My Longest Books (cont.)

Related Post:

fancy scroll

When I started collecting data for this project, I pulled down from my shelves every book that looked bigger than most of the others. In this age of Big Data, I just couldn’t quite discard all the remaining titles after I determined the 20 longest. Therefore, here’s the second installment of the biggest books I own, numbers 21-40, plus one more because of one that got overlooked (see below).

21. Henry James: A Life by Leon Edel

  • 740 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

22. Ulysses by James Joyce

  • 732 pages
  • paperback
  • unread

23. The First Tycoon by T.J. Stiles

  • 719 pages
  • paperback
  • unread

24. The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

  • 709 pages
  • paperback
  • unread

25. The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion by Tracy Daugherty

  • 703 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

26. The Jameses: A Family Narrative by R.W.B. Lewis

  • 696 pages
  • paperback
  • read

27. An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

  • 692 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

28. The Iliad by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles

  • 683 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

29. Roughing It by Mark Twain

  • 673 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

30. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

  • 652 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

31. Personal History by Katharine Graham

  • 642 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

32. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

  • 36 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

33. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

  • 624 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

34. Babel Tower by A.S. Byatt

  • 619 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

35. The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré

  • 590 pages
  • (Kindle)
  • unread

36. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

  • 580 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

37. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

  • 568 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

38. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

  • 562 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

39. Dune by Frank Herbert

  • 562 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

40. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

  • 435 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

Correction

Somehow, this book got overlooked:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

  • 870 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

At 870 pages, it should clock in at #12 overall.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

On Margaret Atwood’s “The Blind Assassin”

Commentary on one of my all-time favorite Big Books:

Cover: The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin (2000) is a multilayered and deftly plotted work of autobiographical and historical fiction set in 20th-century Canada. In just the first few pages, layers of family history and mystery unfurl by way of a trifecta of memoir flashback, newspaper clippings and novel-within-a-novel narratives. It’s around Iris — our now-octogenarian protagonist and witty narrative anchor — that these myriad elements swirl and eddy, coming together to form a sprawling family saga peppered with death, deceit and disappointment.

. . .

whether you’re an Atwood novice or a superfan looking to revisit the prolific writer’s expansive back catalog, start with The Blind Assassin, which, nearly two decades out from publication, still speaks with a fresh voice about powerful men, politics and female victimization.

Lauren Cocking, WHY MARGARET ATWOOD’S ‘THE BLIND ASSASSIN’ IS WORTH REVISITING

The 20 Longest Books I Own

This is not my original idea. A while back Madame Writer posted her list. She got me thinking that, given my interest in big books, I should compile my own list.

Once I got started compiling a list, grabbing all the fattest books off my shelves became a compulsion. Consequently, so as not to waste all that energy, I’ve expanded my list to 20.

I’ve excluded the following types of books:

  • reference books (e.g., Cambridge Biographical Dictionary)  
  • textbook anthologies (e.g., The Norton Anthology of English Literature)
  • collected volumes of individual works by a single author  
  • cookbooks   

A few of mine are on my Kindle rather than on a bookshelf. For these, I’ve used the number of pages of the print edition on which the Kindle edition is based.

