“That’s no book. It’s a space station.”
America has a very tenuous relationship with books, and literacy in general. On one hand, you’re here, reading these words, and only about 25% of you have to slowly-mouth-out-the-words-as-you-read-along. But on the other hand, reading is hard. Hell, that’s why this page is covered with flags and bears and shit because look at the shiny things look at the shiny things thanks for the page click sorry there aren’t more side-boob slideshows for you.
The fact of the matter is, while many Americans appreciate a good book, and even spend their free time reading as opposed to, say, drinking and watching Netflix in whiskey haze, others think that books are for suckers. We’re not going to take a side on this topic, unless we write and subsequently try to sell a book, in which case, literature is awesome, RIP Borders you will be missed, long live Barnes and Noble. But, as long as there has been literature, there have been works of literature that are soooooo long (“how long are they?”) they are soooo long… that it would take an incredible amount of time and patience to get through them.
Damn, we really thought there could be a joke in there. A joke about long books…long…something. Nope, we got nothing. Damn shame. Anyway, here are the longest books ever written by American authors.
The 7 Longest Books In America
The longest novel ever published was written in the 1600s. It took up 13,095 pages spread over 10 volumes, with over two million words, and a French name which is the reason why we’re not even bothering to write it out for you. While America nature dictates we should feel competitive enough to try to create something even more pointlessly long, because we will go through great lengths to be better at the French than anything they put their minds to, that honestly sounds exhausting, to which America’s authors agreed. In fact, the longest American novel only barely cracks the top 10 in terms of the longest in history. And that’s okay, because holy shit, most people don’t read 1000 pages of anything in the course of a year, much less sit down and write something that length that’s publishable. Surprisingly, some of the works on this list are actually pretty well known, which either says something about the artistic talent of the authors, or about the fact that before the internet people had to go to pretty extreme lengths to pass the time.
7: To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams (520,000 words/1,104 pages)
Considering how the Harry Potter eventually ended topping off in the 700-page-long territory, it’s not that surprising that one of the most recently published “holy shit, your book is how long?” entries on this list is the third and final novel of a fantasy series (Memory, Sorry, and Thorn). At over half a million words, the book was so long that the paperback had to be split into two parts. That’s right, it was a book so long that it couldn’t be supported by an entire publishing method. This would be like reading a book so long that you would need a full wi-fi connection to even access it on your Kindle. Probably. Honestly, we have no idea how Kindles work. All of our knowledge on the topic is limited to a handful of commercials where a woman sunbathing in a bikini insults someone because they spent more money on an ipad, which you might recognize as a tablet device that has exponentially more features and uses than a Kindle. Also, we think the name sounds a bit like Richard Kimball, so we like to occasionally yell, “Kindalllllll” or “I didn’t kill my wife!” followed by an emphatic “I don’t care!”
Anyway, the book itself was mildly popular, spending five weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, though we can’t attest why it’s so ungodly long, since the plot summary on its Wikipedia page is a mere 305 words. Considering that the book itself hit 520,000 words, combined with our horrible math abilities, that means that you would have to type the plot summary seven million times for it to be as long as the novel itself. That’s almost seventeen million, you guys. Any number that isn’t next to the letters “ABV” are pretty much white noise to us at this point.
6: Remembrance Rock by Carl Sandburg (532,030 words, 1,067 pages)
Carl Sandburg is a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who also wrote one of the quintessential biographies of Abraham Lincoln. He also is the reason why people call Chicago “The City of Broad Shoulders” and has been referenced in songs by Sufjan Stevens, Bob Dylan, and the incomparable Andrew W.K. He’s an American of such badass fortitude that it’s actually a bit of a crime that we’ve yet to write about him for the hallowed annals of affotd, and he wrote exactly one novel in his whole career which basically could be summed up as, “How much do you want to know about America? Because I fucking dare you to put down your copy of Great Gatsby and read a thousand pages about the American Dream like a man.”
Remembrance Rock came to fruition after a 1941 film, “American Cavalcade,” had its treatment rejected, at which point Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer decided to have Sandburg run with the idea while pre-purchasing the film rights of the work, which originated with the concept of having Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn play a husband-and-wife team that appears in different eras throughout American history. Probably laughing to himself saying, “Yeah let’s see you make a movie out of this, suckers” he spent the next five years writing an grandiose treaties of American history expressed through the eyes of recurring characters throughout the centuries. While the reviews were largely favorable, it’s not nearly as well-known or well-regarded as his previous works, though we have to give credit for anything that can be described as a “passionate tribute to the American people.” That’s enough to almost make us sit down and read the whole thing. You know, if we had the time. Or the literacy. (Truth be told, we don’t know what we’re writing 90% of the time, we can’t read or write any word with more than two-syllables—literally every long-ish word you’re reading right now involved mashing the keyboard and praying that the jumbled letters formed into something that makes sense).
5: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (543,709 words, 1,079 pages)
Infinite Jest is a very well-known and highly regarded novel among people who, unlike the staff of affotd, “were English majors” who “actually went to college” and who “have purchased coffee from somewhere other than Starbucks at some point in their life.” Other people probably like it too, we’re just assuming that only English majors have the recessive gene where you can read a 1,000 page book and maintain your sanity. Written by David Foster Wallace, who since his premature death in 2008 has increasingly become viewed as one of the most scholastically important authors of the past thirty years, the book has sold over 150,000 copies, while receiving heaps of critical praise.
