The Atlantic recommends six long books

December 28, 2022 • 12:15 pm

If I like a book, I want it to be LONG. A thousand pages means nothing to me if the book is a good one. On the other hand, I know that many people beef about long books—an attitude I fail to understand. If the book is absorbing, or a good story, then why would you want it to end so soon? It’s like A. J. Liebling’s explanation of why he was a gourmand and not a gourmet: if you like food, you will like a LOT of food.

Well, I know I’m in the minority here, but I just found an article in The Atlantic that recommends LONG books (I also just remembered that I’ve had an online subscription to the magazine for five months, and had forgotten about it!)

Click to read (I don’t know if it’s paywalled):

It turns out that I’ve already read four of these. Guess which of the six I haven’t read?

Here’s Masad’s list, but first the intro:

Literature should not be something we approach out of a sense of duty. But many lengthy, complex, and well-known books really are that good. Like taking a long hike or following a tricky recipe, engaging with writing that challenges you can be deeply satisfying. Each of the books below is demanding in its own way, and reading or rereading them can be a fascinating, beautiful, and rewarding experience.

The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu (translated by Dennis Washburn)

Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville

Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Almanac of the Dead, by Leslie Marmon Silko

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

Of the four I’ve read (and this gives one away), I found Middlemarch the best, but all the ones I’ve read are good.

But why do they leave out Ulysses, or Anna Karenina, or The Brothers Karamazov? (Actually Masad did read and enjoy Joyce’s novel, though he said he initially  read it out of a sense of duty.

Here’s a book (or rather, a bunch of books) that I tried to read out of a sense of duty, and couldn’t get through even the first volume: Remembrance of Things Past.  It was simply too fricking turgid!  Of course that means I can never enter a “Summarize Proust” contest (first five minutes of the Python episode below):

116 thoughts on “The Atlantic recommends six long books

    1. Is this an attempt to be snarky? Both names are used. Wikipedia:

      In Search of Lost Time (French: À la recherche du temps perdu), first translated into English as Remembrance of Things Past, and sometimes referred to in French as La Recherche (The Search), is a novel in seven volumes by French author Marcel Proust.

      1. I think Mitch was joking about the major differences in the translations of “À la recherche du temps perdu” are. The very first English translation,“Remembrance of Things Past,” by H. Scott Moncrieff is now looked on as important but old-fashioned and often inaccurate (starting with its title). Later translations bear the correct title.
        I read the first book in the series, as translated by Moncrieff, for a college class but I was probably too young to grasp it, since I never read the rest. Maybe someday…

      2. My wife, who is Swedish, tells me that Strindberg said you had to read Goethe’s “Faust” and you had to read it in German — and if you didn’t know German, you had to learn it. I think that’s true of Proust, too — in French, of course.

  1. Why is there no mention in the article of War and Peace, perhaps the greatest novel ever written? Thompson’s This Thing of Darkness (HMS Beagle) is moderately long and excellent, while Olga Tokarcuk’s recently-translated The Books of Jacob is both very long and very good, as is the magnificent Dreams of Red Mansions/The Story of the Stone.

    1. I, too, was surprised that War and Peace was not mentioned. After all, if you ask most people to name a long book, that’s the first one that will come to mind. I have not read it.

      1. Woody Allen said he took a speed reading course, then read War and Peace in five minutes, “It’s about Russia”.

    2. I plan to read The Book of Jacob in March with an online reading group. Read Olga’s Drive Your Plow a few years ago and quite liked it. Also the 1000+ page Ducks, Newburyport, which I loved!

    3. I was also curious about the absence of War and Peace, a book that really does live up to its reputation. And it sure is long—at least 1,100 pages in most translations. I read the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which is occasionally awkward but readable enough. What impressed me about the book was Tolstoy’s psychological sensitivity and how the peace parts were as interesting as the war ones.

      The book’s psychological power is what any movie version struggle to capturie, whether it’s the 1956 Hollywood epic directed by King Vidor or the 1967 Russian super-production by Sergei Bondarchuk. Both are good, but they can’t put you in the characters’ heads the way Tolstoy can.

      As for the books on the Atlantic list, I read Moby Dick last year and enjoyed Melville’s intensity and neo-Elizabethan style, along with the demonic power of Captain Ahab. But if I was Melville’s editor I’d have forced him to trim the sections on whaling, which read like paraphrases from an encyclopedia.

