Big Books

I’ve always liked intimate novels, stories that penetrate deeper and deeper into the lives and hearts of one person or small group of people, the sort of books that are often written in the first person – coming of age stories, claustrophopic stories of obsession, even. Stories that feel as if the narrator is talking directly to you alone. Jane Eyre, Catcher in the Rye, Housekeeping

But more and more I find myself wanting to read big novels, stories that take place in a world that grows and grows as you read until the book seems to paint a portrait of an entire subculture, or city, or country. They aren’t always especially long books (though they usually are), they just feel expansive, they give your mind room to roam, they make you feel moved not just by the lives of the characters, but the life of the whole society that the characters inhabit. They make you feel bigger inside when you read them.

These are some of the great books that have satisfied my yearning for something big:

Then We Came to the EndThen We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris

Told in the first person plural, the world inside this funny and strangely moving book expands as you read to become a portrait of an entire corporation and the all-too-familiar world of commerce that surrounds it.



Vanity-FairVanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray

This biting satire follows the lives of two young women, the shrewd social climber Becky Sharp, one of the most memorable characters in any book I’ve ever read, and her conventional, complacent schoolmate Amelia Sedley, and a large cross-section of early 19th century British society.


A Fine BalanceA Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry

Twenty years of Indian history seen through the eyes of two struggling lower-caste men and the people they encounter. Like Middlemarch, this book teaches you something about history that a factual account can’t.


MiddlemarchMiddlemarch, by George Eliot

This book focuses on two characters, a young doctor and an intelligent young upper class woman, who are both seeking intellectual fulfillment and love during a time of great political change in England. Many people consider Middlemarch the best English novel ever written. I won’t argue with them.


Independent PeopleIndependent People by Halldor Laxness, translated by John A. Thompson

This story of the life of one Icelandic family over the course of the twentieth century seems to move from ancient to modern times in one generation. Thought I would read it to find out why Laxness won the Nobel Prize. Now I know. This book broke my heart, and made me feel as if I’d spent years in Iceland.

Do you have any big books to recommend?

~ by lolarusa on August 15, 2014.

5 Responses to “Big Books”

  1. I just recently started reading Kundera and all three of the books I’ve read have felt like that.

  2. Yes, Kundera’s books are big inside, especially The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. I’ve read that one, The Joke, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which was surprisingly my least favorite of the three. Which ones have you read?

  3. A Fine Balance is one of the few books that have left me weeping.

  4. A Fine Balance is brilliant. It’s an experience.

  5. Lonesome Dove, By Larry McMurtry. It’s about an Old West cattle drive from Texas to Montana. It seems to give a realistic view of people & places from Mexico to Canada, and is quite long. I wouldn’t have minded if it was twice as long, just so I could keep reading.

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