A few years ago, I came to the conclusion that big books were my favorite books. I'd just finished four or five 500+ page books in a row, and had given a five star rating to each of them. Spending so much time with characters I'd grown to love was amazing, and I was always even more heartbroken when it was over. I try recommending these books to people all the time, and the common response is "I don't have the time for those books", or "it would take me a year just to read the first chapter!" But the reality is, most people never finish books like these because they never pick them up in the first place. So, to try to sway you if you haven't given these a chance already, here are my favorite door stoppers, and the reasons why I love them. (And for those of you who already love big books, I'll be comparing these books to other books I read and have loved, to give you an idea if any of these are for you.)
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
There was a time when everyone and their mother had read The Secret History. It's swimming in Greek references, the writing is superb and the characters are all intriguing. If that wasn't enough to grab people's attention, on the first page, it announces that the narrator and his friends murdered their friend and left him in the snow. It's a brilliant idea and so compelling, people fly through it in a day or two. This is a great book if you like suspense, and if you're mostly into literary fiction, it's great for you, too. Donna Tartt is known as the bridge between those who read high literary and those who lean more commercial. This is also a great book if you like books like A Little Life, that explore the relationships between people. I also think this is tied for my favorite 'literary thriller' with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. They're very different books, but the shock factor is still the same.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Disclaimer: if you're newer to literary fiction, the first few pages might turn you off. I read this back when I wasn't that well read, and almost cried because I couldn't fully comprehend what this author was saying. The writing is beautiful and smart and funny, but it's intimidating. However, after I got used to the writing style and told myself not to worry about what I didn't 'get', I really enjoyed this. The story follows a set of cousins in the 40's, as they decide to take on the world of comics. The journey these characters go through is so fascinating and there's never a moment that feels false. If you like historical fiction, particularly WWII books, this one might be for you. It also has an interesting LGBT+ storyline, touching on what it was like for gay men at the time, and I think it's done well.
The Nix by Nathan Hill
This came out the year after A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara smashed into everyone's hearts. There were a lot of comparisons, but I think most of the comparisons were inaccurate. This isn't the heart-breaker that A Little Life is, and it's not the prose we love so dearly from Donna Tartt in The Goldfinch. However, it is a fast-paced, funny, and thoughtful book, partly focusing on the relationship between a mother and her son. There's some political satire in this, as well. The part I hated about this book while reading it, and have only now come to understand its genius, was the vignettes where this girl is explaining to her professor why she should get second chances and deserves better grades. I went back and re-read one of the scenes recently and cackled so loud I scared my dog. There's a lot to like in this book. The part I found most beautifully rendered were the moments between the protagonist and his best friend. They were so honest, and the harder moments were recognizable to me and the moments I shared with my friends when I was younger. If you like the absent mother aspect of The Goldfinch, the interaction between male friends from A Little Life, or exploring a character in a lot of depth, this is for you.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This is one of my top ten favorite books of all time. What's even funnier is the first time I read it, I sat it down after 28 pages and said, "not for me." It wasn't bad, but I didn't understand the purpose of reading a book that featured such average people striving for typical dreams, if it wasn't going to feature lush writing or some newer insight. Well, here's the thing. You read to page fifty, and things are more intriguing. Then you read to page 75, and it's 3 AM and you're on page 289 and trying to hold your eyes open, even though you have work in a few hours. The reason the beginning of this book comes across as so 'normal' is because Yanagihara is setting you up. She wants you comfortable, so when the world starts to shake, you're not ready. This is a devastating read, and there's no way around that. You'll cry by the end of this, no matter how heartless you are. If you like the epic nature of Donna Tartt, Charles Dickens, or any of the like, this might be for you. Oh, and if you like LGBT+ fiction, when A Little Life came out, it was deemed The Great Gay Novel, by many critics...so there's that.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
This is one of the longest books on the list, clocking in at 784 pages, but it doesn't feel like it. The writing is phenomenal, and Tartt can paint a scene in ways that will inspire you to document your own journey in life and realize just how beautiful the smallest details are. She took twelve years to write this novel, and it shows in the best way. Every place fills lived in, every character alive and full of their own history. If you liked Great Expectations, this is a good option. There's also a movie coming out soon, so now would be a great time to pick it up! Great writing, great characters, a plot that feels like you have no choice but to follow...it's definitely worth the read.
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
This might be the most uniquely structured of all the books on this list. The book follows the protagonist from birth until death in this confusing and exciting epic. There are four versions of each chapter, and in each one, something slightly different happens that makes each journey a little different. It's hard to explain, and the first two sets of chapters are a little hard to get used to, but it's so worth it. My favorite lives (from what I can recall) are lives 2 and 4. But I think it'll be different for every person. The best part about this book is knowing the changes and how each one changes the characters life, and wondering what changes would've happened in your life had just one or two small things been different. The writing is beautiful and the plotting is mostly well done. It did lag a bit at the end, for me anyway. But still so great. If you like Donna Tartt or Hanya Yanagihara, you'll like this.
A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates
Disclaimer: I'm a huge fan of Oates. Even her worst books are better than some of the trash I tried to read at the beach some days. (Clearly, I'm a little biased. That's just a heads up) American Martyrs takes on the topic of abortion. It's not easy, and she doesn't take sides. When you're reading from the characters who are pro-life, you see their perspective; when you're reading from the characters who are pro-choice, you see their perspective. I think that's what's so great about this book. The reason the book is so long is that while the book deals with abortion, it's not actually about that. It's about families who're affected by a tragic event. The book starts when a christian man shoots and kills an abortion doctor. The rest of the story follows both of their families as they deal with this horrific incident. I think Oates is respectful to the Christian characters, which isn't always the case in books like these. There's no one who's wholly innocent in this story. It's compelling, especially in our current climate, and it's an important read, no matter where you stand on this issue.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I've talked about this book a lot, already. It's important, powerful, and required reading. But, the reason I'm including it on this post is because despite it's heft and the importance contained within it's pages, it's highly readable. I flew through this book. The story is so compelling and it's actually really funny. The writing is beautiful, sharp, observant and surprising. Just read it. Even if it wasn't a page turner, it's worth the time it takes.
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
A few years ago, my husband and I were staying with a friend and her husbands family at this beach house, and we all went out to dinner. I'm not a huge fan of groups or crowds of people, so after I finished my food I went back to the beach house and started this lovely book. I wasn't sure what to expect, but this is one of those books that you just marvel at for every aspect. The thing that always gets me about the book is its construction. It starts out with a prologue about Death as a delivery boy, heading to Marilyn Monroe's home. Then, as the book starts, it's Marilyn from the beginning and the story follows her all the way to the bittersweet end. This is a long book. Sometimes, with longer books, authors can't keep as tight of a reign on their work. Oates never loses control of this ride. I walked away with a completely different idea about who Marilyn Monroe was and still think about how beautiful this book was. If you like Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary (those tragedies where people hate the women for being 'unlikable') this might be for you. Beautiful writing, great story, wonderful characterization.
Have you read any of these books? If so, let me know your thoughts! There are many other great doorstoppers I didn't mention in this post (one that pops into my head is Pachinko, which I loved but somehow forgot when grabbing this stack) and if you guys want more recommendations like this, I'm always up for it. Just let me know :) Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope you found some new titles to add to the ever growing 'to be read' list!