16 short books to knock out your reading challenge

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.

Need more short titles? Check out these 20 life-changing nonfiction books you can read in a day, and these 20 short novels you can read in one day.

I’d love to hear what you’re reading for this category, and what books YOU would add to this list, in the comments section.

Short books to knock out your reading challenge
Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart

This modern classic, set in a small Nigerian village, made the list 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 →
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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 →
The End of the Affair

The End of the Affair

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 →


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 →
The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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 →
The Body in the Library

The Body in the Library

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 →
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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 →
Every Heart a Doorway

Every Heart a Doorway

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 →


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 →
The Deal of a Lifetime: A Novella

The Deal of a Lifetime: A Novella

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 →


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 →
I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life

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 →
Strange Weather in Tokyo

Strange Weather in Tokyo

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 →
Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea

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 →
Montana 1948

Montana 1948

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 →

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? 

P.S. 15 terrific audiobooks you can listen to in 6-ish hours or less, and just for fun, 20 extra-long and totally readable books for your reading challenge.

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Leave A Comment
  1. Haya Finan Mckinley says:

    i gave up on my challenge for this year but am hoping that i can hit 2019 hard now that i am back in the swing of reading great books (thanks to your podcast!!).

    i had a thought yesterday as i was listening to an ad from last week’s ep: does blinkist count towards books read or no? i guess one makes their own rules (and i lean towards no), but am interested to hear your/others’ opinions!

    • TJ says:

      I have to say no as well. I did go through a lot of books on Blinkist during my free trial, but I don’t think you can count them if what you’re reading is another person’s synopsis. I also think it unfair to judge a book by the synopsis. Having said that, I do believe I was lucky to not spend a lot of time on some of the ones I ‘read’…

  2. Angie says:

    I’m on my last challenge book- a classic you’ve been meaning to read. I’m listening to A Christmas Carol read by Tim Curry on Audible and it is wonderful.

  3. Nori says:

    This list is amazing! The first book had me hooked. I love Jane Eyre and never knew there was a prequel 🙂 Thanks for this post!

  4. Regis says:

    You’ve got me looking at my shelves for short books I’ve loved when I should be working. 🙂 Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and The Ocean at the End of the Lane are both great and under 200 pages. For anyone in the mood for depressing (but quality!) Russian literature, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground are both very short. John Steinbeck also has some super quick reads; many people are familiar with Of Mice and Men and/or The Pearl, but I really enjoyed The Moon Is Down a few years ago, and it’s just over 100 pages.

    I’m realizing that none of these titles are particularly cheery, but maybe not everyone is looking for jolly Christmas reads to finish out the year? 🙂

    • Mimi Gregor says:

      I loved The Ocean at the End of the Lane! The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico is also short (around 55 pages) but very sad. Makes me cry every time I read it. Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg is also short, and I’ve read it a couple times.

  5. Loved THINGS FALL APART. One of the best books. However, I absolutely hated WIDE SARGASSO SEA. I love stories that focus on minor characters of classic stories, and I had been hoping for so much more with this one. Womp, womp.

    Excited to see that Backman has a Christmas-y story! Def want to read that. A MAN CALLED OVE made my list of Top 5 Books: http://www.wellreadtart.com/2018/09/18/quick-look-books-powerhouse-books-september-2018/

    HEARTBURN sounds fantastic and is going immediately on my TBR list. Who doesn’t love Nora Ephron??

    Thanks for the recs!

  6. Dawn says:

    Here are some books from my own reading journal, listed from shortest to longest. Several have been featured here on the blog, but many have not:

    Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 128 pages
    Peter Pan by JM Barrie, 134 pages
    I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, 160 pages
    Last Message Received by Emily Trunko, 176 pages
    Hatchet by Gary Paulson, 192 pages
    Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 hardest things I’m learning to say by Kelly Corrigan, 199 pages
    The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, 208 pages
    The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (or any of the Narnia series) by CS Lewis, 208 pages
    On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, 224 pages
    Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, 226 pages
    The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, 240 pages
    Gilead by Marilyn Robinson, 247 pages
    Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, 256 pages
    The Shack by William P Young, 256 pages
    Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich, 256 pages
    Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, 256 pages
    Bossypants by Tina Fey, 272 pages
    Good as Gone by Amy Gentry, 288 pages
    Run by Blake Crouch, 288 pages

  7. sarah says:

    Housekeeping is one of my all-time favorites. I could literally read it 10 times in a row. Another short novella that is awesome is Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

  8. Jess Anne Cole says:

    Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Backman
    Not only my favorite shirt book, it is my very favorite book!