1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand 

  • 1168 pages 
  • hardcover  
  • unread

2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami 

  • 1157 pages 
  • paperback  
  • unread

3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien 

  • 1112 pages 
  • hardcover 
  • read

4. Reamde by Neal Stephenson 

  • 1042 pages 
  • hardcover 
  • unread

5. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchel 

  • 1037 pages 
  • hardcover 
  • unread

6. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson 

  • 960 pages 
  • Kindle ed. 
  • unread

7. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb 

  • 897 pages 
  • paperback 
  • read

8. The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough 

  • 894 pages 
  • hardcover 
  • read

9. The Winds of War by Herman Wouk 

  • 885 pages 
  • paperback 
  • unread

10. Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson 

  • 883 pages 
  • hardcover 
  • unread

11. Jung: A Biography by Deirdre Bair 

  • 881 pages 
  • hardcover 
  • unread

12. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 

  • 838 pages 
  • paperback 
  • unread

13. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton 

  • 830 pages 
  • paperback  
  • unread

14. London: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd 

  • 829 pages 
  • hardcover  
  • unread

15. Underworld by Don DeLillo 

  • 827 pages 
  • hardcover  
  • read

16. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara 

  • 814 pages 
  • paperback  
  • read

17. Middlemarch by George Eliot 

  • 802 pages 
  • paperback  
  • read

18. Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years by Brian Boyd 

  • 783 pages 
  • paperback 
  • unread

19. Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy 

  • 769 pages 
  • Kindle ed.
  • read

20. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling 

  • 759 pages 
  • hardcover 
  • read

And I just did the math and discovered that I’ve only read eight—less than half—of these. It’s time to put my Big Books hat back on and get busy.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

6 More Big Books I Have Read & Loved

Related Posts:

  • Links to all previous posts about Big Books are available here.
fancy scroll

11/22/63 by Stephen King 
Hardcover, 842 pages

cover: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Jake Epping is a 35-year-old high school English teacher in the small town of Lisbon Falls, Maine. To earn some extra money, he also teaches English to adult GED students. The only other activity in his life is moping around and lamenting the recent divorce from his short-term alcoholic wife. At least he doesn’t have to track her down and go drag her home from some bar any more.

So when Al Templeton, owner of the local diner, asks Jake if he’s willing to take on a secret mission, Jake’s interest is piqued. Al confides to Jake that, at the rear of the diner, there’s a portal that leads to a day in 1958. Al himself has gone through the portal and back several times, so he knows that the passage through always leads to the same day. Also, no matter how long he has stayed in the past, when he returns he has always been gone from the present (2011) for exactly two minutes. 

Al believes that the greatest disaster of modern history was the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. When he discovered the time portal, he decided to go back in time and prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting JFK. Al has spent years researching Oswald’s life and movements, but now he’s dying of lung cancer and can’t finish the job. Would Jake be willing to see the mission through?

After a few trial runs into the past and back, Jake agrees. Armed with Al’s notebook of information on Oswald, he goes back to 1958 with the plan of ending up in Dallas on 11/22/63. He drives through the land of Long Ago and settles down in a small town in Texas to make his preparations. He becomes George Amberson, who begins substitute teaching at the local high school, falls in love with the new school librarian, and finds a life much more satisfying than the one Jake Epping left behind in Lisbon Falls.

Will George/Jake be able to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK? And, if he succeeds, how will subsequent history unfold?

Stephen King excels at using details to create interesting characters and to build narrative worlds. 11/22/63 presents him at his storytelling best.


The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy 
paperback, 679 pages

cover: The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

Goodreads describes this as “a huge, brash thunderstorm of a novel, stinging with honesty and resounding with drama.” 

The story opens in New York City, where Tom Wingo has arrived after his twin sister Savannah’s latest suicide attempt. To help Savannah’s psychiatrist better understand her troubled patient, Tom narrates the story of their childhood in a dysfunctional family raised in the low country of South Carolina. Steeped in Southern tradition, the narrative includes family conflict, strict religious belief, infidelity, sibling relationships, and the effects of physical and emotional abuse. Pat Conroy’s outstanding writing turns the Wingo family story into a tale of tragic, mythic proportion that brings both suffering and catharsis to readers.

The movie starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand is a good rendering, but read the book first.


The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood 
paperback, 521 pages

Cover: The Blind Assassin

I liked this big book so much that I’ve read it twice. Goodreads describes the book as “a richly layered and uniquely rewarding experience,” and it is indeed that. Combining elements of mystery, gothic suspense, and science fiction, the novel explores family relationships, economic and political history, and social conscience through its story-within-a-story narrative structure. If you like to peel back the layers of your fiction to get at the central truth, you’ll love this masterpiece.

