Big Books

Sitting on my bookshelf right now is Eleanor Catton’s debut novel, The Luminaries (832 pages), and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (771 pages). I decided to start with Tartt’s book, as it is shorter and Catton’s book is a historical novel, which I am not as fond of as other genres. I’m guessing it will take me at least 3 weeks to read The Goldfinch, maybe more, mainly because it’s too heavy to carry on the subway. If I had bought the e-version this would not be an issue, but I like to collect first editions and this one felt worth adding to my collection.

Earlier this month, Garth Risk Hallberg sold his 900-page debut novel for $2 million in a bidding war. The book has also been optioned as a film.

It is exciting to see this spurt of big books being published, but given the sad state of the US publishing world, I wonder how many people will actually read Hallberg’s book. Some journalists are postulating that big books are the antidote to Twitter, that there is a new satisfaction in reading something that takes longer than 24 hours to finish, but I’m not sure I agree.

Clearly there is a pride in reading a big book, but how many of you are willing to sit down with a novel over 700 pages? Or a debut novel, with an author you don’t know much about, and read 900 pages?

I went back though my reading history and identified the “big books” I have read over the years. The first one was Moby Dick (544 pages), which I had to read in high school. After college, I read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (770 pages) while living and working as an English teacher in Slovakia. One of the pleasures of that read was that I lived alone and didn’t have much of a social life, so I was able to read for very long stretches. In my twenties a book club I was in took on Ulysses, but it tore apart the group, with most of us (myself included), struggling with the book to the chagrin of the two who enjoyed it. Most recently I read Bolaño’s, 2666 (898 pages). I loved that book, but remember that I had to intentionally set aside time to read it, and only took it on after two friends told me how much they liked it.

I’m all for publishing big books, and keeping this literary tradition alive, but I wonder how many people are reading these big books and not just talking or tweeting about them….So, I’m curious, what is the last book over 700 pages you all have read and when? And if you haven’t taken on a tome recently, why not? Please leave a comment.

Happy Thanksgiving — to a weekend full of reading!


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14 responses to “Big Books

  1. My second favorite book of all time (after Pride and Prejudice) is A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It weighs in at 1379 pages. When I worked as a bookseller, I recommended this novel to anyone I thought could take it on (many pages and heavy, set in India in 1949, epic in cast and story, comic/ satiric/ romantic/ tragic). The publisher must have wondered at the little surge in sales coming from a small independent bookstore. I also gave it to a friend, whom I visited in China. She resisted it for two years, but when I was headed back for a second trip, she figured she’d better read it. She couldn’t put it down! I’ve been waiting for years for the sequel (I predicted Seth had hinted at one in his epigraph, but he wrote me, at the time, “no sequel in sight”). It was due out this year. He has missed his deadline several times, but I predict A Suitable Girl will make her debut eventually, and I’ll be ready. 🙂

    • @Christina. Thanks for reminding me about A Suitable Boy. It has been recommended to me by others, but it had fallen off my radar. And at 1379 pages, it is like two or three books. Great story about your friend finally getting to the book after two years. I look forward to reading about the sequel when it comes out.

  2. Kate,

    Just started ‘The Luminaries’ …. Beautifully written! Janis Sent from my iPhone


  3. Dock Oscar

    I’m more of a non-fiction kind of guy and there are many big books. The best ones make you forget your aching wrists. Some that I remember reading, Gotham (1424 pages), Alexander Hamilton (832 pages), A World Undone (816 pages), and The Passage of Power (712 pages). That’s all I can remember sitting at work. I guess historians can be long-winded. 🙂

  4. louise crawford

    I recently read the new novel by Bob Shacochis, “The Woman who Lost her Soul”. It came in at 713 pages. The story was so engrossing that I never lost interest. I was eagerly awaiting the next turn of events. This was a thriller and Bob is an amazing writer.

  5. The longest book I have read this year is The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber which was over 800 pages long and took me about 12 days to read. I really enjoyed it although it was one of those books where it did “feel” like an 800 page book, in other words, it was one that I took my time over. I would say it is density rather than length which puts me off reading certain books. Sometimes, I would rather tackle an “easy” 700 page book that was a real page-turner than a densely written heavy-going 400 page book.

    • @A Little Blog of Books Very good point about the type of big books out there. Plot can pull one through many pages in a way that a dense book an slow a reader, even in a relatively short book.

  6. LGM

    Great question K8! A couple of years ago I read Ahab’s Wife @ 688 (Sena Jeter Naslund) and loved it and then followed directly with Moby Dick, which I had never read and hadn’t thought I wanted to but then thoroughly enjoyed. Recently I don’t think I have clocked over 700–longest is probably Half of a Yellow Sun @ a paltry 433 (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), which was amazing. I have been eying A Fine Balance @ 603 (Rohinton Mistry) in my pile for awhile now but haven’t taken it on yet. Re the post above, I am inspired to try A Suitable Boy, which I think is floating around my Mom’s house, although “floating” is probably not the right descriptor for 1300+ pages…

    • @LGM Funny. I would agree that a 1300 page book is likely not “floating,” maybe it is “buried” or “has landed.” I have also heard good things about A Fine Balance and remember when you read Ahab’s Wife and recommended it to me. Glad you liked Half of a Yellow Sun 😉

  7. Nancy Henry

    Hiya! What a great question, Kate! I think that An American Tragedy (Dreiser) was my last long book @ over 800 pages. I read it on a family vacation and loved it–reminded me of Dostoyevsky in tone. . . So glad we’re enjoying a renaissance of long books one can lose oneself in! I’m not much of a fan for minimalism.

  8. Pingback: Big Books, part two | Proto Libro

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