The book itself is semi-satirical with humorous overtones (for example, each year is named after a “corporate sponsor” with the majority of the novel taking place in “the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment”) with an encyclopedic level of detail and a whole lot of complex metaphors and juxtapositions (those are literary terms, right? If not, please replace them with the appropriate literary term). We have a few staffers that expressed interest in reading it, since by all accounts it’s a great work of art, but then we realized that in the same span of time it’d take us to read that many pages, we could easily watch the entire series of 24 we lost all interest and started a 24 marathon. Jack Bauer is such a badass, you guys.
4: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (645,000 words, 1168 pages)
Oh God, we’re worried about this one. This blurb is going to suuuuck. Yes, you all know Atlas Shrugged, and you probably all know that one person who is way too intense about Atlas Shrugged, and they are going to comment angrily about this article, and we swear to God we’re not in the mood for a fucking Objectivism lecture from someone who lists himself as John fucking Galt. Atlas Shrugged was the fourth, final, and longest novel released by Ayn Rand, and was released to largely negative reviews, at which point the college Sophomore who just decided he’s “totally a Libertarian now” will start shouting, “Well shows you what critics know, this book changes lives which is why it’s still a best seller year in and year out” before something shiny distracts them and they veer into a monologue on how unfair it is that airline pilots aren’t allowed to carry handguns to work THANKS OBAMA.
Anyway, any discussion about Atlas Shrugged is guaranteed to be exhausting, so we’ll just say, “Holy shit, this book is really long” and leave it at that.
3: Miss MacIntosh, My Darling by Marguerite Young (750,000 words, 1198 pages)
In 1947, Marguerite Young started writing a psychological novel that focused largely on what she called “an opium addict’s paradise” expecting it to be finished in two years. Working on it daily, it was finally finished in 1964 because, in case you missed the central concept of this entire article (in which case “reading or just common sense in general” might just not be your strong suit) is because it is longer than… ohhh, we just realized, we totally could have gone with a dick joke at the beginning of this article. Remember, that part where we were like “how long is it”? Dammit, missed opportunity. Anyway, this book is so massive that when Young unveiled the full manuscript, it took up seven separate suitcases. She said that, had she known how long the book would have taken her to write, she’d never have started it in the first place, which is both hilarious and kind of depressing (the saving grace being that it is largely considered to be her magnum opus, and anything that gets Kurt Vonnegut to call you “unquestionably a genius” is not a total waste.)
2: Sirona, Texas by Madison Cooper (840,000 words, 1,731 pages)
Madison Cooper, a businessman from Waco, Texas, hit his 40s before deciding he wanted to get in the publishing game, and what better way to do that than spend the next 11 years of his life trying to set a record for longest novel ever written, creating a fictional small town loosely on his hometown to subtly satirize upper-middle class southern society. He also filled it with a lot of “dirty” scenes, which he mentions with uncomfortable frequency in the Times-News piece that covered the publication of his 1,800 page monstrosity, a fact that gets increasingly unsettling when you see one of the few existing articles written about the by-then-58-year-old Cooper was a Chicago Tribune piece that was titled, “Author a Bachelor; So He Has Time to Write Longest Novel.”
So to recap. A “bachelor” Texas real estate worker spent 11 years writing a book about a small town just lousy with sex and violence, stringing together more words than the entirety of the Holy Bible, at which point he sold 25,000 copies at it for a price equivalent of two front-row seats to a Broadway play (apparently this is how money was measured back then) before his book quickly faded from public view and he went about his merry way. Well, at the very least, he gets to be made fun of for being unmarried on a website that stumbled through a dick joke literally just two paragraphs ago with all the graceful elegance of a fat man having a heart attack in the middle of trying ice skating for the first time in his life. That’s a little something we like to call leaving a legacy.
1: Women and Men by Joseph McElroy (850,000 words, 1192 pages)
There are eight books longer than Women and Men, which somehow manages to squeeze 10,000 more words than Sirona, Texas onto 600 fewer pages, but let’s be honest here, looking at the foreign-created books that are longer than this behemoth, when you get to the level of Proust and his 9,609,000 character-count novel, we’re going to assume that at a certain point the author broke and all the remaining pages just look like this. That’s not to say that that an 1192 page postmodern book published as a two volume uncorrected proof wasn’t written by someone in the middle of a mental break, as the organization of the book (with lower case chapters, all-caps chapters, and all-caps chapters with the word “BREATHER” in it separating the three “types” of chapters in the books) definitely makes one pause and wonder if maybe the author might not be…all…there. The reception was relatively warm, meaning that Wikipedia managed to find four authors who were quoted as saying nice things about it, which means that at least five people managed to sit down and read all 850,000 words, assuming that McElroy actually read the book after writing it (we’d like to hope he did, but honestly wouldn’t blame him if he finished writing it and said, “Fuck it, good enough for me” before sending it to the publisher. By the way, in case you couldn’t tell, that was us throwing shade at our writers, since you just read the editorial process of about 90% of our articles here).
By the way, one thing to keep in mind with this and all the other American entries on this list—this article is a mere 2,000 words long, and you just finished it and are ready for a beer and a nap, aren’t you? We know we are. So, we guess we can respect the particular brand of insanity that would lead to the publication of these massive tomes. But also, honestly, everyone in this article is crazy. Absolutely insane.