historical fiction book, an 8-year-old girl and her family are stationed on a Canadian Air Force Base in the 1960s. When a young girl is murdered, the complicated lies begin to layer–among family, community, and finally on an international scale. 

This is a slow-build, big novel–patient readers are rewarded with a fast-paced, unputdownable ending. Told from a child’s perspective, the unique voice lends innocence and naiveté to the complicated, intertwining storylines and moral ambiguities.

*Note: I don’t often give trigger warnings, but this one warrants it. This book covers topics that may be difficult for some readers.


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What are your favorite big, long books?


You might also like:


List of 10 Long Books Worth Reading

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11 Big Books to Cozy Up With. Covers of long books, including The Secret History, The Heart's Invisible Furies, Body and Soul, A Little Life, and Americanah.

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41 Comments

  1. I’m 100% the opposite. 😉 I like shorter books, and usually find a great story inside 300-some page novels. But I also understand the desire to know more about characters we love or the world they live in. Either way, I’m just so glad there are books in this world. 🙂

    1. Yes–thank goodness for books of ALL lengths! 🙂

  2. I loved Outlander and The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I don’t often have time to get stuck into a long book, but I try not to shy away from them.

    1. They definitely take extra time, but if I can make myself look past that it’s usually worth it.

  3. Americanah and The Secret History both sound good.

    I usually don’t care how long a book is. Although if it’s not very good, I prefer shorter! If I read too many über-long books back to back, I get exhausted too.

    1. I’m with you on mixing them up. I usually try to throw in a few quick short ones after a long read.

  4. I read a hard copy of 1Q84 and it was physically a pain to read — it was so heavy! 🙂 But the story was worth it. For a lot of these books, maybe the eBook version is preferable?

    1. Ha! I definitely read that one and all of the Outlander books on an e-reader–it allowed me to read a LOT when I was nursing my babies. I love hardcover and paperback books, but there are times when ebooks have an advantage!

  5. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is definitely on my reading bucket list! I loved Goldfinch, but I think she probably could have cut at least 200 pages. There is a lot of detail in that book!

    1. Oh, I think you’ll love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!
      I don’t remember if I felt that way about The Goldfinch, but I read it before I started blogging. I feel like I didn’t care as much how long it took me to read a book back then! I picked up a used copy at a library sale the other day, so I’ll be interested to see how a reread goes (whenever I get to it).

    1. Outlander is such a fun series to get lost in!

    1. That would be great. I’d love to check out other books by Betty Smith, though.

  6. None of these books made my list this week, but I definitely agree with your assessment about long books. Although I also sometimes find myself wishing that shorter books would end well before they actually do because they sometimes seem excessively drawn out and like the continue after they reached the obvious conclusion.

    Hope you have a great week.

    1. That’s true and is a good point. I think any book, no matter how long or short, needs to earn it’s pages.

    1. Definitely. All the books in the Outlander series have been great. I didn’t enjoy the spinoffs as much, though.

  7. I really like your points about why long books are so often great books. I think adding to that is the fact that if you finish a long book, you had to really be enjoying it or you’d have given up long before the end.

    Americanah has long been on my backlist. I need to fix that soon!

    1. Great point! I think I’m more likely to DNF a long book I’m not enjoying–at least early on. If I make it a long way through, though, then I start feeling the sunk costs and I often feel like if I made it that far, I have to finish it!

  8. I love the character development in long books. The characters start to feel very real, like friends. The Goldfinch came very close to being on my list, but I had to limit myself to 10.

    1. They definitely do, after spending so much time with them!

  9. Wow. Your first book knocked me right over because I don’t know another reader, much less blogger, who has read it and it is a long time favorite of mine! To the point that I own a first edition of Body & Soul. Love that book and feel as if I ought to read it again.

    I’m a fan of the really long book as well. Some of my favorites are Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy, The Historian, and 11/2263. I’m reading my first Murakami right now- Killing Commendatore. I’m only 10% in so not sure where/how it’s going to go, but I find his writing soothing- which is nice these days.

    1. Catherine, I am so glad you commented on Body & Soul! Including it here felt a little like a cheat, since 450 pages isn’t really that long. But I’m having kind of a moment with this book right now and I couldn’t resist.

