The Long and Short of It

Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of lists of the best chunksters, or novels that are quite long.  While looking at my list of read books, I noticed that I’ve read my fair share of door stoppers and that most of them are actually on my “best” list.

So, I decided to make my own list of the best chunksters I’ve read, and in addition, I’ve also come up with a list of the best novellas, or short novels, I’ve read – because there are days you feel like losing yourself in what seems like a never-ending saga, but sometimes, you just want to read (and finish something) on the commute home.

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie

I consider any book over 500 pages (hardback or paperback), long.  Here’s my list of favorite chunksters, in no particular order.

1.  Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (782 pages, hardback) – Susanna Clarke – Though I’ve said the books on this list are in no particular order, this would probably really be #1.  Quite honestly, this book would be #1 on all of my “best” lists.  If I could marry any one book, this would be it!

2.  2666 (898 pages, paperback) – Roberto Bolano – A 5-part behemoth about scholars, mysterious writers, reporters, and unsolved murders in Mexico that is less of a novel than a puzzle to be solved.  Each of its 5 parts are about different people and events and are told from different perspectives, but in the end, will come together and make sense…well, almost. Like the novel, the title 2666, a number whose significance is unknown, is a complete and utter mystery.

3.  Les Miserables (1,488 pages, hardback) – Victor Hugo – A book notorious for being one of the longest (and most intimidating) books ever written, about crime and punishment, obsession, righteousness, poverty, suffering, honor, compassion, love, pride, and a minor rebellion in the streets of Paris that everyone who has never read it assumes was the French Revolution.  Don’t let its thickness scare you.  This novel is a masterpiece that touches on different aspects of humanity, and most importantly, is not has hard to read as it seems.

4.  1Q84 (1,154 pages, paperback) – Haruki Murakami – If you’ve never read a novel by Haruki Murakami before, be prepared for some weird stuff.  And I don’t mean just offbeat characters or odd occurrences, I mean downright strange and bizarre things!  How strange?  Well, this novel takes place in two different parallel worlds and has little people that emerge from people’s mouths and make cocoons out of air….  Fascinating stuff, to be sure, but very, very, weird.

5.  Game of Thrones (835 pages, paperback) – George R.R. Martin – Ok, I don’t think this book needs an explanation as you’ve probably seen the HBO series, or if you haven’t, your Facebook wall is probably flooded by your friends’ posts about it, memes, surveys and quizzes about which of the Houses they would belong to, or what names they would have if they lived in Westeros, or which of the novel’s characters they would be.  So far there are 5 novels to this 7-part series, and all of them are over 800 pages long.

6.  The Luminaries (834 pages) – Eleanor Catton – The 2013 Booker Prize winner, about a murder mystery told from the perspective of 12 seemingly random men from a small mining town in New Zealand.  A novel about greed, love, murder, and immigration, with an astrological element whose significance is a big mystery to me.

Short and Sweet

These short novels, or novellas, are less than 300 pages, and can usually be read in a couple hours.

1.  The Pearl (87 pages) – John Steinbeck – When you’re poor, no one wants anything to do with you, but when you suddenly come in to money, everyone wants to be your best friend.

2.  Einstein’s Dreams (144 pages) – Alan Lightman – Short, strange, and fleeting stories about time, space, and life; if Albert Einstein kept a dream diary, this would be it.

3.  The Cloven Viscount (264 pages) – Italo Calvino – This novella is actually shorter than 264 pages, because it’s in an edition that has 2 Italo Calvino novellas.  The Cloven Viscount is the strange tale of a Viscount who, during the war, was halved vertically in two – a good side, and a bad side.  Strange as that may seem, it’s even stranger when his two separate halves return to his castle to wreak havoc on its inhabitants, and on each other.

4.  Chronicle of a Death Foretold (120 pages) – Gabriel Garcia Marquez – A tragic story of a senseless death that could have been prevented.

5.  The Alchemist (197 pages) – Paulo Coelho – The story of Santiago and his quest to fulfill his dreams, who learns that it’s the journey, and not the destination, that is defines life.

6.  The Old Man and the Sea (93 pages) – Earnest Hemingway – Another story of a Santiago, who proves that sometimes it’s important to do something, even if in vain, in order to live with oneself.

7.  The Oxford Murders (197 pages) – Guillermo Martinez – A story of a series of strange and mysterious murders in Oxford, with a surprising twist in the end.

8.  The Remains of the Day (245) – Kazuo Ishiguro – The story of a professional butler reminiscing about his employer, career, and life, during a 6-day motoring vacation in the English Countryside.

9.  The Uncommon Reader (121 pages) – Alan Bennet –  A hilarious tale of happens when the Queen of England takes up a hobby – reading, of all things.

10.  Animal Farm (112 pages) – George Orwell – A cute fairy tale about talking farm animals that everyone knows is really about people and communism.

There you have it.  My favorite long and short novels.  What about you, what are your favorites?

13 thoughts on “The Long and Short of It

  1. As for me, this is how I would classify my books:
    big novels: 600+
    novels:150 to 600

    Interesting titles. And yes, I have yet to finish Les Miserables. 😀

  2. I haven’t read that many long books yet though I am reading India after Gandhi now (893 pages) and the shortest would probably be The Sense of an Ending
    I read Animal Farm when I was 10 and my parents had a good laugh when I went and told them that I didn’t like it because the animals suddenly started talking 😀

  3. Wow, I’ve only read one of these! Well, I read about 1,000 pages of Les Mis and then gave up. So long, so many digressions, so many silly characters. I just couldn’t. But I really need to read some of the other books on your list!

    • That’s too bad about Les Mis…you only had a few hundred pages left too! Lol. Those few hundred pages could be a whole other book…or two 🙂 I do hope you get to read them, they are totally worth it (well, maybe except Les Mis;-))

  4. For the very long fiction (over 800 pages): Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina are long novels I adore. The former is a bit digressive, not in terms of narrative sidestories but by way of intellectual discourse, while the latter is a more traditional unified whole with every bit building into the climax. Then there’s Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky with all its dark philosophical segues.

    • I’ve always wanted to read Brothers Karamazov…and I’ve actually started, but got distracted. I hope to read it someday. War and Peace was also another book I’ve wanted to read. It seems a bit intimidating.

  5. For the really short fiction of just over a hundred pages, I liked Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo, father of the fabulist and marvelous realism boom in Latin American literature. The rest of the shorter ones I can recall now would be plays (Bertolt Brecht, Peter Weiss, Luigi Pirandello, Jean Genet). Most of the novels I actually read averages at around 200 to 400 pages. 🙂

  6. I still need to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Glad to hear you enjoyed that one! I also liked Anna Karenina and The Pillars of the Earth. I’ve also enjoyed the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I’m on book five in that series, with the average number of pages 1,000+ after books 1 and 2…

    • I have Pillars of the Earth and was planning to read it, but I watched the TV series first. Is it a lot like the TV show?

      I will check out The Outlander Series….It could me by next chunkster series read. Thanks for the recommendations.

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