There’s a feeling of remarkable accomplishment that accompanies finishing a book, and when that book is of monumental size, weighing down your backpack so that the bottom edge digs into your coccyx, making your forearms sore every time you read it, that feeling is exponentially better. Both a literal and figurative weight has been lifted. That’s because the amount of time, emotion, and spirit you’ve devoted to the book seems astronomical, and you want the world to know.
You read War and Peace? Odds are you’ll find a way to rope it into conversation at your next social gathering. As long as you don’t do it like an ostentatious, bombastic butthead no one should hold it against you. After all, in many ways Tolstoy’s work is like Jupiter. It’s that big. You could read George Orwell’s Animal Farm eighteen times before finishing War & Peace once. This of course does not make either work more or less valuable, but from a perspective of commitment, it’s a casual first date versus going steady.
For all of you that are curious, here’s a breakdown of some of the biggest books around.*
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix–870 pages, 257,045 words. The longest of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, this book in hardback looks sturdy enough to build a house. The page count is honestly a little high for the amount of words, but this brilliantly allows the reader to feel a great sense of accomplishment when reading it. I remember binge reading this book as a kid. Damn straight you had to read it fast, because one day after the release kids started throwing out spoilers like stale tootsie rolls at a parade.
Atlas Shrugged–1,168 pages, 565,223 words. The title of Ayn Rand’s enormous novel seems to facetiously hint at its size. You’ll likely feel a little achy in the shoulders lugging this one around.
The Recognitions–956 pages, 480,000 words. When this novel by William Gaddis was released, it received minimal attention, and ironically, not very strong recognition. Part of the reason for this was because critics and reviewers struggled to finish it, and many of them simply skipped to the end. However, its legacy has taken hold, and this book has notably inspired authors like Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace.
Ulysses–769 pages, 262,869 words. This is one of the classic big books. What’s particularly impressive is Joyce’s incredible use dialect, putting the lexicon of this work at over 30,000 words. During early years of publication, when the book was banned in the U.S., smugglers would bring over two copies at a time from Canada. They’d tuck one copy in the front of their pants and another in back.
Bloomsday is coming up in a couple months, so now is as good a time as any to dive into this bold, blue behemoth.
Miss MacIntosh, My Darling–1,198 pages, 700,000 words. This book took Marguerite Young seventeen years to write, a venture she said she never would’ve started had she known it would take so long. There are stories of the manuscript being hauled around in wheelbarrows. The manuscript shown in the picture is over 3,300 pages.
War & Peace— 1,455 pages, 544,406 words. Everyone knows this one. You’ve seen the chunky copies that seem to occupy every dorm room bookshelf or tattered editions being utilized as doorjambs. I’ve started reading this book three times and never gotten past book II.
Also, checkout the film “The Last Station” if you want to learn a bit more about Tolstoy’s later life.
Infinite Jest–1,079 pages, 484,001 words. This book becomes profoundly lengthier when you take into account the end notes. There are so many important details jammed into miniscule print at the back of the book. They’ll easily add another few hours to reading this gargantuan masterpiece, but trust me, it’s worth it.
The Corrections–653 pages, 196,774 words. This one is a cakewalk compared to most of the others on this list. It’s paced well. I finished it much faster than I anticipated. Jonathan Franzen thinks you should read it.
Les Miserables–1,260 pages, 513,000 words. I haven’t read this one, but I did sneak into the theater and see half the movie. (I can hear the outrage as I write that) With that said, I don’t have anything clever to say about it’s size. Hugo…more like Huge-o am I right?
Remembrance of Things Past–4,215 pages, 1,500,000 words. Marcel Proust writes large books. The stuff I’ve read by him is rampant with fantastically utilized semicolons. This one is the biggest novel ever written according to The Guinness Book of World Records.
This list is certainly incomplete. What are you favorite big books? Better yet, what book has given you the biggest sense of accomplishment when you finished it?
*All word and page counts were taken from random Internet Googling and Wikipedia, meaning they might not be 100% accurate, especially considering the wide range of editions available for most of these books.
Here’s a list of the longest novels ever written according to Wikipedia.