Summer tends to be a time for less-than-stimulating internships and the alarmingly rapid decay of one’s ability to think critically. But why waste your last remaining bulk-pack free weeks on “beach reads?” For a gift that really keeps on giving, try one of these gargantuan novels instead!
The Brothers Karamazov — Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1880, 824 pages
The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky’s last work, tells the story of three brothers, each of whom has played a part in the tragic murder of his father. Written with incredible depth and a seamless weaving of plot intrigue, moral struggle, and a family’s troubled past, the novel is truly modern. Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka, and James Joyce agree, it’s well-worth the commitment. Not convinced? In the words of Eliot Rosewater from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, one can learn from The Brother’s Karamazov “everything there [is] to know about life.”
Gone with the Wind — Margaret Mitchell, 1936, 1037 pages
You’ve probably seen the movie, but until you have read Gone with the Wind, you don’t know nothin’ ‘bout the O’Haras. Set in Georgia during the antebellum period, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has sold over thirty million copies, and for good reason. The melodramatic lovers and the coming-of-age of Scarlett O’Hara make it the closest thing to appropriate beach literature on this list, while the manner by which Mitchell illustrates deep national conflicts will get your brain working like it hasn’t since May. And when you’re lost in the world of Tara, you’ll hope it never ends.
2666 — Roberto Bolano, 2004 (Spanish), 2008
(English translation), 898 Pages
With the posthumous publication of Roberto Bolano’s first major novel, The Savage Detective, in 2007, the literary world went completely nuts. A strange story about a group of militant poets in Mexico, it was translated beautifully and possesses a voice both familiar and original. Thankfully, translator Natasha Willmer came back this year with 2666, Bolano’s final novel. Perhaps even more brilliant than The Savage Detective, 2666 redefines the mystery genre. The story, divided into five parts, is told from the perspective of many characters and creates a perfect harmony between the grotesque and the comical. Although the subject matter is difficult at times — particularly the detailed and unrelenting descriptions of a string of horrific murders — it is hard to look away. Perhaps knowing how intimidating the length would be, publishers have divided the novel into three smaller, more portable sections.
Infinite Jest — David Foster Wallace, 1996,
1079 Pages If patricide is not your sunny day subject of choice, or if you would rather steer clear of anything that reminds you of U.S. history, consider delving a few years into the future with Infinite Jest. In this experimental and darkly comedic story, David Foster Wallace creates a society in which over-stimulation has reached epic proportions. Wallace succeeds in creating laugh-out-loud humor from subjects such addiction and anxiety, the power and enormity of popular culture, global poverty and environmental destruction, and of course, professional tennis. It is a read that requires stamina for both the mind and any muscle involved in laughter.