20 short novels you can read in one day

20 short novels you can read in one day

Need some momentum in your reading life? This list is for you.

The next category for the 2018 Reading Challenge is “a book you can read in a day.” We already have a stellar list of life-changing nonfiction books you can read in a day, so today we’re focusing on fiction.

This could be a long book, or a very short book, depending on your reading speed and what title you choose. But if you’re still on the hunt for a book to fulfill this category, I’ve gathered up a list of likely suspects.

Most of these slim fiction works run 200 pages or less, and deliver a lot of bang for the buck. (A few books push closer to the 300-page mark. I included these if the book has small pages, a large font, or tons of white space.)

You can knock one off in an afternoon, but will think about these books for weeks, months, even years after you put it down.

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.

Reading Challenge: A Book You Can Read In a Day
The All of It

The All of It

Author:
I just read this on vacation, at the urging of Ian Cron, who recommended it when we recorded a future episode of What Should I Read Next? (Coming soon!) First, the backstory: this 1986 novel never got the audience it deserved—until Ann Patchett fell in love with it 25-ish years later, and lobbied for its republication. Now, the book itself: on his deathbed, an Irish man confesses to his priest that he and his longtime "wife" were never married. He dies before he's able to reveal the details. Over the course of several days, the wife explains their story to the priest—and the implications for both of them are enormous. 162 pages. More info →
Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman

Author:
This quirky little book is a 2018 Summer Reading Guide pick, and 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. PIck this up and spend your afternoon immersed in Japanese—and convenience store—culture. 176 pages. More info →
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Author:
I'll be you weren't assigned this delightfully 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 best day of her life with a glamorous nightclub singer, extricating her hour by hour from one scrape after another. Overall a fun, frothy fairy tale—but heads up for some unpleasantly dated stereotypes. 256 pages. More info →
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Author:
I didn't hear of this short 1962 novel until a few years ago, since readers with great and diverse tastes kept recommending it. 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 it during daylight hours: its themes of family secrets, hateful neighbors, and mysterious deaths aren't the stuff of bedtime reading. It's not exactly scary, but Jackson is sure good at infusing a story with a creepy atmosphere—and the audio version sure makes it come alive. 162 pages. More info →
Vinegar Girl

Vinegar Girl

Author:
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. More info →
The Vegetarian: A Novel

The Vegetarian: A Novel

Author:
Following a terrifying nightmare, a South Korean woman trashes all the meat in the house and announces she's now a vegetarian—an unconventional choice in a culture in which such choices sit on a spectrum between unsettling and downright alarming. Critics describe this novel 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, this could also stand in for your book in translation category. 194 pages. More info →
The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald's classic was the topic of my first high school term paper—and despite that, I still love it. This classic American novel captures the Jazz Age in all its decadence and excess, while weaving a wistful story of love and loss, told by Nick Carraway—but can we really trust his version of the tale? 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. 180 pages. More info →
What I Saw And How I Lied

What I Saw And How I Lied

Author:
This was a dark kind of fun, easy to read and hard to put down, about a 15-year-old girl who gets mixed up in a decidedly grown-up brew of love, prejudice, and tragedy when her family moves to Palm Beach post-WWII. We read this for a spring Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club pick and talked with author Judy Blundell. which only deepened my appreciation for a terrific story, tight, atmospheric, and heavily inspired by noir film classics. Stylish and thought-provoking; a 2008 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature. 284 pages. More info →
Interpreter of Maladies

Interpreter of Maladies

Author:
This slim volume of short stories was breathtaking. Lahiri's characters tenuously navigate the divide between their old world and their new, and taken together, the collection highlights myriad aspects of the immigrant experience. Lahiri's gift is to turn ordinary experiences into moments fraught with meaning, and she does it over and over in this Pulitzer-winning collection. (I loved this on audio, and it's less than 6 hours in that format.) 209 pages. More info →
The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon Reader

Author:
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. 126 pages. More info →
Every Heart a Doorway

Every Heart a Doorway

Author:
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" The impressive awards list for this includes the Alex Award, Hugo award, and Nebula award. 174 pages. More info →
The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending

Author:
I finally read this 2011 Man Booker Prize winner a couple of years ago, in a single sitting on the couch on a Sunday afternoon. Structured as a love triangle, present day events force our narrator to reflect on events from his past, events that had been long settled in his mind. But as he begins to investigate what happened back then, he starts to wonder: did he really grasp what was happening back then? Or was he merely choosing to cast himself in the best possible light? This book, which the New York Times calls "powerfully compact," is the kind that stands up to—and benefits from—repeated re-readings. 162 pages. More info →
Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night

