Big Book Summer Reading Challenge 2019

Big Book Summer Challenge

Sue at Book By Book has hosted her Big Book Summer Reading Challenge for eight years. It’s a low-key challenge to read books that are 400+ pages long between Memorial Day (May 24) and Labor Day (September 2).

I participated last year and am a bit slow getting this year’s post up, but it’s better late than never.

So far this summer I’ve read two big books:

  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The copy I own weighs in at 1,037 pages. I’ve read this classic twice now. The first time was just over twenty years ago. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it that first time and this second reading was just as thrilling. The racism is horrific but the storytelling is amazing. The Book Cougars did a joint readalong with Jenny from the Reading Envy podcast in June (listen here: Episode 157).
  • If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais. I read an advance reader copy that was 435 pages. I loved Bianca’s first novel, Hum If You Don’t Know The Words, and there is no odor of a sophomore slump in her second novel. This story is told in alternating chapters by three South African women, one young black woman and two older white sisters who have been estranged most of their lives. It is set in the 1990s during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. It is painful to read at times — rape, homophobia, racism, the pain of motherhood, terminal illness — but it is also full of good will and hope. I highly recommend it. Bianca has a way of writing about the hard things in the life without diminishing them or overwhelming the reader.

< or > 400?

At first it looked like A Well-Read Woman: The Life, Loves, and Legacy of Ruth Rappaport by Kate Stewart also qualified for this challenge. Goodreads shows the hardcover as having 416 pages, but I noticed the copy in my hand is under 400 pages. Rappaport was Jewish and grew up in Leipzig, Germany during the Nazi’s rise to power. At fifteen she escapes to Switzerland, then emigrates to the US alone. She also lives in Israel for a time before taking an assignment to establish military libraries in Vietnam. After seven years in Vietnam, Rappaport moves to DC and becomes a librarian at the Library of Congress.

Reading next:

  • Middlemarch by George Eliot. This classic was on my list last year and I did start it but the timing just wasn’t right. I recently proclaimed on the Book Cougars that another year cannot go by without me reading this classic, so I need to get cracking. I’m starting it this Saturday and am giving myself seventeen days to read it, that’s about fifty pages per day.

There’s still time to sign up if you’re interested in joining the Big Book Summer Reading Challenge. Sue has a Goodreads option for participants who don’t blog. Click here for details.


  1. Middlemarch has been on my TBR all my life — and I made it a must-read for 2019. Haven’t started it yet. . . . I have the digital and the audio, so no excuses. Maybe I need to break it into sensible-sized chunks and commit to some number of pages a day. The audio is over 35 hours! (But I can read a lot faster than that.)

    • Toni, I’m in the same boat — I have it in paperback, digital, and an audio version (narrated by Juliet Stevenson). I found a mass market sized edition (Signet Classics) that has a larger font size than the trade paperback version I tried reading last year. Good luck to you! If you start it anytime soon, let me know and we can buddy read it!

      • I have the Stevenson audio, too. I see a 2018 ppb that has “only” 544 pages, but another has 784. It comprises 8 Books, each book comprising 9 to 12 chapters, except for Book 8, which has 15 chapters and a Finale. The Kindle version has no page numbers.

        There’s an app called Serial Reader that breaks classics into 8-to-15 minute segments, with the idea of reading one a day. For Middlemarch, there are 146 segments and Serial Reader tells me that, reading one a day, I could be finished by December 5th. Ha! That’s way too slow. (I used Serial Reader just once — to read Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto — the only way I could make myself read it.)

        I found this online: “The average reader will spend 17 hours and 54 minutes reading Middlemarch (Penguin Classics) at 250 words per minute. 🙂

        Okay, I’ll dive in and shoot for an hour a day — but more on weekends. Having a buddy will be encouraging!


        • Alright Toni! So happy to have a buddy for this one. I’m aiming for an hour a day, too, with catch up time on the weekends.

          I recently heard about Serial Reader but when I saw the length of time it would take for Middlemarch I also thought it was too slow (but I will try that app for someother classic in the future).

  2. This sounds like good motivation to pick up some of my bigger titles. I’ll check out Sue’s page. Thanks for sharing, Chris and all the best for your Big Book Summer.

  3. Welcome to another Big Book Summer, Chris! So glad you joined the fun again. And, hey, Better Late Than Never is my life motto!

    Of course, I LOVE your first two Big Book choices – I am anxiously awaiting delivery of my pre-ordered If You Want to Make God Laugh – can’t wait!

    And I am thrilled that you are giving Middlemarch a chance! I wasn’t too excited about it but started it for a book group and ended up loving it – it took me a month to finish it, but it was an enjoyable month! I found it surprisingly still relevant and very clever.

    Enjoy your Big Books!


    P.S. Just stop by the Challenge page to leave your link for this post so you’ll be officially signed up and others can find your blog. You can also leave reviews of Big Books in the 2nd links list throughout the summer, if you want.

    2019 Big Book Summer Challenge

  4. I feel the same way about Madame Bovary as you do about Middlemarch. I have three different translations and an audio CD version but so far I have not managed to get beyond the first pages. I dove into Tender is the Night last weekend after having had it around for several years and finished before the weekend was out. sometimes its just a matter of timing! You’ve inspired me to at least take Mme. B off the shelf and look at her this weekend, who knows, it might work! Good luck with Dorothea.

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