As the end of the year approaches, I’ve heard from many of you who tell me you’re pushing to meet your reading goals for the year: you still have plenty of books to read and not enough time to read them in.
I’m here to help.
Today’s list focuses on 16 short titles you could read in a day, or even in an afternoon. Most of these slim works run right around 200 pages—although, if you really have a ways to go on your reading challenge, several are significantly shorter. These books may be on the small side, but they pack a lot of punch.
In the reading life, quality matters more than quantity. That’s true for these small-but-mighty titles, and it’s also true for your challenge. Whether or not you hit your goal, I hope your reading life has been improved by the effort.
In this imaginative prequel to Jane Eyre, Rhys gives a story and voice to the villain of Jane Eyre. Readers know Bertha as Mr Rochester's crazed wife who haunts his attic. In Wide Sargasso Sea, we meet her in her youth in the West Indies, before she enters an unfortunate marriage with the powerful, selfish Englishman, a marriage so devastating it literally drives her mad. Rhys grew up in the Caribbean herself, and the details ring true in this lush and lyrical story. (Read Jane Eyre before you pick this up.) 176 pages. More info →
From the author of Exit West, an entirely different sort of novel, presented in the guise of a conversation: our Pakistani narrator Changez attended Princeton and worked in the U.S. for several years after. Now he's back in his native city of Lahore, telling his story to an American stranger at a café table. This novel made numerous Best Books of the Year lists and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. 228 pages. More info →
Lucy Tan put this book on my radar when she called it one of her favorites following this episode of What Should I Read Next. Elegant and spare, simple and poignant, this story of loneliness and love unfolds as a series of vignettes. Fun fact: this was originally published as The Briefcase; read it and you'll see why. You could also read this as your book in translation, as it was originally written in Japanese; Allison Markin Powell's translation has been much-praised. 192 pages. More info →
When the body of a beautiful blonde is found in a friend's library, Miss Marple is called in to investigate. This is classic mystery at its finest, and Agatha Christie called this book's opening the best she ever wrote. While part of the Miss Marple series, you needn't have read any previous Christie novels to pick this up. 224 pages. More info →
In this quiet and timely pageturner, a man recounts the tumultuous events of his 12th year, back in his small hometown of Bentrock, Montana. The story begins with the death of his beloved Sioux housekeeper, Marie Little Soldier; even as a 12-year-old he can see her death is suspicious, and he fears the blame lies at his family's door. I wasn't initially inclined to pick this up, but my husband urged me to read it. I'm glad he did. 194 pages. More info →
This slim new novel is the #1 pick on November's Indie Next list. In post-apocalyptic Appalachia, the nameless main character works as a scribe, putting her talents to work to write letters on behalf of the desperate. But when a mysterious stranger asks her to write a letter, his request sets in motion an unanticipated and devastating chain of events. This is a book about the power of stories, revolving around pandemics, folklore, and the written word. 176 pages. More info →
A strange, magic-tinged novella from the author of A Man Called Ove and Beartown. The story begins on Christmas Eve, with a father telling a story to his son—but it's not your typical Christmas story. The other-worldly quality put me in mind of The Book Thief. If you're in a reading slump, this is the right length and pace to get you out of it. 96 pages. More info →
At Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children, children have a habit of stumbling into other worlds. Imagine Alice in Wonderland, but instead of one wonderland, there are hundreds—and once you visit another world, you'll never be the same. Part fantasy, part mystery, part fairy tale (of the dark and creepy variety). 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." 174 pages. More info →
How to describe this delightfully absurd science fiction comedy? It's been called a mash-up of Monty Python and Isaac Asimov; Adams himself described the series as "a trilogy in five books." Originally published in 1979, it's both a staple of high school required reading lists and a science fiction classic beloved by readers who don't usually gravitate towards science fiction. 208 pages. More info →
This modern classic, set in a small Nigerian village, made the list of of the top 100 in PBS's The Great American Read. I spent years meaning to read this book and only read it in 2017; don't make the mistake of putting it off like I did. In intertwined stories, the reader witnesses first an individual life fall to pieces, and then the society he belongs to. The title comes from the Yeats poem "A Second Coming." 215 pages. More info →
Set in 1930s Edinburgh, the story centers on a nonconformist school teacher who is dismissed after she is betrayed by one of her students. The Guardian calls this "a sublime miracle of wit and brevity," and ranks it #79 on their all-time list of best novels. This Scots classic has been on my TBR for ages; perhaps I should read it on my upcoming Scotland trip? 132 pages. More info →
Greene was a multi-talented author; he considered this novel, with its Catholic and moral element, to blur the line between his serious work with his "entertainments." This is a tale of adultery: when a novelist wants to write about a civil servant, he finally meets his neighbor—and his neighbor's wife, with whom he begins a torrid affair. It goes on for some time, despite her guilt and his jealousy. When he is nearly killed by a bomb, she breaks it off. The rest of the novel is about why. I found this enjoyable and thought-provoking, and particularly enjoyed Colin Firth's pitch perfect narration for the audiobook. If you love Brideshead Revisited, read this immediately. 196 pages. More info →
This is a largely autobiographical novel about the breakup of a marriage; it's way funnier than any book on the subject has any right to be. The foodie angle was a pleasant surprise. A What Should I Read Next? guest raved about this, specifically the audio version read by Meryl Streep. 179 pages. More info →
This Pulitzer winner manages to be serious and seriously funny. The hero is Arthur Less, who is facing his 50th birthday, his ex-boyfriend of nine year's wedding to another, and his publisher's rejection of his latest manuscript, all at the same time. He decides to hit the road—and on this trip, everything that can go wrong, does. Nonstop puns on the author's name, an arch sense of humor, and an interesting narrative structure keep this book filled with sad things from feeling downcast. When I got to the end I was strongly tempted to immediately begin again. 273 pages. More info →
The first novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead. Despite the novel's title, the story is one of loneliness, transience, and loss. Set in the isolated (and imaginary) town of Fingerbone, Idaho, Robinson unfolds the story of two sisters and the stream of temporary caregivers that enter their lives, one after another, after the death of their mother and grandmother. If you're a physical book lover, the pocket-sized titles from Picador are beautiful (hello, stocking stuffers). 219 pages. More info →
Of course I had to include this! This essay collection is written BY a book lover (me) for book lovers (YOU). For so many people, reading isn't just a hobby or a way to pass the time—it's a lifestyle. Our books shape us, define us, enchant us, and even sometimes infuriate us. Our books are a part of who we are as people, and we can't imagine life without them. Emily Freeman called this "so delightful, you'll read it in a sitting." 161 pages. More info →
Tell us about some of your favorite short books in comments. What catches your eye on this list, and what would you add to it?