The Thick-Ass Books List

Okay, folks, since these book lists are a lot of fun, here’s a new list I actually have a chance on. (My score here is 21.) Books that fit this criteria are long, cerebral, or epic in nature. Downright voluminous. (And to be fair, I’ve included a few “easy” long reads among the bunch, along with some speculative fiction.) For a book to count, you should have read the whole thing. And if I had to predict scores, my suspicion here is that Brian, who actually read A Suitable Boy, will score a 24.

1. The Recognitions by William Gaddis
2. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
3. The Royal Family by William T. Vollman
4. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
5. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
6. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
7. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
8. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
9. Ulysses by James Joyce
10. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
11. The Tunnel by William Gass
12. The Rosy Crucifixion by Henry Miller
13. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber
14. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
15. The Diary of Anais Nin
16. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
17. The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny
18. The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake
19. The Stand by Stephen King (extended version)
20. A Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
21. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
22. Rememberance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
23. Noble House by James Clavell
24. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Doestoevsky
25. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
26. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

[UPDATE: Gwenda quite rightly points out that I failed to include a more proportional number of books by women. To remedy this, I’ve added The Golden Notebook, which I haven’t read, to the list. I’ll happily pad out the list to 30 if you folks have more choices.]


  1. I scored a (frankly better than I expected) 10 on this one. I wonder if it means anything that only two of these thick-ass books are by women. Prolly not.

  2. My score was seven. Two quibbles: if you’re going to include a James Clavell book, “Shogun” would be a much better choice than “Noble House”; and you’ve omitted the most outrageously readable of all really long novels, Larry McMurtry’s unputdownable “Lonesome Dove”.

  3. And you can’t have a “massive books” list without Samuel Richardson’s CLARISSA. And didn’t James Michener write a 500,000 word epic? The title escapes me at the moment.

  4. The only book that comes to mind when I think “thick-ass” and “woman writer” — and which I haven’t actually read — is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. And didn’t Collette write really long books?

    I wonder if women are less likely to write really big books than men. Surely not, but it was harder than it should have been to think of a couple. And wandering along our bookshelves nearly everything promisingly huge turned out to be by men. Of course, that could say more about us than it does about the actual numbers of big gem of novels by women.

    Oh and maybe Xenogenesis by Octavia Butler.

  5. Jane Smiley

    Moo 448 pages
    Horse Heaven 561 pages
    The Greenlanders 688 pages

    I don’t even want to discuss the pathetic number I scored, hence the research.


  6. Good lord, I got a 1 — Anna Karenina. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve failed to finish Gravity’s Rainbow and Ulysses. I’d do much better if you’d add Moby Dick, Underworld, and Robert Coover’s Public Burning to the list. (And, really, how could you have such a list without those three?)

  7. Sorry to let you down, Ed, but I actually only scored a 6 on this test, though I could up that to 7 if you’d cut me a little slack and allow the unextended version of The Stand (how was I to know it would get longer?).

    Also, each of the installments that make up In Search of Lost Time should be long enough to qualify on their own.

    How about DeLillo’s Underworld? Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon (which I actually could follow and thus enjoyed much more than Gravity’s Rainbow)?

    I’m trying to think of more, but I’m sure it’s just a response to my insecurity at my low score on this list.

  8. I wonder if a person read all these books, how much of their life would be lost? I guess it would vary by the speed of the reader, but I’m guessing it would be quite a bit of time.

    I haven’t read any of these. I read a good chunk of the Proust novel, but that’s it. Huge books have trouble keeping my attention. Plus, they’re heavy. You could stack all these books up and use them as weights in a strong man competition.

  9. 2 – 1/6 (the 1/6th being Swann’s Way). AK over W&P? I add W&P and I’m up to 3-1/6. Had to put Atlas down half-way, not going back. But no halfseys. How about giving credit for all the books you have to read to read Ulysses? How about the Divine Comedy with notes. 4-1/6? I’m reaching. Good list. I’ll have to add a few of these to my infinitely expanding waisted-mind list of books to read.

  10. The Short List

    Recently, the blog Return of the Reluctant posted his “Thick-Ass Book List.” I hadn’t read too many of the books. I scored a 3-1/6 (including Swann’s Way as the 1/6th and adding War

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