      1. The production of War and Peace from the BBC (1972, 20 episodes) with a young Anthony Hopkins as Pierre is absolutely wonderful, and the scriptwriter used the fine translation done for Penguin by Rosemary Edmonds.

      2. … if I was Melville’s editor I’d have forced him to trim the sections on whaling, which read like paraphrases from an encyclopedia.

        In Philip Roth’s novel The Great American Novel, the narrator — a sportswriter name of “Smitty” — goes deep-sea fishing off Cuba with a fictionalized version of Ernest Hemingway and a literature major from Vassar (whom both Hemingway and Smitty refer to simply as “Vassar,” even when addressing her directly).

        While fishing, the three get into a discussion about what book deserves the title of Great American Novel. As to each of the usual suspects, Papa dismisses it in a sentence or two. It’s been a while since I read the book, but as I recall, when Moby Dick comes up, the fictional Hemingway says something to the effect of, “It’s a hundred pages of rip-roaring story about a madman, twenty pages about how good darkies are with harpoons, and three hundred pages of whale blubber.”

            1. It might have been when that guy was completely wrapped up in bandage in the hispital and they kept swapping his “in” and “out” bottles😹
              @#$&WordPress.Am not getting any comments in my email🙈

  2. Never heard of Genji or Almanac of the Dead. Infinite Jest is in one of my “read me soon” piles. Have read the other three. Am slowly working my way through Proust, en français. Am halfway through volume 3. Makes excellent bedtime reading.

    1. I tried to read Proust in the standard Moncrieffe translation and was thoroughly bored. It was only after I learned french that I could get through all of it and love it, although I did find the central books a tad longish. So I think the translation is part of the problem. I quite liked “Infinite Jest”, tho I don’t think Wallace is as good an author as Pynchon, whose “Mason & DIxon” I highly recommend. “Almanach of the dead” doesn’t sound like something I’d like. Anyone read it? (I suspect Jerry hasn’t.) Why didn’t they mention the Mahabharata?

    2. After a pair of false starts a couple years earlier, I read Infinite Jest — all 979 pages, all 388 endnotes — in just a little over ten days (which I think is a record of sorts, at least among the people I know). It was during the immediate aftermath of a Florida Hurricane. The the electricity was out, so there were no distractions from computers or cable tv, and it was too goddam hot in Miami to do anything other than grab the book and hop in a lounge chair in what was left of the screened-in porch (or what the real estate agent who sold me the place called a “lanai”) and read away from sunup to sundown.

      It was like one of those arduous treks that, once you get a couple days into it, takes on a momentum and pleasure all its own.

        1. Thanks for the info on “lanai”; I thought it was just one of those piss-elegant terms real estate people like to toss around.

          1. What’s even funnier is that a whole island in the chain/state is named Lana’i in the County of Maui. Incidentally the island itself is mostly rural, rustic and used to be a pineapple plantation and today is privately owned.

            Full disclosure: I served in the Isles while stationed at Kauai in the USCG.

      1. Unless, at least at our local library, someone else wants the book; and then you have to return it.
        Still, given the books we’re talking about, this is unlikely to happen.

  3. Infinite Jest is one of the very few books I’ve started and never finished, and I’m a neurotic completionist. I expected it to be a difficult read, but I enjoyed Gravity’s Rainbow so I thought I could handle it. I once told someone that maybe if I were into tennis I would have enjoyed it, and she said she “lives and breathes tennis” and she couldn’t finish it either. In her words it was just “pages of nothing.”

    1. I’ve never been tempted by this book myself, but my husband’s unsuccessful attempt to read it is a subject of (ahem) infinite jest around our house. He is a book completionist like you (AND a tennis fan, which didn’t help). His determination to keep trying over and over, in spite of not seeming to like the book much, puzzled me—my guiding phrase is “so many books, so little time,” and I will easily stop reading one if I dislike it or if I’m not getting something useful out of it.

      1. I’ve been a member of an online Booker Prize book group for many years. We used to vote on which past winners to read, but for the last few years we’ve read all 6 short-listers plus all 6 international short-listers. While always having been a stubborn completionist, this year there were about 3 I just couldn’t stand. Next year I plan to get the first chapters for free on kindld and only buy the whole book if I like the first chapter. Life’s too short! Must be the recent judges?? The only two short-listers I really loved last year both happened to be by African writers: At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop (actually French of Senegalese origin), and The Promise, by whit3 Jewisk South African, Damon Galgut.

