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Ian McEwan

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart

Infinite Jest vs. a much smaller penguin book

I walked over to the printer and noticed my colleague, Nathan, one of our designers, had Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace on his desk. "That′s a massive book," I said, stating the bleedin′ obvious. "Yep, that is my summer reading," he replied, glancing down at the 1,088-page behemoth of a novel. "There′s even an online help group to get people through the book."

No wonder - Infinite Jest is a whopper. The longest novel in a single volume that I have ever read is A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Seasons came and went while I ploughed through that one. It became a test of endurance. Quitting simply wasn′t an option even though I am a slow reader. I was going to finish it even if it killed me... and it almost did.

But there are heavyweight readers for heavyweight novels. Some people take long novels in their stride. They enjoy characters that are extremely well developed, relish the enduring plots that twist and turn, and savour those massive historical novels that offer so much background. You get real value for money with Leo Tolstoy - Anna Karenina and War and Peace are enormous.

Of course, a slim Penguin paperback can be carried anywhere. The Catcher in the Rye is the perfect size for teenage backpacks and journeys of discovery. Then again A Suitable Boy or Infinite Jest would be ideal for the 26-hour plane journey from London to Sydney and perhaps the return leg too.

We have selected 15 of the best single volume behemoths - all true monsters of literature that could be judged on their weight alone. It is possible to find longer novels but we thought it would be unkind to recommend L Ron Hubbard books or horrendously lengthy self-published beasts. Those readers lacking stamina can look away now. However, for those people with short attention spans, we have included Twitter-style descriptions squeezing each mammoth novel into 140 characters or less.

A Suitable Boy - Vikran Seth: US 1993 First Edition Hardcover
A Suitable Boy
Vikram Seth (1994)

A snip at 1,488 pages in paperback

Twitter Description - It's not easy to find a husband for your daughter. Four families get all mixed up in India. Dozens of characters.

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Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace
Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace (1996)

A quick bite at 1,088 pages in paperback

Twitter Description - Futuristic post-modern parody of something. No-one is really sure. Tennis, Quebec and addiction are in the mix. Endless endnotes.

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War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy: 1999 First Thus. Edition Hardcover
War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy (1869)

Walk in the park at 1,296 pages in paperback

Twitter Description - Napoleon & Co invade Russia but that's the least of the problems for five posh Russian families. Love and cannonballs. Much war, little peace.

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Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy (1877)

A mere 960 pages in paperback

Twitter Description - Anna is passionate. Levin likes the quiet life. The caddish Count just doesn't care. A tangled web of Russian relationships.

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Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand: US 1957 First Edition Hardcover
Atlas Shrugged
Ayn Rand (1957)

1,200 pages of wisdom in paperback

Twitter Description - Explains current recession apparently. There's a strike and society falls apart as people stand up to the system.

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Shogun - James Clavell
James Clavell (1975)

Only 1,210 pages in paperback

Twitter Description - English adventurer gets more adventures than he bargained for in 17th century Japan. Culture shock. Samurai swords and love too.

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Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
Les Miserables
Victor Hugo (1862)

An epic 1,488 pages in paperback

Twitter Description - Ex-con Jean Valjean tries to clean up his act. Twenty years of French turmoil after Napoleon meets his Waterloo.

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Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell: US 1936 First Edition, First Print
Gone with the Wind
Margaret Mitchell (1936)

1,028 pages paperback - if you give a damn

Twitter Description - It's not easy being Scarlett O'Hara when there's Southern gentlemen around. American Civil War upsets the apple cart.

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Shantarum - Gregory David Roberts
Gregory David Roberts (2003)

An unlikely 936 pages in paperback

Twitter Description - Fact meets fiction. Aussie armed robber gets sent to the Big House, escapes and goes on unlikely journey to India.

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The Far Pavilions - M.M. Kaye: US 1978 First Edition
The Far Pavilions
M.M. Kaye (1978)

A breezy 960 pages in paperback

Twitter Description - A bit like Kim. English orphan goes native in colonial India, much turmoil. Goes to England, comes back for adventures.

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Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson: 2000 Paperback
Neal Stephenson (1999)
1,168 pages of cyberpunk in paperback

Twitter Description - Historical science fiction. World War II code-breaking drama intertwined with vision of data-oriented future.
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Clarissa - Samuel Richardson: 1929 US Hardcover
Samuel Richardson (1748)
1,536 pages in paperback and no happy ending

Twitter Description - Love, and particularly a cad called Lovelace, in unkind to our tragic heroine Clarissa Harlowe. So sad.

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The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas: US Third Printing
The Count of Monte Cristo
Alexandre Dumas (1844)
1,312 pages of revenge in paperback

Twitter Description - Edmond Dantès is done up like a kipper, goes down, meets priest, escapes, gets rich and wreaks revenge.
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Remembrance Rock - Carl Sandburg: US 1948 First Edition Hardcover
Remembrance Rock
Carl Sandburg (1948)
A patriotic 1,088 pages in paperback

Twitter Description - Three centuries of the American dream. From the Pilgrims to World War II. Hail to America. High fives.

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Poor Fellow My Country - Xavier Herbert: 1976 Softcover
Poor Fellow My Country
Xavier Herbert (1975)
1,463 pages Down Under in paperback

Twitter Description - It's Australia before World War II. Almost everything that makes Australia Australia goes under the microscope.

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Short Attention Span? Try a short story instead.