Sometimes you don’t want to dive into the worlds of expansive novels but would rather start and finish a book in the same day. Sometimes you simply don’t have enough time to devote to The Infinite Jest or Anna Karenina. Short novels and novellas can be read in an afternoon and be just as effective as a 1000-page novel or lengthy series. These nine stories are a master class in pithy style.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Keyes’s story is the prime example of short but powerful. This study of the human condition is about Charlie Gordon, a mentally unstable man, who undergoes surgery to increase his intelligence and mental abilities. Somehow so short of a story (only 23 pages) has such a profound effect; few can finish it without shedding some tears. Note- this is the story version, not the novel!
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Giver is many people’s first experience with a dystopian novel. Through the perspective of Jonas, the new Receiver of Memory, we see a world without pain or suffering. It also lacks emotional depth. Through the memories of the old receiver, Jonas is exposed to a time where emotions and landscape were unique and, at times, painful. Jonas is then determined to break free from this world of uniformity.
Annihilation by Jeff VanDermeer
Science fiction fans will not be able to put down book one of the Southern Reach Trilogy. Four female scientists go to explore Area X, a land with mutated vegetation, that is cut off from the rest of society. Despite that 11 separate groups of scientists who went to inspect and study the weird nature all went missing or died, the mystery and looming threat of the land constantly draws people to volunteer for these missions. What do you think will happen to group 12?
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Gregor Samsa awakens one day as a cockroach. In less than 50 pages, Kafka explores a wide range of emotions to portray what it’s like to live as a total outcast.
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Notes from Underground is considered to be the first existential novel. Despite being known for his longer works, Dostoevsky’s philosophical tale told from the perspective of the Underground man is perhaps the most influential, helping to inspire the modernist movement along with other bleak philosophical narratives.
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
What about the women who had Shakespeare’s genius but none of his opportunities? Our protagonist, Mary Beton, explores these themes in Woolf’s feminist essay. After researching why women are treated as less than men, she finds that most people writing about women are angry men and that most women writers don’t have the money or space to create their own work.
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
This short short-story collection details fragments of an unnamed drug addict’s life. The collection is very short but the characters and Johnson’s writing are so lively, you’ll be entirely entranced until you finish.
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
A great introduction into the weird world of Pynchon and postmodern literature. On the surface, this is an engaging mystery story but in the subtext, Pynchon asks questions about art and pieces together thoughts from the philosophers of the modernist movement in ways never before discussed.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s utterly-heartbreaking story of an old struggling fisherman is a classic must-read. Santiago goes out after 84 days of not catching a fish to find what would be his greatest catch yet and restore some respect back in his community. You can start and finish the book in one afternoon but Santiago’s endeavors and dreams will stay with you long after you finish the novel.
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