Author:
It took me a while to finally read Kent Haruf, but I'm so glad I did: he's an excellent choice for readers who love Wallace Stegner, Wendell Berry, and Marilynne Robinson, as I do. This is definitely one of those books where the flap copy doesn't do it justice; in this case, it just sounds strange. I found this up-close look at an unlikely relationship between two long-time acquaintances in small-town Colorado completely absorbing. Listen to me recommend this book in Episode 84 of What Should I Read Next? to Shawn Smucker. 193 pages. More info →
Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway

Author:
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. I read this myself for a past Reading Challenge, having previously read A Room of One's Own but none of Virginia Woolf's novels. 194 pages. More info →
Dept. of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation

Author:
I debated including this one, because I had mixed feelings about it—but it's undoubtably interesting, and so many readers LOVED it—plus I read it myself in a single afternoon. This is a portrait of a once-happy marriage that has lost its way, written in spare prose, with nameless characters referred to only as "the wife" and "the husband." Sometimes lyrical, sometimes philosophical, sometimes experimental to the point of feeling confusing. Definitely one to discuss with your fellow readers. 194 pages. More info →
The Outsiders

The Outsiders

Author:
This was a summer reading pick for my then 13-year-old, and he asked me to read it, too. This American classic is about a group of kids from the wrong side of the tracks in Oklahoma, and I've heard it compared to West Side Story. Unbelievably, Hinton wrote this when she was just 16, and it was published when she was 18. You could also read this title for the category "a book that's been banned at some point." 220 pages. More info →
Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

Author:
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, because their job is to destroy any and all books as they are found. The book has been repeatedly banned over the years, which is ironic, given that the book itself is about book-banning. Definitely It's a classic, but it's not remotely boring, and too short not to cross off your list. 119 pages. More info →
The House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street

Author:
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 her 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. 130 pages. More info →
News of the World: A Novel

News of the World: A Novel

Author:
I loved this short novel about two unlikely companions because it reminded me of favorites like Lonesome Dove, These Is My Words, and—perhaps surprisingly—The Road. A Western for readers who (think they) don't like Westerns, featuring intriguing characters, improbable friendships, strong women, and difficult choices. 229 pages. More info →
Absent in the Spring

Absent in the Spring

Author:
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. 192 pages. More info →

What catches your eye on this list, and what would you add to it? What are YOU planning on reading for this category? And—just for fun—what’s the longest book you’ve read in a single day?

P.S. It’s not too late to sign up for the 2018 Reading Challenge and get your goodies (phone wallpaper, bookmarks, reading tracker). Sign up here.
P.P.S. 20 life-changing nonfiction books you can read in a day, and 15 terrific audiobooks you can listen to in 6-ish hours or less.

64 comments | Comment

64 comments

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    I read 84, Charing Cross Road for this category and it was so delightful. I think Chimamanda Adichie’s two books (booklets?) about feminism could be good choices also.

  2. Tory says:

    Binti! If you like weird SF, or just want to dip your toes in with an award-winning, “own voices” title by a woman of color, this is a quick read. Like most SF, no need to worry if you don’t follow every detail of the unfamiliar setting.

  3. I read Agatha Christie’s autobiography a few years back and promptly bought her Mary Westmacott novels (all in one volume)…then never read them! Absent in the Spring is the reason I bought them. You’ve inspired me to get reading. Thanks!

  4. Sarah says:

    I love this category. It enables you to pick up something you may not normally read because the commitment is not as high as a 500 page novel. Also, if it is one you really love you can easily read it multiple times. I really enjoyed We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Three of my all time favorites are short reads; Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and A River Runs Through it by Norman Maclean.

  5. Teri Stich says:

    A must read for this list is “The Buddha In The Attic” by Jullie Otsuka. It has a unique writing style as is in First Person Collective without identifying the person talking. A bit difficult at first but you soon get a feel for the different voices. At 144 pages, it is a quick read, but, oh, so interesting. The story of Japanese women bought to San Francisco as “picture brides.” Tracing their adventures from their boat journey, arrival in America, and follows their new lives, filled with hope, dreams, trials, tribulations, hardships and heartbreak.
    First published in 2011
    Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award For Fiction
    National Book Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
    A New York Times Notable Book

  6. I enjoyed Joan Didion’s South and West. A super quick read about her time in the South and in California. The essays are all excerpts from her notebooks during her travels. I also loved 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.

  7. Lisa H. says:

    I read Convenience Store Woman this week and found it charming and quirky. It was a quick read and I’m thinking about it every day since I read it.

    • Sarah says:

      I’m waiting on that book from the library! I figured that it would be good since it’s on the summer reading list, but now I’m more excited. I really enjoy books that I can’t stop thinking about after I read them.

