Help us choose *short* books for a book club
October 19, 2013 5:30 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite books under 300 pages? More criteria below the fold.

So I'm in a newly formed book club with a few strict rules, including (1) it has to be a book no one has read before and (2) it has to be 300 pages or less. The problem is that none of us can think of many short books that we haven't read.

They should be either fiction or literary nonfiction, and substantive enough that there's something to discuss, but also entertaining to read. And they should not be super well-known, otherwise at least one of us will probably have read them. So for example, you can probably rule out the whole MLA 100 critics' list (half of which are too long anyway), and anything commonly assigned in high school curricula.

Any time period is fine -- and we are open to a mix of genres, but that's a bit tricky. With a sci fi, crime, romance or young adult suggestion, we're going to start out with at least half the members rolling their eyes at it, so it has to be the the kind of book that really appeals to a general readership and not just fans of the genre.

Also, please respect the 300 page limit -- that's what really makes this an interesting question. 301 pages does not count :). Obviously page counts vary by edition/printing, but there should be at least one that's <=300.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions, which will hopefully allow us to put together a list for the next 6-12 meetings that everyone agrees on, and rescue us from acrimony and squabbling every month about what to read next.
posted by pete_22 to Media & Arts (64 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
I submit Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. It is a graphic novel but I don't see anything in your question that rules that out. It is really good.
posted by cairdeas at 5:38 AM on October 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys. Or honestly any of her novels, though "Wide Sargasso Sea" has probably been read by at least one of the club members.
posted by nightwood at 5:46 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

The New Sufferings of Young W. is 150 pages in German, so it's presumably well under 300 in English. (Just checked. Amazon has a translation that's 84 pages.) If you have any Germans or former German majors, they've quite possibly read it, otherwise not.

What actually popped into my head first was The Ethics of Authenticity. I should note that I read it when I was in high school (not as part of the curriculum) and it appealed to me at 17, but it could be awful or creepy and weird and I just don't remember. Good discussion fodder, though.

There's a lot of under 300 page sci-fi. Most of Philip K Dick's stuff probably counts, though, to be honest, I don't think he's all that he's cracked up to be. I really liked Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, though. If you have anyone who reads sci-fi, there's a good chance they've read it, though.
posted by hoyland at 5:48 AM on October 19, 2013

It might be too short for your needs, but I suggest The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. There's lots to discuss there.
posted by workerant at 5:49 AM on October 19, 2013

Most of Ira Levin's books (The Stepford Wives, Rosemary's Baby) are short. People may have seen them but not read them; see also The Man Who Fell to Earth, which is far more cohesive than the film.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:53 AM on October 19, 2013

ShirleyJackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle?
posted by slidell at 5:55 AM on October 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

We The Animals by Justin Torres.
posted by Fairchild at 5:56 AM on October 19, 2013

Here are some short books I've enjoyed that I think most people haven't read, yet:

A Comedy in a Minor Key and The Death of the Adversary by Hans Keilson
Homo Faber by Max Frisch
On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction by Karl Iagnemma
Faithful Rusland by Georgi Vladimov
posted by blithecatpie at 5:57 AM on October 19, 2013

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.
posted by Gordafarin at 6:04 AM on October 19, 2013

The Remains of the Day is one of the best things I have ever read.
posted by something something at 6:08 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Penelope Fitzgerald The Bookshop
Peter Taylor A Woman of Means
Shirley Jackson We Have Always Lived in the Castle
posted by lasamana at 6:11 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Girl, Interrupted is short and quite good. People may have seen the movie but it really doesn't compare.

Nthing We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

And something something's recommendation of The Remains of the Day reminds me: Never Let Me Go is wonderful (and a MAJOR tearjerker; you've been warned).
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:13 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Plainsong and its sequel Eventide by Kent Haruf.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 6:23 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

While many of Graham Greene's books will be too well-known, he wrote many novellas and nearly all under 300 pages.
posted by dumdidumdum at 6:39 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

For literary nonfiction, one of the greatest of our time (if not ever) is John McPhee. Many of his books come in under 300 pages, some are under 200.

Here is a link to his works (towards the bottom is the View All for the full list).

If you click on any book title, then scroll to the very bottom of that book's page (under the Buy Now heading) it will list the number of pages. He is such a prolific writer that it would be hard to suggest a particular title, but he writes about anything and everything...

Smuggling Russian Art

Nuclear Weaponry

Futuristic Aircraft

How doctor's Became General Practitioners

...and the list goes on.
posted by zyxwvut at 6:44 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

James Hynes' Next.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:07 AM on October 19, 2013

A Short Stay in Hell?

It's 108 pages, and should leave everyone with plenty to talk about.
posted by god hates math at 7:16 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Crome Yellow is a book that's basically about hipsters but it as written 90 years ago. It is hilarious, smart, and even has a small side plot about a family of little people who keep pugs. There's even a little part where Huxley lays down the future plot of Brave New World.

Bonus: it's public domain now so your kindle folks can get it for free!

One of my favorite books, only about a hundred pages.
posted by phunniemee at 7:21 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Look at the Man Booker Prize and American Book Award, Pulitzer, Publishers Weekly,, The Guardian, and other award winners and nominees, the New York Times 10 best, and Notable books for the last several years, and while searching look at other lists as well. Hang out on goodreads. Google book group, book group list, etc. Talk to the nearest bookstore and see what other book groups are reading.
posted by theora55 at 7:30 AM on October 19, 2013

Despair, by Vladimir Nabakov

In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje

The Great Wall of China, by Franz Kafka

Embers, by Sandor Marai

Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

Notes from the Underground, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

Ida, by Gertrude Stein

Ask the Dust, by John Fante

Butterball, by Guy de Maupassant

Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse

Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton

The Knife Thrower and Other Stories, by Steven Millhauser
posted by Houstonian at 7:33 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Arcadia by Lauren Groff comes in under 300 in the paperback printing. Beautifully written; lots to talk about.
posted by telegraph at 7:35 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is well under 300 pages.
posted by corey flood at 7:39 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Old Man's War by MeFi's own™ John Scalzi, 240 pages hardcover. Scifi - Cocoon with guns, essentially: a few hundred years from now humans have developed rejuvenation technology that can make you young again but as it's prohibitively expensive it's only provided to the extremely elderly in exchange for enlistment in the military. The angle for a general audience is some clever and unique perspectives on aging, trauma, and loss, and of course the good old devil's bargain theme.

Captains Courageous, one of the few (or maybe only?) Rudyard Kipling novels set in the United States and refreshingly free of any White Man's Burden stuff. (Though come to think of it, that one may be assigned in some high schools.)
posted by XMLicious at 7:50 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was also going to suggest using the Man Booker Prize long and short lists to select books.

I was briefly involved in a similar book group with similar rules (minus the page limit) and similar literature type interests.

An additional source I've used in the past to select books was the NYTimes book section's new and notable in paperback. Now called "Paperback Row"

These suggestions obviously do not answer the 300pp limit, but should provide you with a reasonable pool to search within for acceptably short candidates.

I'd also like to repeat the suggestion of John McPhee, his non-fiction books The Pine Barrens and Oranges are favorites of mine and quite worth reading. I enjoyed "Still Life with Insects" by Kiteley but may have been influenced by the topics and one of the locations. Following the Bloom is non-fiction and about migratory beekeepers. "The Intuitionist" by Colson Whitehead still confuses the heck out of me - parable? dystopian vision? roman a clef? just plain old daydreamish?

Ok, enough for now.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:50 AM on October 19, 2013

Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon
posted by lewedswiver at 7:59 AM on October 19, 2013

My favorite book of all time: Mrs. Dalloway

Slim and powerful.
posted by TheLibrarian at 8:01 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine.
posted by katie at 8:06 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Many of Kurt Vonnegut's books are sub-300 pages (Mother Night, Slaughterhouse-Five, Timequake, etc.) Among short books generally, I love Black Like Me, Flowers for Algernon, and The Alchemist.

Also, if your definition of "book" is somewhat loose, look at plays. Because they're meant to be performed, they're almost all pretty short when written down. And I can imagine a book club having a great time with plays, since it's the perfect opportunity to read aloud your favorite scenes together.
posted by decathecting at 8:11 AM on October 19, 2013

Girl in the Green Raincoat - a great mystery by Laura Lippman
posted by invisible ink at 8:12 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

A few from my own bookshelf that I loved and were under 300 pages:

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham (lots of his other books would work as well - like The Moon and Sixpence)

Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters by JD Salinger (Franny and Zooey would work too, but it's more popular I think)

Hue and Cry by James Alan McPherson

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Summer by Edith Wharton

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane by Laird Koenig

King, Queen, Knave by Vladimir Nabokov

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (also Keep the Aspidistra Flying)
posted by Ouisch at 8:14 AM on October 19, 2013

The Tunnel, by Ernesto Sabato

Running Wild, by J.D. Ballard

The Hour of the Star, by Clarice Lispector

Cruddy, by Lynda Barry (305 p)

The Stranger, by Albert Camus

Summer of Hate, by Chris Kraus

Waiting for the Barbarians, by J. M. Coetzee
posted by TheGoodBlood at 8:16 AM on October 19, 2013

