9 Big, Fat Books to Devour on Your Precious Days Off

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or Winter Solstice, the holiday season has finally arrived. With any luck you’ll have a few precious days to finally sink your teeth into that novel you never have time to read (let's be honest, you never got around to reading Jane Eyre in college) during the work week.

Escape from the inclement weather (or family melodrama) with these nine big, fat novels, a mix of old and modern classics. So slip on some cozy socks, brew a mug of coffee, and settle in for a few days of pure literary indulgence.

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by Jessica Ferri

'Middlemarch' by George Eliot

George Eliot’s masterpiece, published in 1874, is the most epic of epic novels. Don’t be intimated by its girth. Clocking in at over 800 pages, Middlemarch tells the story of Dorothea Brooke, a serious young woman who marries in hopes of finding an intellectual equal. As if Dorothea’s saga weren’t compelling enough, the novel contains a lengthy cast of characters, all tied in someway to the town of Middlemarch, each with their own struggles — mostly pertaining to self-awareness and fulfillment. If you have the stamina for this kind of thought-provoking book which Virginia Woolf called “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people,” you will undoubtedly emerge with a better understanding of this thing we call life.

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'Possession' by A.S. Byatt

If Middlemarch sounds too ambitious for you, revel in the pleasures of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, a literary mystery novel about the romance between two fictional Victorian poets and the two academics who study them in the present day. Told in letters and poems, as the novel goes on it becomes apparent that we are dealing with two romances running in tandem. Winner of the 1990 Booker Prize (and the subject of an unfortunate movie adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow) Possession is the perfect holiday read for those who understand just how sexy dusty books can be.

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'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Brontë

Many people are quick to assume they know the books of the Brontë sisters but in reality have never read their work. Do yourself a favor and read Jane Eyre, a compelling, empowering novel about self-reliance in the face of adversity. Jane is the ultimate heroine. In spite of her underdog status she refuses to be taken advantage of — a huge statement considering this novel was published in 1847 under a pseudonym. Oh, and there’s the love story — between Jane and Mr. Rochester — that pretty much tops all love stories in the history of English literature.

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'Middlesex' by Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides’ (of The Virgin Suicides fame) second novel, Middlesex, is, in many ways, modeled after the epic sagas of the Victorian era, though it was written in 2002. It tells the story of Calliope, a girl of Greek descent, who eventually realizes she is intersex— born male but exhibiting external female traits. Cal narrates this novel from his grandparents escape from Greece during the Greco-Turkish War to his current life in Berlin. Gorgeously written, the novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003.

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'Infinite Jest' by David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace and Jeffrey Eugenides were friends — in fact, some have theorized that the character of Leonard in Eugenides third novel, The Marriage Plot, was inspired by Wallace. Who knows. What we do know if Wallace’s suicide in 2008 was a huge loss to the literary community. What is there to say about Wallace’s monolithic novel Infinite Jest? It’s nearly impossible to summarize what it’s about, but it will change your life and you need some serious free time to read it.

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'The Signature of All Things' by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert will go down in literary infamy for her memoir, Eat Pray Love, but she’s also a talented fiction writer. Her recent novel, The Signature of All Things , imagines the life of one Alma Whittaker, an under-sexed female botanist living in the late 1800s in Philadelphia. Her life’s passion takes her to Tahiti and to the land of her ancestors, Holland, with an unfortunate marriage and a groundbreaking scientific theory along the way.

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'Wolf Hall' by Hilary Mantel

Does historical fiction get you hot under the collar? Look no further than Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, the first in her three-volume series on the life of Thomas Cromwell. Mantel writes historical fiction like the most brilliant of regular fiction. It’s as if Mantel knew her characters — people like Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn — personally. Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, which focuses on the life of Boleyn, are impossible to put down. The third and final volume is hotly anticipated.

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'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt

When the author of The Secret History and The Little Friend writes a third novel, it’s an event. Donna Tartt novels are fatty mysteries, filled with violence, intrigue, and beautifully written prose. The Goldfinch tells the Dickensian story of Theo Decker, a teenager who is left suddenly orphaned when his beloved mother is killed in a terrorist attack. The plot centers on a painting, The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabritius — that ends up in Theo’s possession as a result of the same disaster that killed his mother. Even at 784 pages, you won’t be able to put this book down.

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'My Struggle' by Karl Ove Knausgaard

If there’s one label to append to Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series, it’s “life-changing.” So far, only two of the six volumes of this novel / memoir have been translated into English (from the original Norwegian) and the complete series is said to register at more than 3,500 pages. Reading Knausgaard is like experiencing life itself. Every detail about his childhood, his marriage, his children — even those little moments that pass but leave an indelible mark on who we are — are rendered here in gorgeous simplicity.

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