Long books often get a bad rap, and it’s not without reason. Sometimes, you just look at an 800-page doorstop and think… yeah, nah. Reading three or four shorter books seems so much easier. I’ve written before about how quick reads are great for busy people, and I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone their inclination for a shorter tome. But, as with everything, one doesn’t necessarily have to come at the expense of the other. When I read Don Quixote, I made sure to clear my reading schedule for a good four weeks, to allow myself time to fully immerse myself in Cervantes’ world and take in his episodic plot bit by bit – and I’m so glad I did! If we eschew all long books because we’re intimidated or we assume they’ll bore us, we’re going to miss out on some great reads. So, if you decide the time is right to full invest yourself in one long (long!) book, you want to make sure it’s a good one, right? I’ve got your back: here are ten long books worth reading.
A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Fantasy books tend to be doorstops, more so than other genres, and I’m pretty sure there’s a fantasy reader or two out there looking at A Game Of Thrones and thinking “pffft, that’s not long!”. Well, for regular readers, it is! And I’m not normally one for fantasy books. I get lost in the names of characters and places and magical stuff, and find myself having to double back a lot to keep it all straight. The great thing about A Game Of Thrones is that we’re all already familiar with the plot (or, at least, the basic premise) having seen the HBO adaptation. That makes it much easier – and quicker! – to read than coming to it completely cold. The other reason this long book is worth reading? When snobs say “Oh, I haven’t seen the TV series, I read the book”, you can say “Yeah, me too!”, and watch them pout. Hehehe! Read my full review of A Game Of Thrones here.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanaghiara
There’s nothing little about A Little Life (I think I could use my paperback edition to do deadlifts, I can’t imagine what the hardcover would be like!), but it’s one of those long books worth reading just to see what all the fuss is about. Trigger warnings aplenty: most readers call this one “devastating”, and that’s understating it. But this searing examination of life in New York, the riveting realities of trauma, and the heartbreaking intensity of love and loyalty is totally worth it when you’ve got the time and mental stability for it. It was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2015, if that makes any difference to you. Read my full review of A Little Life here.
The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili
When Scribe reached out to me last year and said they had a new book for me to read, about a family cursed by a secret chocolate recipe, my response was something along the lines of: HECK YEAH! When a huge package arrived in the post a couple days later, I didn’t connect the dots – I thought someone had mailed me a brick as a prank. But no, it was The Eighth Life (translated into English by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin). The days of the sweeping multi-generational epic are not over, friends! This one follows the Jashi family over the course of a century, as they survive the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. You get to see how world politics plays out on a personal level (and, yes, there is magical cursed chocolate). Read my full review of The Eighth Life here.
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
The Golden Notebook is, technically, the shortest on this list of long books worth reading – but if you’re not used to reading long books, it won’t feel that way! I suppose, if we’re being technical, it’s more like five books in one. Doris Lessing has written a story that could stand alone (“Free Women”), and then weaved in four separate “notebook” narratives, written by her protagonist. This book is unique in its structure and form, and it has a lot to say about the nature of identity, relationships, and womanhood. I can guarantee you’ve never read anything else like it. Read my full review of The Golden Notebook here.
A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
The title says it all, really: A Short History Of Nearly Everything. Bill Bryson is, as always, concise and funny and warm and whimsical, but even a “short” history of “nearly everything” is going to make for a damn long book. Luckily, Bryson has had a lot of practice at writing about lofty topics for the everyday reader, so he makes 680+ pages of physics, biology, history, sociology, and mathematics incredibly engaging and compulsively readable. Even though it’s perhaps a little out of date now (my edition still says Pluto is a planet, whoops!), it will still give you a lot of fun facts for the next time you’re stuck for words around the water cooler. Read my full review of A Short History Of Nearly Everything here.
Under The Dome by Stephen King
Stephen King is known for writing long books – real long! – and Under The Dome is no exception. The good news is that it was his 58th book, so he had plenty of practice under his belt and knew just how to keep the reader interested in his doorstop book. Using multiple perspectives (to keep things fresh), he tells the story of a town suddenly cut off from the rest of the world by a large, invisible barrier (the titular “dome”). It’s not as horror-y as some of his other offerings (no mass slaughters at high schools or cursed dogs here!), but it is still as chilling and spooky as you’d hope from the master. Read my full review of Under The Dome here.
Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
DON’T STOP READING! I know you must be feeling super cynical about seeing Crime And Punishment – a dreary, depressing Russian classic – on a list off long books worth reading. I understand that you might be thinking “ugh, if I’m going to spend that much time on one book, it’d better be something that brings me joy”. I know all of your preconceived ideas because I had the same ones, and I am happy to report that I was completely wrong. Crime And Punishment is not dreary or depressing at all! In fact, my edition (the translation to English by David McDuff) made me laugh ’til I cried, and I found myself totally relating to and rooting for a literal axe murderer. Read my full review of Crime And Punishment here.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
If you feel like you need some likeable characters (some axe murderers you can root for, perhaps), The Secret History is probably not the best long book to start with. That said, it’s still compelling and compulsive, in a way that only Donna Tartt can be. This book follows a group of college students who are studying the classics, and the… shall we say, bizarre, twisted, fucked-up mess they make for themselves. It’s a fascinating character study, but with enough mystery and action to keep you flicking through hundreds of pages.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Here it is: the big daddy, the grand poobah, of long books – and yet, it’s one I almost forgot to include. See, I don’t even really think of David Copperfield as a long book. Maybe that’s partly because my edition was split into two volumes, about five hundred pages a piece, but I think it’s mostly because it just didn’t feel like a long book. I read it so fast, I was so gripped and entertained the whole way through the protagonist’s life story, I pumped through it as quickly as I would any standard-length contemporary novel. This is the perfect pick for readers who normally enjoy history or biography, because it has the incomparable benefit of not having to stick to the rigid rules of the “truth” 😉 Read my full review of David Copperfield here.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Yes, yes, it’s another Russian classic, but any list of long books worth reading is incomplete without Anna Karenina. If nothing else, it’s worth picking up just for the immortal opening line: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Surely, that alone is enough to draw you in! It actually shares a lot in common with many of the other books on this list: the characters aren’t (necessarily) likeable and they do horrible things to one another, it’s a rich world drawn in great detail, it’s indulgent, it’s tragic… Consider this your option for “levelling up” your long-book-reading game. Read my full review of Anna Karenina here.
All told, this list comes to 7738 pages – surely that’s enough to keep you going for a while! No? Add your recommendations for long books worth reading in the comments below!
February 22, 2020 at 7:49 AM
Another great list, I love long books when I’m in the mood. I would maybe add Les Miserables by Victor Hugo to the list. It contains a few random digressions, including a slightly odd one about French convents, but it is worth sticking with, as its much more philosophical and less sentimental than the musical. Middlemarch by George Elliot is also worth reading. among many other things, it is a really fascinating subversion of the Marriage Plot common in Victorian literature. Gone with the Wind is great too: there are so many brilliant long books to choose from.
February 27, 2020 at 7:04 PM
Oooh, yes – I feel like a bit of a fraud, actually, I’ve always been too chicken to tackle Les Mis! Even though I have a gorgeous Cantebury Classics cloud version waiting for me on the shelf. Someday, soon, I swear!
February 28, 2020 at 12:45 AM
I must be the only person left alive who feels no inclination at all to either watch, review or read anything whatsoever about Game of Thrones.
There may be one other being but it’s probably a near-sighted domestic cat marooned on a desert island without any hope of finding its way to either a bookshelf or a television set in the foreseeable future.
March 1, 2020 at 7:41 AM
LOL! Poor kitty, hope he finds his way to you and you two can enjoy a Game Of Thrones-free existence together forever 😛
May 22, 2021 at 7:15 AM
1Q84 By Haruki Murakami! With 1,157 pages in total, this book will definitely keep you entertained. The book itself is a love story, a mystery, a fantasy and novel of self discovery all rolled into one!!! It is broken up into 3 books and each book is more captivating. I would say its kind of a dystopian rival of 1984 by George Orwell, but it is a tremendous feat of imagination . I would highly recommend it!!!!
May 26, 2021 at 11:54 AM
Yes! I’ve eyed off copies and read the glowing reviews… but so far, I’ve been a big chicken 🐓😅 Your recommendation definitely helps, though! Thank you!
April 13, 2022 at 8:13 AM
Wow, I have actually read four of them…
April 13, 2022 at 9:20 AM
Hey, that’s pretty impressive! Good on you, Elizabeth!
October 9, 2022 at 1:17 PM
An author you may have forgotten to mention and has numerous long books is Ken Follett. Most of his books are well over 1,000 pages. I really enjoyed “Pillars of the Earth”….probably more than 1,200 pages. Learned a lot!
October 11, 2022 at 1:20 PM
Ah, excellent call! I must admit, I’ve not read any Ken Follett – I developed a bit of an aversion while working as a bookseller, trying to make space for his books on the shelf is no joke 😅 but I’ve heard wonderful things!