Recommendations for Long, Engrossing Books
March 19, 2018 9:32 AM   Subscribe

I like to read before bed and I've been hankering for book recommendations for books that are either fairly long or part of a series. I like getting engrossed in a good story, and I also just like not having to pick out what I'm going to read next for a while.

Things that I have already read that fit the bill:

Wolf Hall series
Game of Thrones
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Possession - A. S. Byatt
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Cloud Atlas
The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst
The Luminaries

I particularly enjoy historical fiction, although I'm open to all genres - including non-fiction. Since I'm reading before bed I prefer books that aren't going to be super upsetting/depressing or involve a focus on current events (I guess that explains the historical fiction?). I'm really fascinated by the Edwardian era, history of science/medicine, queer historical fiction, and books that are really well researched.

I guess there's also something soothing to me about British writers, hadn't even noticed that trend until I started this question.
posted by forkisbetter to Media & Arts (68 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
how about The Terror by Dan Simmons? It's fantasy, but it's also really well researched and immersive.
posted by cakelite at 9:34 AM on March 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Have you looked into the Aubrey-Maturin sequence? They're incredibly soothing for me, maybe it's the audiobook narration, but the prose is a delight and the historical recreation of the Royal Navy ca. 1800 is wonderfully done. THey're historical military fiction on the surface, but so much more than that if you dig a little deeper.
posted by Alensin at 9:35 AM on March 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Elena Ferrante Neapolitan Series.
posted by greta simone at 9:39 AM on March 19, 2018 [8 favorites]

If you enjoy historical fiction try the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell.
posted by jtexman1 at 9:39 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you'd like Parades End by Ford Maddox Ford.

I enjoyed reading it and then watching the series on HBO.
posted by onebyone at 9:50 AM on March 19, 2018

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin.
posted by Miko at 9:51 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

The three-book "Baroque Cycle" series by Neal Stephenson.

It was published as three monster books, then later re-released as eight smaller books. Either way it's like a jillion frickin' pages of musing on money and politics and chemistry and slavery and whatnot.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:51 AM on March 19, 2018 [8 favorites]

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. Over four million words. Multi-character epic fantasy. I can name at least 100 characters, and I haven't even read the books for a number of years now. Took up 12 years of my young adulthood until he sadly died in 2007. But no fear, the series is finished.

I like Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and anything by David Mitchell, if my taste in books is any guide.
posted by moiraine at 9:52 AM on March 19, 2018

Sarah Waters' books are not a series but the first few are set in Victorian times and they all have an immersive quality.
posted by BibiRose at 9:56 AM on March 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Check out N. K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy. I wish we had better terms for "sets of books," because I see a difference between a series of books that each tell a discrete story (e.g., Scalzi's Old Man's War series) and a series of books telling ONE story (like LOTR).

Jemisin has one of each. Her first trilogy (The Inheritance Trilogy) is three interrelated stories. I enjoyed it, but I'm really enjoying her second trilogy FAR FAR MORE. It's the other type -- books 2 and 3 just pick right off where the prior one stopped, which makes it effectively a 1400 page novel.

The first one is The Fifth Season.
posted by uberchet at 9:56 AM on March 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Broken Earth trilogy is great, but it's also depressing as all get-out. I would not recommend it to someone who has explicitly expressed a preference for books that aren't depressing/upsetting.
posted by inconstant at 9:58 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

Seconding Sarah Waters. She is my favorite and my best. Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith are *mwah*

Datapoint: I have also loved many of the books you've already enjoyed.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:58 AM on March 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess (yes, that Anthony Burgess-- but it's nothing like Clockwork Orange.) It's queer, historical, long, and engrossing as anything.
posted by kapers at 9:59 AM on March 19, 2018

Oh and also The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:00 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

For a sweeping "silkpunk" series set in a fantasy Asia, I highly recommend Ken Liu's The Grace Of Kings (the first in his "Dandelion Dynasty" series).
posted by TwoStride at 10:04 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