  8. SoCalLynn says:

    I am thrilled you have The Outsiders on here. I just reread it and it is still a fantastic read. I plan on picking up Convenience Store Woman simply because my 18 year old daughter has loved the Japanese language and culture for years, just finished her fifth year of studying the language, and it sounds like a fun read for both of us. I also want to read The Uncommon Reader.

  9. Carol says:

    Both of Backman’s novellas can be read in one day or one sitting…..”And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer” And “Deal of a Lifetime”

  10. Molly says:

    I loved reading The Silent Gondoliers by William Goldman. I picked it up because I loved The Princess Bride, and I wasn’t the least bit disappointed by the goofiness and heart.

  11. Liesl says:

    I think Nutshell by Ian McEwan can be read in a day. It took me a few to read it, but only because I didn’t have the time to just sit down and power through! It’s an interesting premise too, and a nice twist on a Shakespeare classic.

  12. Jennifer says:

    I’m going to add quite a few of these to my too long TBR list. I’d recommend any of Laurie Colwin’s novels or short story collections for this category. Her novels are light but definitely have substance. And they are all short enough to read in one day.

  13. Guest says:

    Read Convenience Store woman last weekend. Am still unsure what I think of it! Quirky for sure.

    Have read House on Mango Street also.

    Not a genre you normally write about and not one I normally read but…I read Sackett last year and LOVED it! My dad has always loved westerns so I grew up with them on the television much of the time but I’d never read a true “western” book. Am glad I read it. It’s short too, so definitely can be read in a day.

  14. Liza says:

    I loved News of the World – it was an impulse buy at the bookstore ($3?). It wasn’t the type of book I usually go for but I figured that It’s not like I was spending a lot on it. It was well worth it.

    I’m not sure the longest I’ve read in a day. I read fast and tend to read until I finish even if that means my family has to find their own food for dinner. I know I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 8 hours. It was right after it came out. I was in college that year and was supposed to be studying for a chemistry test. I picked up the book for a study break and couldn’t put it down. The funny part? I actually got a higher grade on that test than any other test in that class.

    I also read A Conjuring of Light by Victoria Schwab in a day. (600-something pages) It was like being sucked into this dreamlike state for hours on end. When I finished, it took time to figure out where I was and if what I just experienced was real or not.

  15. Jennifer Moss says:

    The longest book I read in a day was the final Harry Potter -Deathly Hallows. I was so worried about spoilers that I swore I wouldn’t leave the house, watch TV, or go on the internet until I had finished it. I read it all the day it came out.

  16. Sarah says:

    I read What Alice Forgot (476 pages according to Goodreads) as well as a few other early Liane Moriarty novels in a single day.
    Recently, I read The Book of Essie in two days, but only because I didn’t start early enough in the day. Once I got into it, I really couldn’t put it down! I highly recommend that novel!
    And since I listen at double speed, I have listened to quite a number of books in a day, if I take the time.

  17. Kelli says:

    I love so many of these, both on the list and in the comments! I really love 84, Charing Cross Road and Housekeeping. The Vegetarian was a strange one…..

    I’m a big fan of Charlie Lovett’s books, and his Further Adventures of Ebeneezer Scrooge would be great for this – 106 pages including the Afterword/Author’s note. Coraline by Neil Gaiman is also a fun one especially at Halloween. And if anyone has never read The Little Prince, read it!!! 🙂 (it’s also great for a book in translation).

  18. Sophie says:

    My last read was “A World Lost” by Wendell Berry. Loved it, and a short read, 150pgs I think. It’s one of his Port William fiction about the death of Andy Catlett.

  19. Last summer as we were driving to the beach for our vacation I turned the last page of Our Souls at Night and was fighting tears. My husband thought it was bc I was emotional about getting back to the beach (my fave place in the world!). I let him think that. 🙂 I love that book so much– it’s short but it packs a punch!

    • Colleen Crawley says:

      I love that book so much. Have you read Kent Haruf’s trilogy? The titles are Plainsong, Eventide and Benediction. I adore all three. They are quiet novels which pull you in with their authentic characters.

  20. My pick to add to this list is Let the Hurricane Roar by Rose Wilder Lane. It’s a wonderfully concise adult version of the Little House books (written before the Little House books).

    So many good picks on this list, I think I’m going to start with Absent in the Spring.

  21. Michelle says:

    I just put in a request for We Have Always Lived in the Castle at my library. Looking forward to reading it.

  22. Gab says:

    Thanks for this great list! I recommend Paul Gallico’s Snow Goose – I think the move Dunkirk was loosely based on this

  23. Susan says:

    Funny – 4 of these books were required reading for my kids in middle school and/or high school! Outsiders/Gatsby = middle school, Fahrenheit 451 = middle school and high school (different kids, same district), The House on Mango Street = high school.

