11 Incredibly Long Books That Are Definitely Worth The Time Commitment
Personally, I’m down with a long book — I love diving into a story and knowing I’ll get to stick around for a while, spending quality time with the characters I love and the world they live in. But at the same time, I get it: not everyone wants to sit down with all 1049 pages of The Arabian Nights when there are so many other good books to read; ones that require far less significant a time commitment. Some of us have Netflix binges to get back to, after all. But with that said, there are still some especially long books that are definitely worth the time it takes to read them. And hey, thanks to the nifty website How Long To Read, (which I’m completely obsessed with) you can find out exactly how long it’s going to take you to read one of these can’t-miss tomes before you even turn to page one. (13 hours and 11 minutes for The Arabian Nights, in case you were wondering. That’s a little less than a nonstop flight from New York City to Beijing — so next time you’re headed to China, you know what you’re reading.)
Here are 11 of the longest books that are still worth your time (assuming you’re unwilling to read all off the longest books, anyway.)
1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
I know there’s something very Rory-Gilmore-esque about claiming to love a Russian author, but seriously, I do love Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina — even though practically every main character shares some variation of the exact same name, and it takes some serious mental gymnastics to keep them all straight. But the novel, in addition to being indulgently tragic, is also so beautifully written. Anna is married to a man who is unable (and unwilling) to fulfill her passions, and thus she begins an illicit affair with army officer Count Vronsky, leaving her husband and son behind as she follows her own impulses. But the stigma of pursuing her personal dreams outside the rules of traditional society proves to be too much for Anna, and as I’m sure you know by now, her story ends in tragedy.
2. We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Exploring the unfulfilled promises of post-WWII America, Matthew Thomas’s novel We Are Not Ourselves introduces readers to Eileen and Ed Leary, a couple whom very often seem ill-suited for one another, but who are trying to arrange their lives the best — and perhaps the only — way they know how. More than the pace of the plot, it’s the characters who will keep you reading this longer work, as you try to understand Eileen’s distant and controlling personality that runs parallel to her unrealized dreams, Ed’s infuriating, but understandable drive for little more than the status quo, and their fraught relationships with their son, Connell.
3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
This work of magical realism will take readers into the heart of Tokyo — the unseen Tokyo, that is, as one man’s search for his wife’s missing cat turns into one man’s search for his missing wife as well. Toru Okada dives headfirst into the underworld of this Japanese capital, encountering prostitutes and politicians, psychics and World War II veterans who all have their own, sometimes malicious, agendas. This book is equal parts bizarre and beautiful, surreal and kaleidoscopic, and despite its 600-plus pages, it’ll be over before you know it.
4. Ulysses by James Joyce
265,000-ish words of stream-of-consciousness writing is a lot to get through, I’ll give you that. But I do think Ulysses really is worth reading, especially if you were like me and totally skipped this one in high school. The novel reimagines Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey through the story of a single day in the life of an average man making his way through the crowded streets and pubs of Dublin. The early controversy over the book — the obscenity trials and "Joyce Wars" — should peak your curiosity enough to get past any lingering hang-ups you might have about the wordiness.
5. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
I absolutely adore East of Eden, and it is one of the few long books that I have found myself reading (and appreciating) more than once. Taking you into John Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley landscape during the American Dust Bowl, this epic family drama introduces readers to the Trasks and the Hamiltons, two families who are destined to re-live the Biblical tragedies of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, generation after generation. But if you’re nervous about diving into heavy-handed religious themes, don’t be. This is an engrossing novel that you will become utterly lost in, filled with Steinbeck’s subtle and masterful symbolism.
6. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
I’ll admit, this is one of those books I struggle with — the songs that appear throughout the text, the fact that everyone makes such a big deal about the movies, the sometimes-over-the-top foreshadowing and metaphor. The Lord of the Rings is one wild ride to be sure, and I’m not always totally convinced it’s one I want to be on. But at the same time, if you’ve ever wanted to escape into an epic fantasy for several hundred pages, there’s really no better way to go than J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic. There are some good reasons people are so obsessed with this one.
7. The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Word around literary circles is that the pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante wrote The Neapolitan Novels as one long book that was ultimately divided into a series of four due to length and marketing necessities. If this is truly the case, then the story that follows lifelong friends Elena “Lenù” Greco and Raffaella “Lila” Cerullo from grade school through their adult lives, exploring their evolving friendship against the backdrop of domestic violence, Italian economic and social class disparities, the feminist movement of the 1970s, and political protest, is definitely an XL read that must make your TBR pile. I guarantee you’ll have Ferrante fever by the time you’re done.
8. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
If any of the novels on this list were a tad overrated, it would probably be Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick — but here’s the thing: for any self-respecting bibliophile, finishing Moby-Dick is kind of like taking your vitamins, or getting your teeth cleaned once every six months. Like it or not, it’s just something you really should do for the long-term benefits. Moby-Dick is referenced in so many other great works of literature and film, it’s an American classic, and everyone should really read it once. Plus, who doesn’t love a good adventure story?
9. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
If you think gold mining in 1860s New Zealand is a snore (or, if you’ve never once found yourself thinking about gold mining in 1860s New Zealand, then I don’t blame you) think again. From strange and obscure origins comes author Eleanor Catton’s novel The Luminaries, a story of violence and mystery, adventure and success, and the myriad ways astrology might inform our destinies. At 848 pages, The Luminaries is one of the shorter-long titles on this list, but it’s a fun and compelling read — and there isn’t anything else quite like it.
10. I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
Wally Lamb is one of my favorite contemporary authors, and it’s a testament to his exceptional writing that people keep buying and reading his always-long books. I Know This Much is True tells the story of identical twins Dominick and Thomas Birdsey. Thomas suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and one afternoon, while experiencing a severe episode of his disease, he enters a public library and cuts off his own hand. What follows is an explosion of confusion, resentment, misunderstanding, injustice, and fear, alongside a deep exploration of the unconditional love shared between these two brothers. You’ll hurt for them, and rally behind them, and when the book is over you’ll be so immersed in their stories you’ll feel like this novel wasn’t nearly long enough.
11. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The premise of this haunting and mesmerizing historical novel has been every reader’s fear ever since Ginny Weasley picked up Tom Riddle’s diary in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — that the books we read will turn out to be more than the ink and paper they’re made up of, revealing the darkest side of the human spirit and changing our readerly lives forever. Elizabeth Kostova’s novel, The Historian, tells the story of one woman who stumbles across a series of mysterious and disturbing letters while exploring her father’s library, giving rise to a secret and sinister family history that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality.