When someone asks ‘what’s the longest book you’ve ever read?’ I don’t have to think about my answer. Both as an avid reader of fantasy, and as someone increasingly trying to read works of classic literature though, I was curious about which other books on my goodreads read shelf would make it onto a list of the longest books I’ve ever read. Read on to find out which novels I’ve read most closely resemble a brick!
Note: Since word counts are a little harder to come by, I’ve measured using (mostly) mass market paperback word counts according to goodreads. It’s not a perfect system of measurement, but it provides a good idea of the lengthier novels I’ve completed.
Want to join in the fun? Head on over to Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!
10. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
720 pgs (Hardcover)/816 pgs (Paperback)
I’m currently tackling Anna Karenina for the first time, so A Little Life may be bumped off my top ten by next year, but until then I’m going to enjoy the presence of this long, brilliant, heartbreaking book. A Little Life has the distinction of being hands down the book that I finished the most quickly on this list (I read it in about half a week) and one of the ones I was most affected by. It’s a painful book, at times challenging to read because the trauma Yanaghihara writes about is so intense and graphic, and it’s not a novel that I would recommend to everyone, but it’s one of my all-time favourite books.
9. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
When a close friend of mine moved half-way around the world, she left a few bags of her books with me. Some were books that I had mentioned, others were favourites of hers that she thought I might enjoy. Kushiel’s Dart was one of her favourites. I liked it too, despite the dirty looks I got for reading it on the subway (apparently some people DO judge a book entirely by its cover!), but at 900 pages it’s a pretty big time investment. I wasn’t interested enough to read the rest of the series, but I’m glad I tried this first book out.
8. A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
A Clash of Kings is the first ASoIaF novel to appear on my top ten list, but it’s not the last. For a long time it felt like a big part of being a fantasy fan was waiting years for a new book in a series to be published, devouring it’s huge page count in a relatively short period of time, and then waiting all over again. As much as I love this series, and big books, I’m definitely relieved that we’re moving into a stage of fantasy where series can be shorter and more concisely written. That said, if Martin ever finishes The Winds of Winter, you can bet I’ll be lining up to buy it!
7. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
I LOVE this book. Set in one of my favourite periods, Georgian into Regency England, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell employs a dry sense of humour, detailed footnotes about the in-novel history of English magic, and an early scene set in York Cathedral that put visiting it on my bucket list of bookish trips (one I finally crossed off in May – 8 years after reading the book!) It is a little slow moving at times, but I was drawn in from the very first line, “SOME YEARS AGO there was in the city of York a society of magicians.”
6. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
1031 pgs (50th anniversary edition, not including appendices)
Tolkien intended for his epic to be published in one volume, but for economic reasons the book was originally published in three volumes from 29 July 1954 to 20 October 1955. Why include it on this list then? Because the edition I have, the one I re-read for a University English course in Science-Fiction & Fantasy, is published as one 50th anniversary mass market paperback. Since the author intended it to be read as one volume and that’s the way I (re-)read it, I’ve decided to include it here. Although it takes awhile to get going, Tolkien’s epic is a classic for a reason and is well worth reading.
5. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
I love Patrick Rothfuss’ prose, his ingenious magic systems, and the loving way in which he writes about books and stories, but let’s be honest, there’s really no reason that The Wise Man’s Fear should be as long as it is. I realize that could be said about many books on this list. Could Tolkien have moved things along before the hobbits met Strider to improve the pace? Probably. Could Susanna Clarke have tightened things up? Again, probably. But from what I recall of The Wise Man’s Fear, a good third of the book was spend on sex with a faerie. I haven’t re-read the series, and probably won’t until there’s a firm publication date for the third book, but I can’t say I’m hugely looking forward to wading through that part of The Wise Man’s Fear again!
4. A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin
1016 pgs Hardcover/1113 pgs Paperback
After such a long wait for a book, opinions will inevitably be divided, but I’m in the camp that loved A Dance With Dragons and found it a more satisfying installment than A Feast For Crows. I loved that Martin, a master at cleverly revealing the backstory of a character previously only viewed through other people’s points-of-view in a sympathetic way, once again proved that he could make us love a character we’d previously hated. I also enjoyed watching Dany, a fairly static character of late, have some moments of growth. I’m not keen on having to watch Game of Thrones to find out how it all ends (although there are enough differences between the books and the show to mean things may play out differently), but I need to know what happens next!
3. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Often long installments in a series carry some dead weight, but A Storm of Swords is the rare example of the longest book in a series also generally being regarded by the fanbase as the best written of the series. Featuring a certain shocking rite-of-fan-passage moment, as well as PoV chapters from many of the series’ most loved characters, A Storm of Swords is a hell of a book!
2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
If you’ve been reading this book for awhile, you’ll have either read my review of the disappointing non-fiction work disguised as a novel that is War and Peace, or you’ve heard me complain about it. For the uninitiated, somewhere around the middle of the novel Tolstoy drops all pretense that he’s writing a novel with actual characters, and delivers page after page of Russian military history. Since I’ve never been particularly interested in war, this made my eyes glaze over. Basically, I liked the peace parts but since the book would more accurately be titled War & War & War & War & War & War & War & Peace, it was a dud for me.
1. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
It’s no wonder Les Misérables is affectionately referred to by the fandom as “the brick” – its physical dimensions closely resemble a standard exterior housing brick! Since I read the unabridged Signet Classics edition in 2011, I’ve always had an immediate answer to the question, ‘what’s the longest book you’ve ever read?’ Les Misérables isn’t just the longest book I’ve read though, it’s also one of the best I’ve ever read. Unlike War and Peace, which spends little time on its characters, Les Misérables introduces a set of complicated, flawed, terrifically sympathetic characters. Hugo then proceeds to tell their stories through gorgeous prose and using themes that still resonate today. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever read a novel longer than Victor Hugo’s 19th century masterpiece, but it’s very likely that one day I’ll tackle it again. It’s well worth the work.
What are the longest novels you’ve ever read? Which lengthy books do you have on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!