  4. The only book I’ve read is Moby Dick. I’ll put the others on my list, but my tiny rural library probably doesn’t have them. But to be honest, I fail to understand the lure of Moby Dick. I found it dull and tedious in the extreme and only finished it out of a sense of duty. The much shorter Melville novel, Billy Buds, was a bit of fun, but excepting the bits of Ishmael and Queequeg, Dick was dull as dish water. But perhaps I’m just not enlightened enough to appreciate it. The longest book I’ve read that I’ve enjoyed is King’s The Stand, which I read at age 13 or 14 and couldn’t put down, or Dawkins’ Ancestors Tale (does non-fiction count?). But then I’m just a working class/lower middle class slob, so what do I know?

    1. I think the cachet of Moby Dick derives from it being a very early novel, when people were still figuring out how to write them. I agree that, by modern standards, it’s not very good.

      1. When I finished it I honestly thought to myself that it would have made a fine novella.

        A book that I heard recommended in an interview with Salman Rushdie, though under 600 pages, is The Makioka Sisters by Tanizaki. Anybody read it who can second that recommendation?

        1. I haven’t read that particular novel (it’s on my shelf), but I’ve read and enjoyed other Tanizaki novels – simple, elegant prose and worth reading if you like Japanese literature. Speaking of longish books, Ian McEwan’s latest, Lessons, was rather dry. Much better was Paul Theroux’s acerbic Mother Land, which I read a few weeks ago

  5. I just dove into Ulysses, now 5 chapters in. A little early to assess, but so far it’s living up to its reputation as both a great and challenging read. A strong recommendation for first timers – pick up “The Guide to James Joyce’s Ulysses” by Patrick Hastings. It’s a lively and readable companion that makes it much more enjoyable and digestible, without being overly pedantic. (Most of the other companions seem more geared toward Joyce scholars than readers who just want to get the most out fo the book.)
    And agreeing with PCC in that I am not eager the climb to end, even though it’s a tall mountain in front of me!

  6. I would guess that Dr. Coyne has read the first four books on the article’s list, and not the last two.

    I have not ready any of the six, but the first four are on my “to read some day” list. A friend of mine (he was reading through Time magazine’s list of 100 best books) scared me away from Infinite Jest, and it’s a constant running joke between us now.

    The long classic fiction that I’ve read has been almost completely limited to Charles Dickens; though none of his novels quite reach a thousand pages, of his 800-pagers I’ve read Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, Martin Chuzzlewit, Dombey & Son, David Copperfield, and Bleak House (my favorite).

    For the last 15 years, nearly all of my fiction reading has been science fiction and fantasy, which is notorious for long works. Of the ones over a thousand pages, I’ve liked best The Lord of the Rings (I presume most of the readers here know that it was written as a single book, and that the publication as a trilogy was a publisher’s decision), To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams (third book in the Memory, Sorrow, Thorn trilogy), itself about 1,600 pages, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and a book I think I’ve recommended here before, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84.

    Of course, many (not all) trilogies and longer series are in effect a single book, as they have one unified story arc, even if they were published as separate books. The Harry Potter series is certainly the best known of these.

    I’m just about to start Stephen R. Donaldson’s First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which, like Lord of the Rings, is a single book published in three volumes; it clocks in at just under 1,500 pages.

    Happy reading to all!

    1. Yeah my addition to the overall list would be BLEAK HOUSE. Dickens scratching all his itches and riding his hobbyhorses to great effect. On top of everything else a case of spontaneous human combustion! Marvelous stuff.

      1. I’d second that. I’ve read around eight books by Dickens, and Bleak House was definitely the best and most modern-feeling. It’s also appropriately long (over a thousand pages). Bleak House has less of Dickens’s sentimentality but retains his classic ingredients of biting humor, eccentric and unforgettable characters, social consciousness, and the intense evocation of Victorian London. It’s also a “state of the nation” novel that explores, in a masterly way, the connections between characters from different classes and walks of life.

    2. Currently reading the quite short Hard Times, 299 pages in my Everyman’s Library copy, and having a hard time of it. It ha plenty of interesting language, but I can’t quite get into it. Really thought it would be a 3-4 day read. Maybe it’s just my mindset. A bit of the winter doldrums, post-holiday depression. Sounds like I should have gone for Bleak House.

