Reading Challenge: A Book You Can Read In a Day

Fitzgerald's classic was the topic of my first high school term paper—and despite that, I still love it. Fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby has built a mansion on Long Island Sound for the sole purpose of wooing and winning his lost love Daisy Buchanan, who married another man while Gatsby was serving overseas. This classic American novel captures the Jazz Age in all its decadence and excess, while weaving a wistful story of love and loss. Even if you've seen the movie (especially if you've seen the movie) you need to read the book. The Audible version, narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal was a Audie Award Finalist.
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I've been meaning to read this Man Booker Prize winner since Jennifer Weiner said, "I find myself thinking about it weeks after I finished." Critics describe it as "Kafka-esque", and reader friends with great taste have said this strange (and sometimes disturbing) story delivers a unique and absorbing reading experience. Originally written in Korean and translated by Deborah Smith.
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I’ll bet you weren’t assigned this breezy Cinderella-ish story set in 1930s Britain back in English class. When a placement agency sends unemployed Miss Pettigrew to the wrong address, she spends the day of her life with a glamorous nightclub singer, extricating her hour by hour from one scrape after another. Miss Pettigrew is light, charming and utterly delightful.
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When an unnamed (but not well-disguised) Queen goes for a walk, her corgis stray into a bookmobile library parked near the Palace, so she feels obligated to take a book to be polite. The Queen finds a newfound obsession with reading—so much so that she begins to neglect her duties as monarch. You can read this one in a few hours, but the power of reading to transform even the most uncommon of lives and the numerous book recommendations (from Jean Genet to Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) will stay with you much longer.
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I read this myself for the Reading Challenge, having previously read A Room of One's Own but none of Virginia Woolf's novels. In this slim novel, Woolf weaves together two seemingly unrelated storylines: one following Mrs Dalloway, an upper class woman preparing to host a dinner party, and the other her "double," a shell-shocked WWI vet contemplating suicide. Woolf used stream-of-consciousness style to explore the inner workings of the mind; this pioneering technique had a lasting effect on fiction as we know it.
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I can't believe I didn't read this book years ago, because now that I've read it, it reminds me so much of my all-time faves Wallace Stegner, Wendell Berry, and Marilynne Robinson. I don't want to say too much, but I found this up-close look at an unlikely relationship between two long-time acquaintances in small-town Colorado completely absorbing, and Haruf hits just the right tone with his light touch. Listen to me recommend this book in Episode 84 of What Should I Read Next? to Shawn Smucker. This is definitely one of those books where the flap copy doesn't do it justice. This was my first Haruf novel, and I'll be reading more.
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I read this as my "book you can finish in a day" for the 2016 Reading Challenge. As expected, it's not exactly scary, but Jackson is sure good at infusing a story with a creepy atmosphere. In this work, her last completed novel before her death, she tells the story of the Blackwood family. Not so long ago there were seven Blackwoods, but four of them dropped dead from arsenic poisoning several years ago and how that happened remains a mystery. Read this during daylight hours: its themes of family secrets, hateful neighbors, and mysterious deaths aren't the stuff of bedtime reading.
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The awards list for this include Winner 2017 Alex Award, 2017 Hugo, 2017 Locus, 2016 Nebula, Nominated 2017 World Fantasy, 2017 British Fantasy, 2016 Tiptree Honor List. NPR calls this "A mini-masterpiece of portal fantasy — a jewel of a book that deserves to be shelved with Lewis Carroll's and C. S. Lewis' classics."
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This quirky little book is unlike anything I've ever read. Keiko was an uncommon child with worried parents until she takes on a job in a convenience store. They relax that she's found a pleasant and predictable routine while at university. But eighteen years later, she is still working her low-level job, and doesn't understand why society expects more from her than that. In fact, she doesn't seem to understand society's expectations—or how to conform to them—at all. Hot tip: critics are comparing Keiko to French heroine Amélie, although the two live different lives in different worlds.
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The publisher uses comparisons to authors like Marilynne Robinson and Flannery O’Connor. Now considered a classic, the newest edition from Harper has an introduction written by Ann Patchett. The New York Times Book Review calls it "an elegantly written, compact and often subtle tale of morality and passion that gives voice to an age-old concern in a fresh way." From the publisher: "Set in a small town in Ireland, the seemingly simple tale of a parishioner confiding in her priest, but the tangled confession brings secrets to light that provoke a moral quandary for not only the clergyman, but the reader as well."
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Bradbury's slim sci-fi/fantasy novel revolves around a fireman who hates his job set in the saddest of dystopian settings: a future with no books. Firemen start the fires in Bradbury's future, to burn any and all books as they are found. One of these books is the Bible, which is what most often triggers the censorship. The book has been repeatedly banned over the years, which is ironic, given that the book itself is about book-banning. When it was published, Bradbury was outspoken about the fact that he in fact had the growing influence of television over Americans in mind when he wrote it.
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From the publisher: "'Dept. of Speculation' was their code name for all the thrilling uncertainties that lay ahead. Then they got married, had a child and navigated the familiar calamities of family life—a colicky baby, a faltering relationship, stalled ambitions. When their marriage reaches a sudden breaking point, the wife tries to retrace the steps that have led them to this place, invoking everything from Kafka to the Stoics to doomed Russian cosmonauts as she analyzes what is lost and what remains. In language that shimmers with rage and longing and wit, Offill has created a brilliantly suspenseful love story—a novel to read in one sitting, even as its piercing meditations linger long after the last page."
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Shakespeare's comedy The Taming of the Shrew has been adapted for everything from film to opera to ballet to musical theater. Both Kiss Me, Kate and the 90s high school movie 10 Things I Hate About You (LOVE it) are based on the play. Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler brings a witty contemporary retelling for the Hogarth Shakespeare series. This one's on my TBR largely because of NPR, who calls this a "screwball of manners, more sweet than acidic, that actually channels Jane Austen more than Shakespeare." 242 pages.
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This modern classic is a coming-of-age almost-memoir of a young Latina girl, Esperanza Cordero, who is inventing the woman she will grow up to be. The story unfolds as a series of vignettes—some joyful, some heartbreaking—that draw the reader deep into the Hispanic Chicago neighborhood. Esperanza's observations feel at once highly specific and incredibly universal, as she reflects on growing up on Mango Street, and how she eventually wants to leave.
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When Gretchen Rubin was on What Should I Read Next, she talked me into this modern YA classic that had somehow never made it on my radar, despite being a National Book Award winner in 2008. This was a dark kind of fun, easy to read and hard to put down.  From the publisher: "When Evie's father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But when movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe's company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two."
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This is a different sort of Agatha Christie novel, written under her pseudonym Mary Westmacott, that's complicated, witty, twisty and suspenseful in ways that have nothing to do with crime. The title comes from a Shakespeare sonnet; the novel itself is a character study, about a woman who begins to reassess her life after finding herself alone for the first time—and is none too easy with what she sees. Christie claimed to have written this novel in an incredible three days.
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From the publisher: "In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust."
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I love Lahiri and reading the description (and excellent reviews) on this collection makes me want to bump it to the top of my list. From Publishers Weekly: "Lahiri's touch in these nine tales is delicate, but her observations remain damningly accurate, and her bittersweet stories are unhampered by nostalgia."
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