      I had actually completely forgotten about it until I ran across it at my library’s book sale nook a few weeks ago. I resisted buying it then, but I kept thinking about it and went back a week later. It was still there, so I picked it up, and now it’s been sitting on top of a stack of books and every time I walk by I think about how much I loved it and want to read it again.

      So I am so happy to hear that you love it, too, and I think we need to start a (quiet, introverted, book bloggy) campaign to get it in more people’s hands 🙂

  10. In my tidyup set two shelves aside for BIG books.Found Bleak House,Collected Stories of Carol Shields,two Wally Lamb,Edward Rutherford’s London and Russia,and all three Ken Follett novels.And three of my new fave,Penny Vincenzi.That’s ONE shelf..:-)

  11. Hi,
    I’m a new member and would like to invite you to follow my WordPress blog, Notes from the Reader’s Nook. I write under my pen name, Karen Virginia Flaxman. On my blog I review books I’ve read, post thoughts about life and philosophy, my original poetry, and about quotations and my ideas about their meaning. I’d really like to have you as a follow and to read your comments.

    In response to the topic, I like reading long books very much. I think the longest book I’ve recently read is “Mercy of a Rude Stream”, by Henry Roth. The book is composed of four novels, which Roth wrote while in his late-70s, early 80s. I think you’d enjoy this one.

    Thanks!
    Karen

  12. I love long books and I really love this list.

    I would add The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton) and A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) to the list of my faves!

    1. Thanks, Paula! I haven’t read either, but A Fine Balance has been on my radar for a while–I’ll have to make time for it soon!

  13. The Luminaries definitely. Read on Kindle and then wanted the hard copy as well – story of my life! A Little Life is extraordinary. Also read on Kindle, as I did The Goldfinch. Got IQ84 on Audible – not sure of best format for these long books … hard copy, eReader or Audible … . My longer book list includes Wolf Hall, The Poisonwood Bible, Foucault’s Pendulum, A Son of the Circus, The Drifters and Genesis. I just love reading awesome books.

  14. Read Goldfinch in a day..just got lost in it.
    Also o vercame my literary snobbery and got into chicklit.Penny Vincenzi writes doorstops but writing and story such that you want the books to GO ON..not finish.

  15. May I recommend A Prayer For Owen Meany? I could not fathom that this book was written by Stephen King. I never wanted it to end!!

  16. Isn’t it by John Irving? It is a good one, regardless!

  17. I’ve read most of these. I would take off The Goldfinch. I think she padded it with too many descriptions of drug trips and withdrawal, complete with details of throwing up. I mean, how many times do we need to read that? I would add Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, my two favorite books of all time. Also I would add 11/22/63. It’s simply amazing!

  18. Wally Lamb’s “THIS much I know is true”,totally wonderful and the trilogy in one book,Pat Barker’s Regeneration must go on this list.Agree about Goldfinch but I read it in ONE sitting CV so entranced was I.

  19. This is a great list and I have to agree that long books, on the whole, tend to be better. I find the experience of getting hooked on long read a lot more immersive and enjoyable, but there are plenty of great short(er) books too!

    I can definitely empathise with the struggle of reading more books vs. more pages!

  20. The Goldfinch recharged my love for reading seven or eight years ago in a big way. I liked it even better when I read it again about a year ago. It is one of my favorite books of all time. Body & Soul and the Kingsbridge Series are also among my all-time favorites. I believe I will re-read these books many more times throughout the rest of my life. Ken Follet’s Century Trilogy is also amazing.
    I am currently reading The Stand, by Stephen King. The expanded version is over 1400 pages long! I am curious if I will end up getting bored or power on through to the end.
    I definitely need to check out 1Q84. I haven’t read that yet, and have been itching to read some Murakami.
    I have just been dipping my toes into the fantasy genre, and am really enjoying The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson. Those are pretty long.
    Great list, thanks for sharing!

  21. When I was young (maybe 12) there was a copy of “A Tree Grown in Brooklyn” in our house. I showed interest in reading it, but my mother said no. I always remembered that and just recently read the book. I don’t get her reasoning!! ????

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