Shogun and the whole Asian saga by James Clavell.
posted by Dick Laurent is Dead at 10:09 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A bit older than your current reading list... the novels of George Eliot, particularly MiddleMarch.
posted by valannc at 10:20 AM on March 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you want to level up, In Search of Lost Time (which will give you something to read for ~1 year) or The Man Without Qualities.
posted by praemunire at 10:20 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, and The Magic Mountain is a stand-alone, but 700+ pages.
posted by praemunire at 10:21 AM on March 19, 2018

Try Thomas Wolfe’s autobiographical novels Look Homeward Angel and Of Time and the River. Wolfe was born in 1900, so this does seem to cover a time period that interests you. Since he’s writing about his own experience, they’d be historically accurate. Just be warned, Wolfe is extremely verbose, even after the heavy editing he got from Maxwell Perkins.

And seconding Middlemarch.
posted by FencingGal at 10:22 AM on March 19, 2018

War and Peace
posted by exogenous at 10:23 AM on March 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

C. J. Cherry's Foreigner series is 19 books long, so far. It moves by tiny increments from the point of view of one human and one alien child. Four societies are trying to coexist, native aliens, human settlers, ship humans and eventually humans rescued from a distant station with most conflict coming from different cultures and ways of thinking. I find them engrossing enough but not stressful to read.
posted by Botanizer at 10:23 AM on March 19, 2018

Best answer: "Edwardian era...part of a series...long...before bed"

It sounds like you're practically begging for Proust!
posted by kevinbelt at 10:28 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you would like Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which weighs in at over 500 pages. Her next novel, A God in Ruins is not quite a sequel, but it takes up the story of one of the characters, giving you another not-quite-500 pages to go. Neither is exactly a historical novel, but I learned quite a bit about British domestic life during World War II, as well as feeling that I had, for the first time, understood the emotional impact of the war on the people who lived through it.

Atkinson also has a series of detective novels which are quite different, but if you like her other fiction, you would have four very satisfying books to continue exploring her voice.

(And I think Middlemarch is the greatest novel ever written.)
posted by layceepee at 10:43 AM on March 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

Seconding Ferrante' Neapolitan books - that's 6,000 pages of engrossing nighttime reading right there.

I haven't read it but I might also second War & Peace - I read a blog post somewhere recently about how it's a good chapter-a-day-for-a-year project.
posted by kensington314 at 10:49 AM on March 19, 2018

Les Miserables is surprisingly easy to get through for such a long book. It starts out slow and dull, with a lot of backstory about someone who seems to be a minor character (but who does something that turns out to be vitally important, setting the stage for the whole rest of the story.) Then it gets interesting. It's not depressing overall. It's a feel-good story about how people can change other people's lives for the better through their actions.
posted by Redstart at 11:01 AM on March 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

The outlander and Lord John books(read after the helwater part of voyager)
posted by brujita at 11:11 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Forsyte Saga is a series of three novels and two interludes about the Forsyte family. published between 1906 and 1921. The first novel is The Man of Property. It took me a while to get into it because there are so many characters to keep straight. Apparently, Galsworthy wrote two more trilogies about the same family.

Brideshead Revisited is good. Wikipedia cites its themes as including “nearly overt homosexuality” among students at Oxford.

And Les Miserables is indeed wonderful.
posted by FencingGal at 11:17 AM on March 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I really liked The Luminaries and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, so maybe The Passage trilogy (Justin Cronin): The Passage, The Twelve, and City of Mirrors.

I can't really justify my love of the series (the books are kinda pulpy and rough in places), but the books are fairly long, the world-building is reasonably intricate, and they're among the best post-apocalyptic fiction I've read. For all the grim post-apocalyptic bits, they're sometimes almost uplifting. (Sometimes.)
posted by minsies at 11:19 AM on March 19, 2018

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. Very engrossing story; it pretty much saved my life at a time that I reaaaaallly needed distracting from what was going on. Same with The Count of Monte Cristo, but only the unabridged version.
posted by holborne at 11:25 AM on March 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

I've quite enjoyed The Expanse as a series of novels/novellas.

