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TODAY contributor
updated 11/14/2011 10:52:44 AM ET 2011-11-14T15:52:44

Monday, November 14th marks the 160th anniversary of the publishing of Herman Melville’s sprawling nautical classic “Moby-Dick” as a single volume. Not only is this epic novel a revered touchstone of American literature, it’s also one seriously gigantic tome that many of us must sheepishly admit to never fully finishing. But Melville’s colossal tale is certainly not the only book to warrant such a confession.

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Somewhere around page 75, you think to yourself, “Man, this author could have used a good editor.” If you’re thinking at all, that is, seeing as you’ve read the same paragraph five times. Around page 76, you put the book down, intending to pick it up, right after you do more exciting things, like get a root canal or caulk your tub.

So that classic book, the one recommended by your friend with the high IQ, gathers dust and possibly a monster library fine while it goes unread. Well, here are a just a few books that are worth cracking open and soldiering through. Reading "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides or "Middlemarch" by George Eliot may not make you a better person, but it will up your literary quotient (and give you serious bragging rights).

by Herman Melville
(Waking Lion Press)
Page count: 396
Many a person’s literary white whale, Moby-Dick has eluded the most intrepid of readers. Immensely readable author Nathaniel Philbrick just wrote "Why Read Moby-Dick?", making the case that Melville’s masterpiece—about Captain Ahab’s obsessive search for Moby-Dick—is relevant to the modern world, laced with universal themes and indelible characters. If anyone can convince us to give it another shot, it’s the author of "In the Heart of the Sea."

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By A.S. Byatt
Page count: 576
This book will make you swoon. Sure, it may take a few hundred pages, but Byatt’s gorgeous love story within a love story will live with you forever if you manage to power through the dense language. Two scholars—one an expert on a groundbreaking feminist poet, the other an expert on a famous (and fictitious) Victorian poet—fall for each other while uncovering a clandestine love affair between the two poets they are researching. What’s so remarkable is that the love story is told through letters, journals, and poetry—all created by Byatt for the conceit of this Booker Prize-winning book.

‘Fall on Your Knees’
By Ann-Marie MacDonald
Page count: 512
The stark beauty of Nova Scotia provides the background to MacDonald’s novel. Centering on a troubled family with terrible secrets, with World War I and Harlem jazz clubs thrown in the mix, this crazy good novel will make you thankful for your own family tree, and glad you kept on reading until the final page.

‘Angle of Repose’
By Wallace Stegner
Page count: 592
Another story within a story, Stegner adds to the canon of the Great American Novel with this tale of retired history professor Lyman Ward. A divorced amputee with a debilitating disease, he is living alone in his grandmother’s house, attempting to write her biography. What unfolds is a story of a promising New York writer and artist who leaves society and culture behind when she marries a mining engineer and heads West. Her life is set against the harsh and uncharted backdrop of Western expansion. A meaty, satisfying read if you commit to the literary journey within this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’
By Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Page count: 448
More like one hundred years of sporadic reading, right? Wrong. Somewhere around the time Jose Arcadio Buendia dreams of a utopic city of mirrors named Macondo, you might put the book down. Pick it back up. You’ll be rewarded with the richly colored yarn about the misfortunes that befall the Buendia family in their self-created town of Macando. Marquez’s magical realism novel parallels Columbia’s political unrest, lending even more depth to this epic read.

If you've already made it through these five, meanwhile, there’s always James Joyce's "Ulysses" (Page count: 612) or David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest" (Page count: 1104).

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Worick has published more than 25 books. Also a publishing consultant, she can be found at The Business of Books.

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