    3. I love long sci fi books. Though my favorite sci fi author is William Gibson and he tends to write shorter novels. I’m just finishing up The Peripheral which around 450 is fairly long. Thoroughly enjoying the book (Wow!)…I’ve had it on my bookshelf for a while, and when I saw it came out as a mini-series on Amazon Prime, I decided to read it first. I honestly don’t know how they’re going to pull it off, it’s a mind-bending novel, but I’m anxious to see how “they” do.

      1. If we’re talking sci-fi and longer books, Neal Stephenson.
        His latest, Termination Shock, comes in at a svelte 706 pages; his earlier Reamde is 1033 in paperback. Both are great fun. And there are others.

      1. Good decision about IJ.

        Speaking of long novels, I recall that a few months ago you asked for suggestions about books to read when you went to the Antarctic(?). I think you settled on A Suitable Boy. Assuming I’m not misremembering things, how did you like the book? I personally adored it.

      2. Before you let the local philistines 🙂 chase you off Infinite Jest, boss, may I suggest you at least read the introduction to the novel’s 2006 edition written by Dave Eggers (a contemporary of DFW’s who knows a thing or two about heartbreaking works of staggering genius)?

        You can find a stand-alone version of that intro here.

  7. A classic book is one that everyone should have read but nobody actually has! (Attrib Mark Twain). I have to say that Ullysses, in particular, is just unreadable. Completely overrated with an ending that is just 100% self-indulgent. Horrible book!

      1. Agree with John on Ulysses. Brilliant! Time for a reread.
        Btw, anyone else having problems with comments not getting sent by email?

        1. Merilee, I have problems getting my comments to stick using the WordPress app. Let’s see if this one sticks.🤔

    1. I’ve heard the Twain quote/attribution as: A classic book is one that everyone wants to have read, but nobody actually wants to read.

      I disagree, as I’ve enjoyed many classics, from Homer through Dickens.

      At what age does a book graduate from “modern literature” to “classic” (assuming, of course, that people continue to read it)? 50 years? 100 years? Other?

    2. I have to say that Ullysses, in particular, is just unreadable.

      Ullysses is practically a Dick and Jane reader compared to Finnegans Wake.

    3. 100% disagree! Ulysses (not ‘Ullysses’) is one of my favourite novels, and I get something new out of it each time I read it (which is more than can be said for most novels).

      I too was surprised to see no Tolstoy or Dickens on the original list. A commenter above mentioned Fowles’s The Magus, which I remember being impressed by when I first read it. On the strength of that, I then bought the equally lengthy Daniel Martin, which even back then I thought was just awful.

      My recommendation: Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess (648 pages in paperback), which starts with the eye-catching sentence:

      “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite, when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me”.

  8. Moby Dick is good, but I agree with Christopher that it was tedious in places.

    I read even less of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past than you did, Jerry, only a few paragraphs at most and I didn’t understand even those very well. Why? Because the final exam of my grad school French comprehension class—fluency in two foreign languages was required at the time—consisted of translating Proust from the original French into English. Needless to say, that’s all the Proust I’ve attempted and the students in the class were not happy campers.

    I passed the class, thankfully. I was truly worried that French literature might derail me from completing my Ph.D. in geological sciences. The year *after* I completed my language requirement, the department dropped the language requirement entirely. Mine was the last class to be “fluent” in two foreign languages. 🙂

    Long books. I can love them, or not. If it’s written by Walter Isaacson (for example) I never want it to end. But there are many other long books—which I will not name here—that are way longer than they need to be. Why does it matter? It matters (to me) because there is so much out there that I want to get to. I feel that the clock is ticking.

    Perhaps the most amazing long(ish) book I’ve read is Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. It was one surprise after another, one irony after another, with every human foible being vividly represented. Awesome book!

    1. Fully agree with the Hunchback of Notre-Dame! (Hey, there’s another long one that hasn’t been mentioned yet, Les Misérables).

