I am still gearing up to write a book at some point, but, it’s nice to know that while I still need to write it, I am definitely past the idea and the plotting stage. Pretty much, I just need to imagine how the road will bend in my story and the little parts the book needs to take me to develop something somewhat rich and rewarding for the reader. Before I started to really structure my writing (short-form essays, for instance), I would worry about how long my book or essay was going to be, and that’s a cruddy spot to be in as a writer, because, as much as I love writing, I want to get my project done at some point. Writing purgatory is hell.
Anyway, today I thought we would look at some of the longest books ever written using a few different qualifiers (word count, book length, characters, etc.), because, according to me, writing a long book isn’t a contest—it’s an achievement…and especially if it’s interesting! So, the list that follows will probably contain some recognizable faces and names so as to not inundate ourselves with all sorts of random. Hopefully, this will give me some solace in my writing end goal and hopefully this will inform you, the reader, of what writers like yourself and others can achieve. I would just say: don’t expect it from me!
Atlas Shurgged by Ayn Rand
No joke: what has kept me from reading Ayn Rand is the size of her novels (the topic and message isn’t overly appealing either, but that’s something else entirely). Her book “Atlas Shrugged” is about individualism as Ayn Rand sees it and is over 500,000 words (565,223-645,000 by some accounts). That is a really long book. I struggle to punch out 30,000 for a novel, so to get that many books and be influential is actually pretty cool.
Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
For some reason, I thought I had covered Samuel Richardson already (I looked back on the website, did a search, and, well, I’ll be shoot-danged, I did not!). No matter. We will get to it at some point. “Clarissa” or “History of a Young Lady” is a 943-000-969,000-word novel by Richardson and details the life and times of a young woman named Clarissa and her attempts be a moral, chaste woman in pursuit of a suitable marriage. I suppose it is a dense subject, so requires a dense book.
Mission Earth by L. Ron Hubbard.
The noted creator of Scientologist was also a prolific science fiction/fantasy author (I have two of his collections on my shelf, and, even though I’m not a Scientologist, I recommend you check out his short stories because I think some of them are pretty good). Mission Earth is one such piece of science fiction and it also happens to be a massive tome. It is 1.2 million words and details (over the course of 10 volumes) the story of Jettero Heller, who attempts to stop the evil Voltars from conquering Earth.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
I started a two-person book club to read this book and we both got through chapter one. That was three years ago. I imagine we will read it someday, but, for now, it is sitting comfortably on my shelf and on my book club member’s bookstand holding up his light. The book is over 540,000 words long. Infinite Jest is a complex novel, so it’s hard to nail the plot down exactly (part of the reason my sad book club has it on pause).
I really just poked through Wikipedia’s “List of longest novels” page and kind of picked through (there were a few recommendations, too).