  24. Amy Flett says:

    For this category, I picked a book I *could* read in a day (213 pages)—except my life is super busy right now, so it’s taken me a lot longer than it usually would 😉 I picked Jane and Prudence, by Barbara Pym. I’ve never read any of her books before, but I’m loving this one! It feels cozy, if that makes sense. I feel like I’m in a small English village with the characters, and I love that feeling of being transported into the world of the novel.

  25. Kay says:

    There are several of my favourite books here including Mrs Dalloway, and I have just reread Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Reading a book in a day is a slightly strange category for a reader, as I would say that most books can be read in a day if you are completely enthralled and determined to finish it. x

  26. Oh gosh, there’s *no* way I could have read Mrs Dalloway in a day! I’m generally a pretty swift reader, but I found myself having to read Woolf’s sentences and paragraphs a few times each, to try and discern their meaning. It took me longer to read Mrs Dalloway than it did Crime & Punishment! hahahaha. Some other great recommendations on this list, though!!

  27. I’ve never wanted to read I Have Always Lived in a Castle before because I thought it was sort of horror/paranormal (why?? I have no idea!!)…but your description makes me want to try it! Especially now knowing how short it is. I haven’t read a good short book in awhile and could use one.

    Some others I love: All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg, Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong, Reunion by Hannah Pittard, My Name is Lucy Barton, and The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips (super weird, but I HAD to figure out what was going on), and The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (maybe my favorite of the bunch).

  28. Valerie says:

    Try these for checking out paint samples. They are 9×12, easily stick and remove from walls, and are available at Lowes
    Item # 772876 Model # 10016 Spot On 3-Piece Removable Decal

  29. Diana says:

    I just read MOST of Convenience Store Woman yesterday! While waiting in line at the BMV which wasn’t pleasant but a good book (that I could get through quick) made it better!

  30. Great list!!! I Adored Our Souls at Night–it was my favorite book of that year. Even the movie was good! I also loved Uncommon Reader, News of the World, Mango Street, Gatsby. I have Miss Pettigrew to read soon, want to read Convenience Store Woman. Vinegar Girl disappointed. Mrs D put me to sleep.
    A few other super-short reads: Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt, My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith (this is a stand-alone novella).

  31. Lisa Marie says:

    If I were on your podcast, Dept. of Speculation would be on my list of three books I loved. I’m glad you included it. I highly recommend it; if you don’t like it, it’s a day out of your life, but if you do it has the potential to be one of your lifetime favorites.

    Having said that, my book club hated it. I think they found the main character annoying. I loved the voice. I just looked for a quote, but there are too many to choose from. Just give it a try.

  32. Mary Hogge says:

    Probably not going to be a popular choice here, but Anthem by Ayn Rand is a great afternoon read. Short, chilling, & stays with you forever.

  33. Britany Arnold says:

    I read The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. It’s geared for middle grade readers and is told in prose. Beautiful little book, and only 240 pages, but due to the poetry, reads super fast.

  34. I would add one book to this awesome list: Textbook Amy Krause Rosenthal. It’s experimental, a little odd, but so heartwarming and fantastic. You can definitely read it in an afternoon.

  35. Amelia says:

    I didn’t set out to read An American Marriage in a single day, but that definitely happened last week. I strongly recommend it. I can’t stop thinking about it.

    And the next day, I read the YA novel Saints & Misfits in about 8 (often interrupted) hours. I would recommend it for readers who like YA. If you don’t like YA, this one probably won’t change your mind, but it’s sort of refreshing for the genre in the sense that it focuses on an American Muslim heroine dealing with big-deal issues like sexual assault while also exploring interfaith dating, bullying, and family changes. Because of the main character’s faith, the romance in this novel is relatively innocent and comes down to a question of the standards she will hold for herself and the vision she has for her future.

    As a teacher, a lot of my books are read in 1-2 days during the summer. Those same books would take me a week or more to read during the school year, when I’m busy, work too many hours, and am too mentally exhausted to process words at the end of a day.

  36. Colleen Crawley says:

    I just finished What I Saw and How I Lied, thanks to this post, and loved it! Thank you! I’d really like to add two books to this list. The first is Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan. It’s a short novel about the staff of a Red Lobster on the night before the restaurant shuts down for good. The second is Kent Haruf’s beautiful novel Our Souls at Night. It was Haruf’s final book, a brief novel that had stayed with me. It’s much better than the movie, but the way! Happy reading!

  37. Zoe says:

    The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.
    Don’t read the book flap, don’t watch the movie, don’t read any reviews – just read the book.
    The less you know in advance, the more you will find it heartbreaking, devastating and absolutely unforgettable.

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