I love big books. In recent years, I’ve made less time for reading longer works because I’m in a constant state of mild anxiety about how long my to-be-read list has gotten. Still, when I do make the time to read bigger books, they not only inevitably prove rewarding, but they often end up on my favorites list. I think it’s because my favorite books are character driven and more pages often means more complexity of characterization. Also doesn’t it feel empowering to finish a hulking book?! Since I’m currently ahead of schedule on my own reading challenge, I’m hoping to fit a few big books into my own 2019 reading (see the bricks on my TBR at the end of this post). If the reading challenge you’re partaking in requires a BIG book (Currently Reading Podcast’s 2019 challenge includes a 700+ pager!) or you just feel like getting lost in an epic story, here are my five favorite* bricks**.
Middlemarch by George Eliot (880 pages). Virginia Woolf said that Eliot should have written histories rather than novels, but I think she writes perfect epic and expansive fiction. Eliot is a master at creating characters and exploring the tension between desires and expectations. This novel is sprawling and while she does justice to every character (both our heroes and our villains), Dorothea Brooks is my favorite. I love the depiction of a woman who is both intelligent and naive. Plus the concept of a woman trying to find her own way while playing by society’s rules is particularly relevant and relatable.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (850 pages). Oh, Outlander. So many people have pushed this series and now I’m going to add my name to that list. The Outlander series follows a WWII era battlefield nurse who is transported back to the 1740s when she visits a mysterious circle of standing stones in northern Scotland. From there, epic trials and epic romance follow. This premise sounded so cheesy to me, but Gabaldon pulls it off with her exceptional characterization and attention to historical detail. This first book is still my favorite in the series because I adore the Scottish Highlands setting and watching Jamie and Claire fall in love.
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates (752 pages). This was my first Joyce Carol Oates and it blew me away. This is one of my favorite types of historical fiction: a book that fictionalizes a real person’s life. In Blonde, Oates gives her take on one of the most famous women in American pop culture: Marilyn Monroe. Oates uses a difficult but evocative stream-of-consciousness style that really captures the beauty and tragedy of Monroe’s life and the expectations on women and starlets at that time. A quick note: as far as I know, the only available audio version I’ve found of this one is abridged, and I do not recommend it!
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (720 pages). A friend recommended this to me after I mentioned that I’d read and loved The Secret History by Donna Tartt. The mood of these two books is so similar as is their attention to myth and folklore. The Historian follows a young woman (who I believe remains unnamed throughout the text) attempting to reconstruct her own history as well as the legend of Dracula. It is a book for book lovers that relishes in the power myth and fantasy exude over our lives. I wrote more about The Historian as part of my fall reading recommendations, which you can read here.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (704 pages). The rare book that both my husband and I read a loved, A Brief History of Seven Killings is both a crowd pleaser and a challenge. I have always loved fiction that dramatizes historical figures and events because it allows writers to fill in the thoughts and feelings of people we view at a distance or offer new angles on true events. James’ book focuses on the 1976 shooting of Bob Marley in Kingston, Jamaica--which is an event I knew very little about. James’ narrative style is incredibly original. It takes time to settle into his voice, but it’s so worth it. I actually found that the audio version of this one was much easier and more enjoyable for me.
* One of my all-time favorite long books is Les Miserable, but since I included it on my Five Favorites: Classics post, I opted to give its spot to something else. I also made the decision to only include one classic on the list. Middlemarch made the cut because of recency bias (and because go women!) but I also love Anna Karenina and East of Eden.
** I’m going with Currently Reading’s classification as 700+ pages with my own recommendations, but anything over 600 pages feels epic to me so my own TBR includes some that don’t quite hit 700.
The bricks on my TBR (with purchase links!):
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (1040 pages)
The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy (704 pages)
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (640 pages)
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1296 pages)
A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates (752 pages)
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (864 pages)