When it comes to recommending 500+ page books, I decided to avoid what is perhaps the most obvious solution to the problem—19th century classics, which regularly top out at well over 500 pages. Instead, I decided to focus on much more recent books that qualify for this category, simply because I’m assuming many readers will already be familiar with a lot of those classics, even ones they’ve never personally read.
In conducting my research, I learned that many contemporary books that are this long fall into one of two categories—literary fiction or fantasy. And, sometimes, they’re literary fiction with fantastical elements or fantasy with literary elements. In any event, I tried to find a little bit of something to appeal to everyone.
As always, follow this link to our online catalog to learn more about any of these books or to place them on hold.
If you enjoy literary fiction:
Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (2013)
The 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, The Goldfinch is the story of a young boy, Theo, who recently lost his mother and clings to a painting that he associates with her and her final moments. This knowledge helps him cope as he is brought up by eccentric family friends and then by his long-departed father, whom he has a rocky relationship with. As an adult, he remains in the world of art and antiques, working in an antiques store. But largely this book is the story of the painting that reminds him of his mother, a Dutch work entitled The Goldfinch, and its life with Theo, which includes a considerable amount of time dabbling in the black market for arts. Critics praised Donna Tartt for how compelling the story and Theo was, though some did complain that the text probably didn’t need to be quite as long as it ended up being.
Page count: 771 pages
Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke (2008)
Like The Goldfinch, Denis Johnson’s book received a lot of critical acclaim when it was first released. Unlike Tartt, Johnson didn’t receive a Pulitzer for this book, though he was a Pulitzer finalist and did nab a National Book Award. Tree of Smoke focuses on the Vietnam War, specifically with the experiences of CIA official Francis X Sands and his colleague/nephew, “Skip” throughout several years as they engage in psychological warfare operations.
Page count:843 pages
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (2006)
If you’re feeling especially bold, you can try to conquer David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Infinite Jest, for me, is one of those books that I hear a lot of people talk about but rarely hear of anyone finishing. Even when I was in a graduate program in literature, I remember a lot of classmates raving about how much they loved David Foster Wallace and how much they wanted to read this book, but nobody ever seemed to get around to it. Personally, the shorter works of Wallace’s that I read were mildly entertaining but also inexplicably irritating to me, so I never was tempted to give it a try, though I do periodically wonder if I should. The feeling passes quickly, but it reoccurs regularly. Those who have read the book (or parts of it) admit that it is a flawed, though often hilarious, dystopian novel about a futuristic America, complete with over 300 pages of fictional footnotes related to the dystopian world in question.
All of that’s to say, if you read all of it for this challenge and can prove it to me in person by the end of the year, you will win a prize. I kid you not.
Page Count: 1079 pages
If you like romance:
Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife
If you’d like something a little more romantic than the previous suggestions, consider giving this one a try. It’s the story of librarian Henry and his beloved wife, Claire. They are very much in love, complicated only by the fact that when Henry is stressed out, he tends to disappear and time travel, through no desire to do so on his own. As you can imagine, this is quite inconvenient. It is also confusing, as he travels both to his own past and his own future, even encountering his wife before he ever knew her. The narration rotates between both parties, so readers experience both characters’ feelings and frustrations about this unusual arrangement. And if you enjoy the book, you can also check out the 2009 film adaptation of it.
Page count: 546 pages
If you like fantasy:
Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004)
Susanna Clarke’s imaginative novel presents an alternate early 19th century England, one in which the country is still at war with Napoleon and the French, but also one in which the English tradition of magic has been curtailed. Magic still exists theoretically, but nobody practices it anymore, except for the bookish Mr. Norrell. However, he accidentally stumbles across the charismatic, flamboyant Jonathan Strange, who also practices magic, though in a much more reckless fashion than the staid Mr. Norrell would ever dream of doing. They band together to help the country defeat the French and also to revive the practice of magic in England, but these two very different men soon realize their visions for doing so are at odds. As you can imagine, complications ensue.
Page count: 782 pages
Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches (2011)
If you like fantasy but don’t think the alternate history Susanna Clarke created is your cup of tea, consider instead Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches. Diana is an Ivy League historian, but she’s also descended from a long line of witches. She avoids this scene, though, preferring the practical world. However, she can no longer do so when she comes into possession of an enchanted manuscript that unleashes all manner of magical creatures determined to get the manuscript back from her. She must then team up with a handsome vampire named Clairmont to combat the resulting mayhem. Harkness’s combination of romance, fantasy, and horror draws frequent comparisons to Anne Rice’s vampire novels. If you like this one, you’ll be relieved to hear that the remaining two novels in the trilogy are also available from the library.
Page count: 579 pages
If you like YA:
Michael Grant’s Gone (2008)
In the first book of his dystopian series, Michael Grant essentially takes the premise of Lord of the Flies and gives it a science fiction spin—what if there were no adults and the world was left in the hands of teenagers? This is exactly the reality facing his protagonists when they wake up one day in a world where no adults, no technology, and no explanations for this sudden change exists. Beyond that, sinister creatures lurk, and the teenagers themselves begin to develop strange powers, all while battling the inevitable power struggles that erupt. Grant’s series has been praised for the complex characters and suspenseful pacing he works into his novels. This book is only the beginning of a series, so be forewarned, you’ll likely find yourself wanting to read the remaining five books in the series to see what happens next.
Page count:558 pages
If you want some art with your doorstop:
Brian Selznick’s books
If you enjoy great artwork/illustrations, you might consider trying Selznick’s books to meet this challenge. He’s perhaps best known for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was adapted into the movie Hugo a few years ago. But he’s also written two more, Wonderstruck and fairly recent The Marvels. All of the books share a format Selznick has pioneered—one that is part graphic novel and part traditional prose, though he relies on full-size page illustrations rather than the panel structure more common to comics. The illustrations are not supplemental to the work, though. His novels often rotate between prose and illustrations, and the pictures literally convey the narrative in those parts.
The subject matter of the books is also diverse, with The Invention of Hugo Cabret focusing on a boy’s efforts in 1930s Paris to repair an old-fashioned automaton. Wonderstruck, meanwhile, is the story of two unhappy children who, separately, run away to the Museum of Natural History, in search of long-lost parents. The Marvels is Selznick’s own re-imagined backstory for the Dennis Severs’ House in London, which he has superimposed onto the fictional Marvel House. Yes, these books are children’s books, but the art within them is gorgeous and the stories they tell have been popular with adults and children alike.
Page counts:The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)–533 pages, Wonderstruck (2011)–637 pages, The Marvels (2015)–665 pages.
Do you like or dislike reading long books? What are some of your favorite books that over 500 pages long? What are you thinking of reading for this challenge?