For more information, see this post. 


Little Women by Louisa May Alcott  
hardcover, 546 pages 
Grosset and Dunlap, Illustrated Junior Library ed.

Cover: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott




There’s not much left to say about this well known and beloved classic. For many of us born in the mid-twentieth century, this was the introduction to a world of women’s culture and experiences, led by the fiesta Jo, who has ideas of a life bigger than the constraints of woman’s proper place.


A Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe 
hardcover, 623 pages 
Blackstone Audio, 2008

cover: A Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom  Wolfe


I listened to the audiobook—all 27 hours and 29 minutes of it—of this giant tome by Tom Wolfe. The novel tells the story of wealthy and aristocratic Wall Street bond trader Sherman McCoy.


From the publisher’s summary:

A car accident in the Bronx involving Sherman, his girlfriend, and two young lower-class black men sets a match to the incendiary racial and social tensions of 1980s New York City. Suddenly, Sherman finds himself embroiled in the most brutal, high-profile case of the year, as prosecutors, politicians, the press, the police, the clergy, and assorted hustlers rush in to further their own political and social agendas. With so many egos at stake, the last priority on anyone’s mind is truth or justice in this bitingly hilarious American satire.


The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach  
hardcover, 512 pages

Cover: The Art of Fielding

Set at a small liberal arts college on the shore of Lake Michigan, this novel features the intersecting lives of five people. The central character is Henry Skrimshander, a player on the college baseball team who dreams of a big league career. Henry most prized possession is a beat-up old book called “The Art of Fielding,” which offers philosophical advice on how to succeed on the baseball diamond—and, by extension, in life.

At times, reading this book felt like a process that was taking longer than necessary. But, hey, it’s about baseball, a game that I love but that also can seem like it’s going on forever. The book could have been a bit shorter, but then it wouldn’t have qualified as a Big Book.


For more Big Book recommendations, see Rioters’ First Doorstopper Books.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

5 Big Books I’ve Read or Reread Recently

It’s been a while since I wrote about my love for Big Books (tomes of 500 or more pages). Here are the five most recent ones I’ve read.


A Column of Fire by Ken Follett, 928 pages

This is the final entry in Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge trilogy. (The first two are Pillars of the Earth, set in the 12th century, and World Without End, set in the 14th century.) This novel begins in the latter part of the 16th century, as young Princess Elizabeth is poised to become queen. One of Follett’s strengths is the creation of strong, well defined fictional characters, and he creates a cast of them here. In their interactions with a few historical personages of the era, these characters live through the religious battles and shifting loyalties of the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants.

I found particularly fascinating Follett’s picture of how the young Queen Elizabeth, facing enmity from most of Europe, created a network of spies and secret agents. This novel covers about a half century but, as in the other two novels in this series, the story never seems to go on too long. Follett is a genius at keeping a large cast of characters interesting while moving through an extended narrative arc.


Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy, 703 pages

What a gem of a novel! I discovered it through one of the newsletters of Kindle deals I receive daily.

Piercy uses 10 narrators—four men and six women—to cover the full breadth of World War II and its effects. The characters include soldiers, intelligence officers, code breakers, factory workers, French resistance fighters, and women entering jobs left vacant by the departure of the male work force. As she does in much of her work, Piercy here emphasizes the women characters, but her male characters are equally as individualized and important.

Like Ken Follett, Marge Piercy keeps a large cast of characters moving coherently over the wide sections of time and place necessary to encompass the vastness of an entire world at war. This is a novel that at some time in the future will appear on a list of Big Books that I’ve reread.


Penmarric by Susan Howatch, 704 pages

Penmarric is the only reread on this list. I think I originally read it about 35 years ago (it was first published in 1971), so I’d had enough time to forget the details and therefore relished the chance to reread it.

This is one of those big, sprawling family sagas that I enjoy so much when they’re well done. And this one is very well done. Like Marge Piercy and Ken Follett, Susan Howatch keeps a large cast of characters moving across an extended time span.

