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.
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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?