3 October 2019

10 of Our Favourite Big Books

Long books are truly one of the greatest art forms we have. There are few things as impressive than authors who can tell such meaningful stories (fiction or nonfiction) over hundreds and hundreds of pages. The fact that we pick these books up and don't put them down until we've finished them weeks (and often months) later is a testament to how strong their writing is. Here are some of our favourites!

It's no secret this is one of my all-time favourite books. I won't go on in too much detail because I've listed it many times before and have written a full review here. What I will say is that when I think of giant books this one always comes to mind. My supervisor Ileana leant this to me when I was near the end of my time in London and most of my books were already back in New Brunswick. I wanted something time consuming and she suggested I borrow her copy of The Goldfinch. I remember she had the hardcover edition and the pages were bible-thin and plentiful (976 pages).

I love reading long books because it's such a different experience than something quick and short. You end up spending so much time with the characters that it's almost difficult to extract yourself from their life when it's over. This was my biggest complaint about the movie... with only two hours for a runtime you can't invest in anyone and the story is completely jumbled.

We read this for book club at the end of 2017 (RIP book club) and while it's nonfiction, it has the same effect of a long fiction novel in that you spend so much time with the 'characters'. You can read our week-by-week commentary here - I really enjoyed reading this. I love true crime, but this was especially cool in that Bugliosi was the actual prosecutor on the Manson case, so the writing was more pointed and from a unique perspective. It also allowed for the book to be a lot more detailed, as Bugliosi was deep into the case for work, not just for research for the book. I don't read as many big books as Meghan, and at 515 pages this was plenty for me.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is also one of my all-time favourites. I read this book probably seven or eight years ago? I remember buying it at the campus bookstore with Stefan. I actually really need to revisit this one because it has been my favourite book for the longest time. Franzen is known for writing big-ass fiction and has routinely made jokes about the length of his novels. I love how long his novels typically are because I know I'll be able to savour them. The only thing that's tough is that this also means it typically takes FOREVER for him to put something new out. Freedom is 600 pages so it's on the low end of a truly big book, but it has the same kind of impact.

Elizabeth Gilbert is one of those especially talented authors who can write both amazing fiction and nonfiction. This is one of my favourite fiction books of all time, you can check out my full review here. Reflecting on this book makes me think I should be reading more long fiction because you just get so much detail you'll never get from a 300 page novel. This book is a beautiful story about a female botanist and spans across the 18th and 19th centuries. I usually hate period pieces but there's nothing period-ish about this besides the antiquated marriage tropes and and the lack of respect for female scientists. I think about this book all the time. If you've ever read one of Elizabeth Gilbert's more popular books, like Eat, Pray, Love, and you like fiction, you should definitely give this a try. It's very approachable for long fiction at a mere 499 pages (barely meeting Meghan's approval to even be on this list).

This is another book leant to me by my supervisor during my MA! She said it was one of her favourite novels and even three years after having read East of Eden I still find myself thinking about the central brothers of the story as well as sociopath Cathy Ames. This is the only John Steinbeck I've ever read and honestly I love it so much that I'd almost pick it up and re-read it then move on to explore one of his other novels. East of Eden is a 608-paged reimagining of the story of Cain and Abel that I'd recommend to anyone who loves heavy-hitting fiction. Steinbeck is a pillar of American fiction and I'm glad I was finally introduced to his work.

This is a pretty famous book and won a lot of fiction awards back in the early 2000's when it was published. Margaret Atwood is most famous for The Handmaid's Tale, especially with the show being such a big hit, but I'd argue she has a lot of better books, this being one of them. At 536 pages it's on the longer end for an Atwood novel, and if you've read anything of hers you'll know they're extremely slow. This one in particular is narrated by the protagonist looking back on her life growing up without a mother, in an unhappy marriage, etc. While Atwood books are slow they are always worth reading and the content will make you think long after the book is done. They also always have a subtle feminist tone (or not so subtle, depending on the book). Recently I donated all my Atwood novels to the library in protest- I think Margaret Atwood is a huge bitch- but I can still appreciate what a great novel this is, and one of the most memorable long fiction books I can remember reading.

This is the third book on this list which was introduced to me by an educational presence in my life. A Fine Balance was the first book we read in Grade 12 AP English. I remember we were all shocked when Mr Killen brought in a giant box filled to the brim with Rohinton Mistry's sprawling story set in India. His novel is 603 pages and at the point was one of the biggest books I would have ever tackled (save for Harry Potter lol).

This book literally and metaphorically crushed me. I remember kind of slacking on reading it and had to catch up on it over Christmas break because we had to write a paper on it come January. I was reading it in my bedroom and crying over how sad it is. The subject matter is incredibly bleak and each main character has a worse life than the next. This might be the one book on this list that I immediately revisit.

I remember being nervous to read this, compartmentalizing J.K. Rowling as the author of the Harry Potter series exclusively.  It took a while to get into but at 639 pages you have lots of time. It's one of those books with a series of sub-plots happening, but all the characters are interwoven. We all know Rowling is a fantastic writer, bringing you right into the little worlds she creates, and The Casual Vacancy is no exception. It's set in a little British town and it's all about the relationships happening within it, parents, teachers, spouses, schoolyard kids, etc. If you enjoy domestic fiction this is absolutely worth the time you'll put in, and it's a great demonstration of how an author I've 'put into a box' can successfully transcend genres. I'd be very open to another piece of fiction like this from Rowling.

I have to include Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace even if it's just to brag about having finished it. Just kidding. This book is as brilliant as everyone says it is, and certainly as long (1079 pages). This book taught me about tennis, AA, grammar, what GOAT meant, and how much committing to something challenging can pay off (i.e. literally reading this book). I remember reading something where Wallace said it should take at least four months to read this book and I was almost exactly within that time frame. This book is so giant and I spent so much time with it that the spine is rubbed off on the edges. I know many people have this book on their shelf, but I'd really encourage them to open it up and start reading.

This is both one of the most challenging and most sad books I've ever read. It's also a book where I feel the film adaptation is equally as good, and would almost recommend watching it first, reading the book second to help with comprehension. It was challenging for me because I mentally struggle to process time travel, and I had to actively remind myself of the time periods / logic to Niffenegger's story. It's quite popular for being 541 pages, the movie definitely helped, but it's also just because it's such a good piece of writing. Niffenegger gives us an amazing literary love story, packaged across three generations, while shoving the 'every moment matters' message down our throats... and this was her FIRST NOVEL. It's just enough time travel that it doesn't in any way resemble a sci-fi type of story. If you liked the movie About Time you'll know what I mean by this (coincidentally Rachel McAdams plays the lead in both). I'd recommend this to any female, even if you've struggled in the past to keep your focus through long fiction. I sob like a baby every time I read it.

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