The novel covers the years 1890–1945 and three generations of the Castallack family. The story focuses on Penmarric, the huge ancestral home on the family estate of Penmar located in Cornwall (the same area where the current PBS drama Poldark is set). The house represents the family fortune and tradition, but it’s actually the Cornwall region that focuses the characters’ desires and keeps them grounded. It’s a big family, with big dreams and aspirations, and Howatch introduces us to these several characters as individuals forced to live out the consequences of a father’s decision and of the social conventions of an era.


The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons, 624 pages

The introverted, learned, meticulous novelist Henry James meets the dashing fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. What’s not to like?

At the heart of the novel lies a philosophical conundrum. Holmes is in the midst of his hiatus after the incident at Reichenbach Falls, when he was supposedly killed by his archenemy, Moriarty. Holmes has faked his own death and disappeared because his powers of ratiocination have suggested to him that he is a fictional character. While Holmes ponders his own existence, James is left to think about how own question: If Holmes is fictional, what does that make the novelist himself?

Despite their existential crises, James and Holmes have work to do: They’ve come to America to solve the mystery of the 1885 death of Clover Adams, wife of Henry Adams, scion of the family that produced two U.S. Presidents. Was Clover Adams’s death the suicide it appeared to be, or does it involve sinister forces and matters of national importance?


Dune by Frank Herbert, 535 pages

My husband, daughter, and sister-in-law all love this novel, but I had put off reading it for 50 years because I don’t like much science fiction. What convinced me to read it, finally, is not the realization that this novel has become a major icon of science fiction literature, but rather our retirement relocation to Tacoma, WA, home town of Frank Herbert. Herbert was influenced to write his masterpiece by the presence for nearly 100 years in Tacoma’s North End, very near to where we now live, of a copper smelting and refining plant. The final incarnation of the company that owned the plant was known as American Smelter and Refining Company (ASARCO). ASARCO closed the plant in 1985 because of a decline in the market for copper and the need for pollution control.

The company that was originally one of Tacoma’s biggest employers was also one of its biggest polluters. Its giant smokestack, built in 1917, dominated the area at 571 feet tall. The smokestack finally became a symbol of environmental pollution, and it was demolished in 1993. The area became a Superfund toxic cleanup site. The soil around where we leave is still being tested for contamination as older property is sold and new building projects started.

This local experience prompted Frank Herbert to write Dune, which many people consider the seminal work of ecological science fiction. I don’t love the book anywhere near as much as my family does, but I am glad I finally read it (if for no other reason than I can now include it in my list of Big Books read).


© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

14 Monumental Books to Read on the 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

Off the Shelf commemorates 75th Anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor with an essential WWII reading list.

Source: 14 Monumental Books to Read on the 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

I’ve only read one book on this list, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, since I read way more fiction than nonfiction. But I have just ordered Winds of War by Herman Wouk. At 898 pages, it more than qualifies as a Big Book.

Articles That Caught My Eye Last Week

These are the most interesting of the articles I spent time with last week.

Q&A: CHRISTINE SNEED DISCUSSES HER COMPELLING STORY COLLECTION ABOUT THE LURE OF FAME

In this interview fiction writer Christine Sneed, whose latest work is the story collection The Virginity of Famous Men, discusses why fame and our human flaws are good subjects for fiction. She also weighs in on the question of how reading literature makes us better people:

“I really do think that reading literature, literary fiction, and poetry especially, will make you a better person. One thing literature does is offer you access to points of view and consciousness different from your own.”

10 GIANT TRANSLATED NOVELS THAT MAKE A MOCKERY OF “SUBWAY READING”

September is National Translation Month. In honor of this event, Scott Esposito suggests 10 Big Books in translation.

‘We ought to read only the kind of books that wound us’: How literature teaches us to be human

Robert Fulford gives some examples from published articles and interviews of people explaining how particular books influenced them. But the most interesting aspect of this article is his opening vignette about Kafka, which I had not heard before:

One day in 1904 the young Franz Kafka wrote a letter to a friend defining the books that are worth reading. “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound us,” he wrote. “If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write?