Neal Stephenson is quite good as well; I've read Cryptonomicon more times than I care to count at this point, and most of his other doorstops have also been worth the read. His Baroque Cycle was suggested upthread; I might suggest trying on Cryptonomicon first, both because there are some overlaps between the stories and because Stephenson has a tendency to go into mind-smashing detail on minutiae which, if you're enjoying it, is a blast, but can be a particular form of torture if you don't. (I love his writing but finally crapped out about 20% of the way through the third Baroque book as I just couldn't take it anymore, and had my stamina rewarded with a couple drinks from some UofC types who also loved his work but had given up before they'd finished the first.)
posted by myotahapea at 11:26 AM on March 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Pillars of the Earth. Sounds pretty boring but was really engrossing!

Mists of Avalon about the Arthurian times from the women's POV.

edit: The Great Influenza about the flu.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:51 AM on March 19, 2018

Connie Willis's Oxford Time Travel series might fit the bill, especially The Doomsday Book (medieval) and Blackout/All Clear (WWII), the latter of which is basically one novel in two books. They're all utterly engrossing to me, even on my mumbleth reread.
posted by mishafletch at 11:55 AM on March 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

Shameless self post for The Dark Tower.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:26 PM on March 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

You need to read Dorothy Dunnett. She has two historical fiction series, one set in the 1400s, the other in the 1500s. They are brilliantly-written, dense, well-characterized, and completely absorbing.

If you like complicated characters, plenty of drama, political intrigue, battles, duels, mysteries, secrets, spycraft, music, poetry, and elephants -- check out Dunnett.
posted by suelac at 12:45 PM on March 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

I recently really liked Ami McKay's The Witches of New York, which sounds right up your alley.
posted by ferret branca at 12:57 PM on March 19, 2018

I found the Sherlock Holmes stories (Barnes N Noble sold them as two very thick volumes) very digestible. Same characters in every story but different mysteries - some stories revisited - lots of good footnotes as well. I think that may fit the description of what you're looking for.
posted by hillabeans at 1:54 PM on March 19, 2018

Vellum is a surrealistic mythological sci fi door stopper and I really enjoyed it. It‘s confusing (multiple variations of the same characters interacting across different times/settings) but after a while it crosses from confusing into enjoyable and making a weird kind of sense.

I like how it just went on and on, with interesting stuff happening. This book wasn‘t a one night stand alone, it was there for me for as long as I wanted!
posted by Omnomnom at 1:57 PM on March 19, 2018

Seconding Aubrey-Maturin and enthusiastically recommending Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire (six novels) and Palliser/Parliamentary novels (another six); I read novels to my wife at bedtime, and each of those series provided satisfying material for many months. (Bonus if you like the Trollope: the BBC made terrific series out of each set of novels.)
posted by languagehat at 2:26 PM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ooooh The Far Pavilions! P much the platonic ideal of the "sweeping epic".
And if when you're done you think well I liked that but I wish it had been trashier? Judith Krantz.
posted by exceptinsects at 2:32 PM on March 19, 2018

The novels of Charles Dickens.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:22 PM on March 19, 2018

I started the Aubrey-Maturin series last month and they are the perfect bedtime reading. Well-written with engaging characters, and every time they get into boat details, I fall fast asleep.

Mary Renault’s novels about Alexander might be good if you’re interested in queer historical fiction. Fire From Heaven is the first one.

Other thoughts: John le Carré’s Smiley books from A Murder of Quality to Smiley’s People, A Dance to the Music of Time (12 volumes of mid-century British people) by Anthony Powell, and Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, which is set in an Edwardian New York that is also the 1970s and the 1850s because what is time.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:14 PM on March 19, 2018

Hild by Nicola Griffith and The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
posted by abeja bicicleta at 4:48 PM on March 19, 2018

In the same vein as Hild, I loved Jane Smiley's The Greenlanders
posted by scorpia22 at 5:13 PM on March 19, 2018

I keep meaning to try Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time which is a 12-volume novel cycle. Summary of the books.