      1. I read the Penguin edition of The Count of Monte Cristo, which features a modern translation by Robin Buss, and greatly enjoyed it. It’s 1,200 pages long and definitely fits this thread. The length allows Dumas to make the reader truly feel the despair and duration of prison, and it also allows the revenge of Edmond Dantes to really build up steam. The book never feels long, though I think the poison subplot could have been trimmed. I didn’t like the 1934 film adaptation or many of the other sound ones, but the 1922 Hollywood silent Monte Cristo is surprisingly good. The 1929 French silent, also titled Monte Cristo, is probably the most stylish and sumptuous adaptation and long overdue for Blu-Ray release.

  9. The Infinite Jest, really? I tried to read it, got maybe a third of the way through before I got, frankly, bored. Bored with a completely unfunny scene involving a spy in drag; bored with endless lists of psychotropics that were probably meant to display the author’s encyclopedic knowledge of psychotropics; bored with the the implausibly huge words used by people in drug rehab that I suspect were meant not to entertain or enlighten but only to display the author’s deep intelligence and, because I was reading it, to establish my deep intelligence as well. Maybe at half the length, it would have been worth something. The passage “I am in here”, early in the book, continues to haunt me. And there was the truly amusing naming of years after sponsoring products. Year of Adult Depends I think it was for one year. And there was a kid that went “barely mammalian” during a college meeting, I found that interesting. A movie people watched that kind of put them into a trance or something. I remember that. But overall, no thanks. So, yeah, maybe I’m a rube, feel free to call me one if the book changed your life. The Wasteland. That’s another one from the “look how smart I am now you’re reading it so you’re smart too yay” genre.

  10. If long and rewarding reads are what you crave, I recommend Vasily Grossman’s two WWII novels, Stalingrad (originally published under another title), followed by Life and Fate. Each could be read alone, but many characters survive through both, no sure thing in that place and time. Each volume runs about 900 pages.

    1. I found L and F very moving. I hadn’t known about VG’s other WW-II novels. Stalingrad is not in in my local library’s catalogue, but the blurb for The People Immortal looks very promising indeed (and it’s only 350 pp 🙂).

    2. Wholeheartedly agree! Grossman is compelling and a great stylist. The Chandler translation of Life and Fate is highly regarded.

  11. I’m sure Jerry hasn’t read Infinite Jest. My guess for the second w/b Almanac of the Dead.

    I haven’t drummed up the courage to tackle Inifinite Jest which is sitting gathering dust on my book shelf. I read Shogun many years ago; it is a thick book and is unputdownable. I’m trying out audible books and I chose this as my first audible book. I’d like recommendations from fellow reader for a second audible fictional novel.

    1. The Illiad is the only audible novel I’ve tried (I forget the source of translation, but apparently it is a widely recommended one). On cassette tapes so it was a very long time ago. It was completely absorbing.

  12. Infinite Jest is a perennial flashpoint in online literary discussions like this. A lot of people dislike it with vehement intensity. That’s fine. What’s odd to me is that such people often seem to evince a feeling of superiority over those who like it, even resorting to insults. I don’t get it.

    1. I loved IJ and think DFW was the best novelist of his generation. But even those who find his novels off-putting tend to find his essays, journalism, and other nonfiction works more amenable (or “accessible” as the saying goes).

      DFW gave his readers a lot of care & feeding in those pieces.

      1. Agreed on all counts.
        I enjoy all of DFW’s writing. He can be very funny, and very poignant. And intentionally experimental.
        I too enjoyed Infinite Jest very much. It’s one of two novels I finished and then turned back and read the whole thing again right away (as you know, IJ is structured that way, annularly).
        The other was Gravity’s Rainbow; I am a huge fan and admirer of Thomas Pynchon. Someone recommended Mason & Dixon above and indeed it is excellent. All of his stuff is, imo.
        One of my all-time favorites–is it long enough to be ‘long’? I don’t know–is Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion.
        Right now I have Ulysses and both JR and The Recognitions (both by William Gaddis) intimidating me from the unread shelf. They look really long.

    2. Infinite Jest contained some of the funniest fiction I have read. In particular I liked the description of a work injury claim, the Canadian wheel chair terrorists, and the catapult war with Canada. Some portions were a slog. War and Peace was great but I did need the “cast” to keep track of who did what. I enjoyed Moby Dick but I have not reread portions like I do other books. I also like Fielding’s Tom Jones and Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. I was an English literature major when I first started college.

  13. Not to forget Rebecca West’s wonderful Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, over 1000 pages of whimsical wanderings through the former Yugoslavia. Took me over a year to get through, but it was well worth it!