    • Ginger says:

      I don’t often reread books but I’ve read Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer four times!! I laugh and cry every time!!

  9. Felicity says:

    The End We Start From by Megan Hunter is 160 pages and what I used for this category. I read it in one sitting. A poetic dystopian story of a new mother trying to survive a cataclysmic flood. I liked it.

  10. Michelle K says:

    I have read a few short books this year that I have enjoyed (including your newest book and Less). Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (graphic novel), Who Will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore, and Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. I usually fly through the books in The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman also.

  11. Deborah Hubbert says:

    84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff — best short novel ever! Read it, then see the movie starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins!

  12. This is exactly what I needed to read – I’ll definitely be knocking some of these out before the end of the year. I’m 7 books short of my goal right now and think I can do it.

    I also recently read The End We Start From by Megan Hunter which was a very captivating and short dystopian read (160 pages)

  13. Jo Yates says:

    How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals,
    by Sy Montgomery, is a wonderful book with gorgeous illustrations by Rebecca Green. I read it in an evening.

  14. Catherine Ellenwood says:

    I loved Heartburn! I don’t know how I missed it when it was published. A poignant, laugh out loud story. I am working on my challenge. I need to get out the list and see how I’ve progressed. Thanks for the reading encouragement.

  15. Janelle Carlson says:

    Thanks so much for this terrific list of short books today, Anne. I know, I know, it’s quality not quantity — but I’m so very close to my goal!?

  16. Yes! A great list 🙂 I would also add The Alchemist (I burned through it in about an hour or so), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (a really readable short-story collection, plus it crosses a classic off the list if you’re looking to do that), and The Thirty-Nine Steps. Good luck, everyone!!

  17. Pam says:

    I haven’t read any of these yet, so please do not consider this a recommendation! However, here are a few books from my overflowing TBR list, all under 200 pages.
    Shakespeare’s Dog by Leon Rooke – yes, told from the dog’s point of view (humour)
    Elevation by Stephen King
    All books in the Binti trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
    The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs (children’s mystery)
    Queenpin by Megan Abbott
    Nutshell by Ian McEwan
    These were easy to find using the Book Buddy app, recommended by a guest in a recent WSIRN podcast. I’ve been slowly entering my unread books, as time permitted. My number is 593 and counting… Egads.

  18. Ann Perrigo says:

    It’s interesting (to me, anyway) that I’ve read only two of these short books (Hitchhiker’s Guide and the Christie, of course) but at least half of the titles on your juicy list of long, long books! What does this say about me??

  19. I read Less for my prizewinner book this year – for my short book I read The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente. Another book I literally read in a day was the Girl Who Drank the Moon – it has become one of my favorites.

  20. Oooh – I didn’t realize Jean Brodie and Heartburn were so short! Both are on my TBR list!

    I’ll add a recent release to the list, but warning you it’s not for the emotionally faint of heart….Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman. Excellent.

  21. SoCalLynn says:

    I’m currently reading The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. It is about 230 pages. I’m not sure how I like it yet, but it’s short enough to add to the list.

  22. Tina says:

    What a great idea for a list! I am 8 books short this year – don’t think I’ll make it but maybe this will help me get a little bit closer! I had Less on my TBR, so I may just start with that. I have read Heartburn and loved it. Another one I want to try is Colin Firth reading The End of the Affair because Colin Firth reading anything at all…. sigh.

  23. I am coming a little late to this, because I just finished the radio play Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. I simultaneously listened to a recording (the one with Richard Burton in the lead is on YouTube) and read along. It is only 1 1/2 hours and will get that play category – plus a modern classic – off your list!

  24. Bridget G says:

    My favorite short reads this year were;
    Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (175)
    Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup (211)
    The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (224)

  25. Michelle Ann says:

    I would thoroughly recommend ‘A Month in the Country’ by J.L. Carr, (85 pages), ‘Gigi’ by Collette (57 pages) and ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ by Kurt Vonnegut (157 pages). The last has no horror or gore in it in spite of its title!

  26. Cynthia K says:

    Years ago I read and loved ‘I Heard the Owl Call My Name’ by Margaret Craven (160 pages). This list is great as are all the suggestions. Now where is my tea????

  27. Katie F. says:

    I would add And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman. Make sure you have a box of tissues 🙂

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