Since you liked Cloud Atlas, try Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt. I read Cloud Atlas because it sounded like it might be similar. It kind of was, but I loooooove TYoR&S, have bought and given away multiple copies because I keep trying to convert people to it, and have read it probably five times (it is not a short book). Whereas Cloud Atlas I hate-read to the end and then put it on the shelf at a little library so someone else could bond with it. Anyhow, Kim Stanley Robinson has a tendency towards the very long and detailed, so if you like science fiction you could also try his Mars trilogy (Red, Green, Blue) and he has lots of others that I haven't been able to keep up with.

On a different note, Laurie R King's Mary Russell books are numerous and inter-related. I think they have jumped the shark with the last two or so, but the early ones are still magnificent. They are historical (late Victorian/Edwardian) so about perfect for you. And please don't be put off by the Holmes thing, they are good books in their own right. I also like her Kate Martinelli series, which isn't so historical (though the earlier books are becoming so!) but are definitely queer.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:29 PM on March 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

James Clavell's Shogun series (Shogun, Tai Pan, Gai-Jin, Nobel House, King Rat, Whirlwind). Highly entertaining historical fiction.
posted by Pressed Rat at 6:00 PM on March 19, 2018

The Miss Fisher Mysteries are a series set in the late 1920s in Australia, about a rich young woman who get caught up in twisty plots, and has lots of fascinating characters, including queer folk, aboriginals, Chinese, rich people, poor people, circus people, and so on. Each book is not long, but there are 20 of them. Great fun.
posted by MovableBookLady at 7:12 PM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding Foreigner. They are engaging reads, though I find them a bit tense, for lack of a better way to put it. The protagonist is always at least two steps behind, it seems.
posted by Alensin at 8:27 PM on March 19, 2018

Miss Fisher Mysteries are a series set in the late 1920s in Australia, about a rich young woman who get caught up in twisty plots, and has lots of fascinating characters, including queer folk, aboriginals [...]

The Phryne Fisher books are by Kerry Greenwood. They are pretty fluffy for the most part, but yes, there are a lot of them!

PSA: "aboriginals" is a pretty offensive term. "Aboriginal Australians", "Aboriginal people", "Indigenous Australians" and/or "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people" are all fine.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:11 PM on March 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Athanassiel: sorry about the term; I didn't know but now I do.
posted by MovableBookLady at 9:34 PM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Patrick Rothfuss' The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy. The Name of the Wind is the 1st book, The Wise Man's Fear is the 2nd, and we're still waiting for the 3rd.

I want to say it's sort of like if Harry Potter and Game of Thrones had a lovechild, except it's not for children, and also it's actually good (in case that description sounds unappealing to you...) It's solidly in the fantasy genre, but I didn't find that it was overly magic+dragons+spells etc. And it avoids the LOTR endless scenery descriptions.

The main character is a total Mary Sue but I don't even care because I found it so well-written. Each book is like 600 -1000 pages and I tore through them as I couldn't put them down.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 9:36 PM on March 19, 2018

MoveableBookLady: no worries, I don't think many people outside Australia realise that; I certainly didn't before I moved here!
posted by Athanassiel at 9:46 PM on March 19, 2018

suelac's recommendation of Scottish author Dorothy Dunnett may be just the thing. In particular, I would suggest the Lymond books starting with The Game of Kings. It's a complicated historical series set across Europe and bits of North Africa during the sixteenth century. Someone who enjoyed Wolf Hall would probably like it; it's less of a Great Book but very well written and with a weight of research behind it, has lots of political and personal machinations, and can be both swashbuckling and funny. The first third of the first book is probably the most difficult to get through though it is also very funny.
posted by tavegyl at 1:24 AM on March 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Amazing. Not quite historical fiction but set against the backdrop of post-WWII and what was happening in America at the time, and what was happening to one Jewish refugee at the time also. Just a great story.
posted by summerinwinter at 2:04 AM on March 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not quite the same question but some of the recs I received in answer to this query might also fit the bill :)
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 4:53 AM on March 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series

I find James Michner's novels really engrossing.