  14. Not many comments so far about THE TALE OF GENJI but it really is a wonderful piece of work. A different sensibility about how society should work and how humans should conduct themselves in that society.

    Nobody has mentioned DON QUIXOTE.

    A personal favorite is TRISTAM SHANDY which should be a breeze at a mere 640 pages!

    1. I second the kudos for Genji, the only book on this list I have read. I remember it only vaguely, but fondly. Some of it is magical, as when the seasons are described in nature terms such as the “time of the giant clams” (IIRC).

    2. I bought Don Quixote when I got Rushdie’s Quichotte which was the day I saw him speak in KcMO. I loved his book but still haven’t read Cervantes. I bet I own more unread books than I’ve actually read. I better live to a ripe old age, there’s too much reading to do!

    3. Loved Don Quixote, when I read it many moons ago. Also quite liked Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte (though did not like his Midnight’s Children.)

    4. Love Tristram Shandy (I’ve read it twice). I only made it halfway through Don Quixote (in Spanish) – a bit too picaresque for me.

  15. I just passed by my bookshelf and noticed the old James Clavell tomes on it. I really enjoyed reading them when they first came out. A guilty pleasure?

  16. Infinite Jest, Moby Dick, and Vanity Fair all under the belt. Several false starts on Ulysses, my copy of Finnegan’s Wake has damaged some walls, and I’m restarting Bleak House. Wish me luck.

  17. I’ve challenged myself throughout life to tackle “difficult” novels, many of them quite long. Most, but not all, have ultimately rewarded my efforts, including:

    Infinite Jest (several tries; finally got it, loved it)
    Ulysses (used a concordance/guide, made all the difference; read last 140 pages in one go)
    Moby Dick
    Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (wow)
    Faulkner: Absalom! Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury
    Science fiction: Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren — not for me
    Gravity’s Rainbow (several efforts; finally completed with a concordance; convinced that Pynchon was mostly punking his audience, given that the most “memorable” scenes from the book are … well, appalling)
    The Brothers Karamazov (despite old-school Christian(ish) morality, a great book)

    I cannot finish:
    War and Peace

    I can barely begin:
    Remembrance of Things Past/In Search of Lost Time

    Still working on:
    Finnegan’s Wake (one page at a time, just for the cool language — you can use these sentences as long passwords, perhaps slightly alpha-numericized)

    1. I’ve challenged myself throughout life to tackle “difficult” novels, many of them quite long. Most, but not all, have ultimately rewarded my efforts ….

      If you haven’t read it already, CBE, you might be interested in National Book Award winning novelist Jonathan Frazen’s essay (which first appeared in The New Yorker) on the problem of hard-to-read books.

  18. To begin with, I agree that long is a great quality in a good book. Second only to finishing a wonderful book, and learning that it was volume one of six.

    I wish to defend Moby Dick. It still holds great appeal to those of us who are both nautical and old-timey.

    My recommendation for this category is Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson.

    1. +1 on Cryptonomicon. I wouldn’t necessarily call it great, but for all its considerable length it manages to be interesting on pretty much every page. That in itself is quite the accomplishment, in my book.

      1. Ditto Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, not yet mentioned here. It was published as four short books, one each year from 1980-1983, but is actually one book (about 800 pages). Although I’ve found much of Wolfe’s other work excruciatingly dull, The Book of the New Sun (according to Neil Gaiman, the best American novel of the last 75 years) is simply fascinating with, as you put it, something interesting on every page.

        Cryptonomicon (along with a thousand other books) is in my TBR pile. Stevenson’s Seveneves was very good, but not as good as Snow Crash and Diamond Age (then again, neither is anything else).

  19. No one has mentioned Trollope’s two great novel-sequences, the Barchester novels and the Palliser novels. There are ups and downs, but much to enjoy. Another novel sequence is Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. Took me a year, again with ups and downs. But Widmerpool is one of the great monsters of English literature and the sequence itself is a lot of fun. With these sequences, as with Proust, the development of characters
    over a long time is great, Phineas Redux alone is a great thick novel, and itself a long novel that I’d recommend.

    1. I haven’t read Powell, but I’m a big fan of another novel sequence that’s occasionally compared to his: Simon Raven’s “Alms for Oblivion.” It’s a funny and frequently depraved chronicle of the decaying English upper class and their salacious deeds. Raven also adapted The Pallisers for British television, so there’s a connection to Trollope, who I’d love to try whenever my shelf is cleared.

