Many of the longest and fattest books ever written are not essential reads – not even for someone in quarantine for the rest of their life. No offence to L Ron Hubbard, whose Mission Earth comes in at 1.2 million words, but there are more worthwhile choices to consider for those moments when you have a bit of time on your hands.
Published in 1862, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (around 655,000 words) became an instant bestseller and impoverished readers even pooled their resources to acquire a copy. Told in five volumes, the trials and tribulations of Jean Valjean and his adopted daughter Cosette play out in easily digestible scenes. Although not recommended to anyone who is easily offended by extraordinary coincidences, it lends itself well to the wider themes thrown up by our current predicament. As Hugo said: “Wherever men go in ignorance or despair, wherever women sell themselves for bread, wherever children lack a book to read or a warm hearth, Les Misérables knocks at the door and says, ‘Open up, I am here for you.’”