Also David McCullough's (no relation, I think? Have to go look that up) non-fiction histories are super accessible.
posted by DarthDuckie at 5:32 AM on March 20, 2018

BTW, there's a pretty well done TV adaptation of the Fisher mysteries you can watch on Netflix.

I'm on the fence about Kingkiller. Wind was fine, but didn't entirely justify itself -- peril to the narrator is necessary, but when you have a framing story that establishes your narrator lives and moves on, it gets tedious when it happens over and over. It felt kind of padded to me, but this is not to say that there aren't huge chunks of it that are utterly delightful.

However, it's not a complete story on its own, and I assume Wise Man's Fear continues the pattern. I'm loathe to being a set of books if (a) they're all telling the same tale and (b) they're incomplete. Rothfuss is a tremendous guy and an asset to the planet (check out Worldbuilders), and I wouldn't want to be in his position, but it's been 7 years since Fear was published. Caveat emptor.
posted by uberchet at 6:34 AM on March 20, 2018

> I keep meaning to try Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time which is a 12-volume novel cycle.

Ha, my wife and I read those too! They're not as consistently good as Trollope (a few of the later volumes are patchy), but they're well worth reading—Widmerpool is one of the great villains in literature.
posted by languagehat at 7:19 AM on March 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sarum, by Edward Rutherford (England from the time of Stonehenge through to modern times)
Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

Pretty much anything by James Michener
posted by Enid Lareg at 7:30 AM on March 20, 2018

Strong recommendation for the writing of Sharon Kay Penman. Here is a link that outlines her work. I picked up Sunne in Splendor at a garage sale many years ago and became a forever fan, especially of her trilogies, not as much of her mysteries. Big doorstop books....fabulous!
posted by Ginesthoi at 7:35 AM on March 20, 2018

Sorry, can't get the link to cooperate. Here you go:

The Sunne in Splendour

Welsh Princes Trilogy
Here Be Dragons
Falls the Shadow
The Reckoning

Plantagenet Series
When Christ and His Saints Slept
Time and Chance
Devil's Brood
A King's Ransom

Justin de Quincy Mysteries
The Queen's Man
Cruel as the Grave
Dragon's Lair
Prince of Darkness
posted by Ginesthoi at 7:41 AM on March 20, 2018

Don Quixote. I recommend the Lathrop translation from Signet Books.
posted by Fukiyama at 9:27 AM on March 20, 2018

+1 on The Count of Monte Cristo; I'm reading it right now, and it's thrilling.

Also +1 on Cryptonomicon, very enjoyable -- I still think about it quite often, and it's gotta be 15 years since I read it.
posted by Bron at 10:54 AM on March 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

C.P. Snow's Strangers and Brothers series.
posted by LingeringMoon at 2:55 AM on March 21, 2018

Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth and sequel World Without End are monstrous and utterly addictive. There is a third book in the series, A Column of Fire, which I was not even aware of so have of course not read yet, but on learning about it just now, I immediately purchased the Kindle version, because I know it'll be good.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:25 PM on March 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Another plug for Edward Rutherford - his Dublin Saga is incredibly well researched, and really engrossing.
posted by codhavereturned at 6:46 AM on March 26, 2018

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. It’s very long, engrossing and an overall wonderful read.


- A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
- The Idiot by Dostoevsky
- The Claudine Séries by Colette
- The Alberta Trilogy by Cora Sandel
- Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
- Anna Karenina - Tolstoy (sorry big Tolstoy fan here!)
posted by dostoevskygirl at 6:10 AM on July 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

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