“We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

How Literature Can Improve Mental Health: A Free Course

Open Culture recommends a free online course from The University of Warwick, offered through FutureLearn, that presents “the work of famous writers like Austen, Shakespeare and Wordsworth – exploring how they can impact mental health and why works of writing are so often turned to in times of crisis.” In addition, throughout the six-week course doctors add a medical perspective on several mental health conditions.

You can read the course description here, then follow the links to learn more about the course and to enroll.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

ALAN MOORE GOES (VERY VERY) BIG WITH JERUSALEM

Alan Moore’s novel Jerusalem weighs in at more than 1,200 pages. Joshua Zajdman has been carrying it around for a while, and people’s questions and comments about its size have triggered him to reflect:

why are “big books” perceived so differently? How long have “big books” been such a phenomenon? Is it just length that makes them seem like more of a commitment? Are they of greater intellectual heft, or conversely, perceived as books in need of a good editor simply because of their size? I started to do some research, dip into some other “big books” and discovered a kind of continuum for the “big literary book.” It’s less a question of “Does size matter?” and more a consideration of “Why?” Either way, it’s a question that’s been on the mind of readers for much longer than we may realize.

Of course this article caught my eye, since I’ve written a bit recently on big books.

“now is the perfect time to pick up Jerusalem or any of these big books. Fall is beginning in earnest, election cycles are winding down, winter is coming. It’s time to make the commitment and see how a great and ambitious novel can be wired. I dare you to make the time and devote the energy to the broad swath of humanity and narrative that only an ambitious and very long novel can tackle. What’s stopping you?”

Haunted Womanhood

Heather Havrilesky examines Ruth Franklin’s recent biography of Shirley Jackson, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life:

In the novels and many of the stories she wrote in the middle of the 20th century, the polite banter of seemingly innocent common folk develops into outright mockery, subterfuge, or even violence. When confronted by an unexpectedly hostile world, Jackson’s female protagonists experience a climactic rush of bafflement and betrayal that inevitably spills over into a more private realm of second-guessing, self-doubt, and paranoia. Jackson relished untangling the process by which women lose themselves.

Lionel Shriver: ‘This Entire Hoo-Ha’ Illustrates My Point

Novelist Lionel Shriver, perhaps best known for We Need to Talk About Kevin, recently caused quite a brouhaha at the Brisbane Writers Festival with a keynote address that raised the issue of cultural appropriation. If you haven’t followed this story, you can get caught up with the links provided in this Time summary. Then read Nate Hopper’s interview with Shriver about her intentions in her speech and her reactions to the critics.

How the Novelist Megan Abbott Spends Her Sundays

Megan Abbott’s thrillers are explorations, she says, of “women, power and aggression.” Her latest, “You Will Know Me,” is set in the cutthroat world of girls’ gymnastics and was published this summer, just before the Olympics. A Times review in July said Ms. Abbott had resumed “her customary role of black cat, opaque and unblinking, filling her readers with queasy suspicion at every turn.” She recently completed a cross-country promotional tour for the book, and now Ms. Abbott is back in Forest Hills, Queens, where she lives. During her Sunday writing stints, the author, 45, takes a break from the shadowy side of human nature to step into the light of a neighborhood she loves.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Rich season of fiction expected this fall

Fall is the time for “big books,” whatever the page length, and some of the top fiction authors from around the world have new works coming, including Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Rabih Alameddine, Emma Donoghue, Jonathan Safran Foer and Michael Chabon. Ann Patchett, owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, looks forward to selling Jacqueline Woodson’s autobiographical novel “Another Brooklyn” and Colson Whitehead’s celebrated, Oprah Winfrey-endorsed historical novel about slavery, “The Underground Railroad.”

Source: Rich season of fiction expected this fall