Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Yes, it takes just about a thousand pages to describe Scarlett's three husbands and her struggles during the war. But the entire time your emotions are on edge, pulling for Scarlett and hating her a little when she does things like steal her sister's intended husband. So, it's not like anyone ever gets to the part where Rhett says he doesn't give a damn and asks what took so long.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Set in a fictional world with years named after corporate sponsors, this lengthy tome asks some profound questions about our world that might just be more relevant than ever almost two decades after it was published. The narrative goes off on so many tangents that there's barely a moment where the length feels overwhelming. (And you'll need two bookmarks to tackle it because of the footnotes.) But, readers who like a plot with a neat resolution, be forewarned: the ending of this one leaves a lot to the imagination.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
This hefty novel, which revolves around Russia's war with Napoleon, alternates between battle and the home front so adeptly that it feels much shorter than it is — maybe except for the author's musings on free will and historical analysis. Those are worthwhile to read in part because you really do feel accomplished when they're over.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Years after we read this book — excuse me, all of the Harry Potter books — for the first time, it still makes us cry and laugh and wish that we could go to Hogwarts. The end of this one was when we realized that a prophecy marked Harry as Voldemort's nemesis, and it left us wondering how the wizarding world would respond now that Voldemort's return was out in the open. Far from seeming too long, it made the wait for the sixth book seem never-ending.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
No detail is too insignificant for Victor Hugo to mention, so as you make it all the way through this novel, you learn all kinds of things about the geography and history of Paris — all of it so beautifully written that there's barely a sentence you would remove even if you could. Cosette and Jean Valjean are unforgettable characters, but this is a story that's much bigger than them, shining a bright light on the injustice faced by them and countless others.
Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks
This novel is the newest on the list, but it relates to an often-portrayed figure in history: the abolitionist John Brown. This time, the story is narrated by his son Owen, resulting in a more personal take on events like the failed uprising at Harper's Ferry.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Although this novel focuses on two sets of brothers, but the character who steals the spotlight is the chillingly evil Cathy. The story covers a lot of ground, with cycles of luck and misfortune right up until a father on his deathbed blesses his only surviving son by reminding him that he has the power to choose what kind of person he becomes. Sibling rivalry is a tale as old as time, but this one is an emotional roller coaster to the dramatic end.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
In this 19th century novel, Dorothea Brooke has great dreams to help her husband with a lifelong research project that he has undertaken, but those plans are derailed by his lack of enthusiasm. With an entertaining cast of characters and plenty of romance, this novel flies by, with the one key disappointment being that Dorothea's ambitions are set aside after her scandalous second marriage.
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Unlike the last novel, this one has a character who will inspire you to be a badass. Fanny Price knows how to stick to her convictions, and in the end, she marries the man she's had feelings for all along. With the humor and satire and romance we know to expect from all things Jane Austen, this book is a heartwarming read with a satisfying conclusion.
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
We never find out the name of the second Mrs. de Winter, who struggles to escape the shadow of Rebecca, her husband's first wife. Her life is made more difficult by a housekeeper who undermines every attempt to make any changes in the family's home. This novel's sinister tone has your nerves on edge the whole time you're reading, and some dramatic plot twists reward you with a conclusion you didn't see coming.