    2. Hear hear! I re-read Dance a year or so ago, and on the whole it stands up pretty well. The three wartime novels in the series (7-9) are particularly good.

      I’m also fond of Trollope, and it’s about time I dipped into those two sequences again. His longest novel, I think, is The Way We Live Now, which is a caustic attack on the financial and commercial corruption of late-Victorian England, and very readable.

      1. Trollope has a good number of strong and interesting women characters, and is very good on the difficulties women faced. He also is much better than most Victorian writers in writing about sex…as plainly as he could.
        I would also agree on the three wartime novels of Dance…as being particularly good.

  20. If you treat the 20 volumes of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubreyad as one long novel, as at least one critic has suggested, it comes to 6544 pages! I relied on my HI state library system the first time through, then acquired new or used books from Abe Books or similar, plus ancillary guides, biographies of O’Brian, etc. (There is even a cookbook, “Lobscouse & Spotted Dog”).
    I’m 84 next week; my next and fifth time through will likely be my last.

  21. I cannot understand why the Washburn translation is recommended rather than the slightly older Royall Tyler translation (2001) of The Tale of Genji. I read classical Japanese fairly well, teach about music in The Tale of Genji (in Japanese, to Japanese and sometimes Chinese students), and have read all of the English translations closely; Tyler’s is the most accurate, and closest in tone to the original. The Washburn translation is verbose, and full of detail that is usually left in footnotes. If you prefer that sort of thing, then perhaps it might be worth reading, but I find the extra detail annoying. With regard to matters of music, it’s often just wrong. Instrumental pieces are always referred to as “songs,” for instance …

  22. Although having good bones…Moby Dick was deadly dull to slog through. There are actual books on whaling with less obscure whaling minutia…and by the way what was all of this detail in service of? Was it a sign of erudition back then to drone on and on about such trivia?

    Certainly this book would have benefited greatly from modern editing.

  23. Taylor translation of Genji. Of the books listed and those mentioned, Genji is really the only one that takes a reader today into a genuinely strange circumstance. It is quite different than recent literature — say last couple of hundred years, including Japanese lit over recent centuries.

  24. I have been told that Russian novelist were paid by the word and after attempting to read any Russian literature I’m inclined to agree. I believe that I’d rather watch a Quentin Tarantino movie marathon than ever read through a single Russian novel. I suspect that the glowing reviews are due to people not wanting to admit that they wasted their time actually reading that stuff. Ugh….

    1. Ummm. . . no, you’re wrong about people who love Russian novels not wanting to admit that they wasted their time. I never thought I was wasting my time reading them. You really shouldn’t overgeneralize about that, especially with its implicit denigration of the host!

      1. I fail to understand the psychology of WDB and such a comment.
        I would both watch a Tarantino marathon AND read every Russian novel again. For me, Crime & Punishment. I had a russian friend who helped explain russian psychology and syntax.
        And Proust, while daunting, I found to be the best thing I have ever read in my life. Genius. Which goes to show how varied and complex and simple we hoomans are in our tastes.
        Viva la difference!

    2. People have said the same about Charles Dickens but that doesn’t stop him from being a very readable writer.

  25. I spent 2013 (the 100th anniversary) reading À la recherche du temps perdu in French. The first volume and the last volume are the best – the intervening volumes could have done with a good editing. Part of the value of Proust lies in his use of language, which is hard to translate.

    I loved Middlemarch and Vanity Fair and made it through Moby-Dick but only intermittently enjoyed it.

  26. One perk of longevity is the luxury of being able to re-read some of the greats. I’ve read Anna Karenina twice, Middlemarch three times, and David Copperfield five times, once aloud to my son when he was 13 (he’s now 42). I’m seriously considering re-reading A Confederacy of Dunces. But, like our host, I’ve never been able to get through Remembrance of Things Past even once.

    1. Ignatius J. Reilly and Myrna “the Minx” Minkoff are calling your name, Gary, pleading with you to pick up that book again. (Plus, Reilly’s a Jesuit, like you used to be; when’s the last time you read a novel where a book by Boethius is practically a character?)

      I re-read Dunces about a year and a half ago, during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, and liked it even more than the first time around — and I liked it a lot the first time around.

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