Books my book group found made for good discussion : Pereira maintains by Antonio Tabbucchi - an apolitical Portuguese literary critic comes into contact with Salazar politics; Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway ; The Lighthouse by Alison Moore ; In a Strange Room by Damon Galgutt. All are under 300 pages as I recall, and appealed to a literary inclined crowd. If you want to risk fantasy (and I'm not sure how long it is as I read it on the Kindle) A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar would be an interesting choice.
posted by tavegyl at 8:26 AM on October 19, 2013

Flying to Nowhere, by John Fuller
posted by Segundus at 8:27 AM on October 19, 2013

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
posted by Segundus at 8:29 AM on October 19, 2013

I just finished Neil Gaiman's latest book: The Ocean at the end of the Lane. It is about 170 pages, and I devoured it in a single sitting. I can't wait for my book club to start reading it.
posted by Maarika at 8:39 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson
posted by elizardbits at 8:42 AM on October 19, 2013

More from my bookshelf:

You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness by Julie Klam (may only appeal to dog lovers:)

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates

The Last Talk With Lola Faye by Thomas Cook

Tigerlily's Orchids by Ruth Rendell
posted by invisible ink at 8:51 AM on October 19, 2013

A Single Man, by Christopher Isherwood. 192 pages.
posted by lysimache at 9:18 AM on October 19, 2013

I believe almost all of Kazuo Ishiguro's work is under 300 pages. Never Let Me Go (288 pages) is a great place to start.
posted by northernish at 9:18 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

My book club just read and had a very interesting discussion about The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It's 163 pages in the paperback edition and is a really beautifully written meditation on on memory and the impossibility of total objectivity, told from the perspective of an aging man trying to make sense of an incident from his youth.
posted by jessypie at 9:30 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I second the recs for Persepolis and Cruddy. To those I'll add Fun Home, the fantastic graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. It's as complex as any other novel (and imho better than her second book, Are You My Mother.)

If you haven't all read Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son check it out. One reason it's short is because of his intensified, heightened prose style. This is a book of short stories, but the collection is integrated enough that it feels like a novel.
posted by third rail at 9:33 AM on October 19, 2013

And Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women comes in under 300 pp. This is an early book of hers but one of my favorites.
And of course she just won the Nobel Prize for Lit ...
posted by third rail at 9:47 AM on October 19, 2013

12 Good Books Under 300 Pages Long:
Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, Stephen Millhauser (293 p.)
Butcher's Crossing, John Williams (274 p.)
The Ten Thousand Things, Maria Dermout (296 p.)
On Bullfighting, A.L. Kennedy (176 p.)
Bucking the Tiger, Bruce Olds (256 p.)
Coming Through Slaughter, Michael Ondaatje (160 p.)
The Devil and Sonny Liston, Nick Tosches (272 p.)
American Salvage, Bonnie Jo Campbell (170 p.)
Basin & Range, John McPhee (240 p.)
Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work, Jason Brown (170 p.)
Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, Lydia Peelle (189 p.)
Fiskadoro, Denis Johnson (240 p.)
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:47 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It is philosophical, gorgeously written, and 161 pages.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:49 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jennifer Johnston has several books that are all well under 300 pages. How Many Miles to Babylon is one of my favorite books, it's only 156 pages, and I've never met another person who has read it (how can that be?)!

Many adults haven't read The Giver because it's classified as Young Adult, but it appeals to all ages. Only 179 pages.

Many of Barbara Pym's books are under 300 pages: Excellent Women = 231 pages and Quartet in Autumn = 182.
posted by kbar1 at 9:51 AM on October 19, 2013

Seconding Embers, Mrs. Dalloway, The Stranger, and The Remains of the Day.

Other suggestions:

E. L. Doctorow, Homer & Langley
Patrick Suskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Michael Cunningham, The Hours (either on its own or as a companion to Mrs. Dalloway)

Some classics:
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Henry Miller, The Turn of the Screw
posted by scody at 10:05 AM on October 19, 2013

Oh, and for crime fiction, I would suggest Jim Thompson, e.g. The Grifters.
posted by scody at 10:11 AM on October 19, 2013

Erasure, by Percival Everett. Everett is unfortunately not well known but his writing is outstanding and entertaining while also being sharp as a razor wrt race issues. Erasure is, I think, his most accessible work. It's also one of his longest, at 272 pages.
posted by janey47 at 10:17 AM on October 19, 2013

Richard Brautigan's books are lovely and psychedelic and full of conversation starters. They're also very very short.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:45 AM on October 19, 2013

Under a Flaming Sky, Daniel James Brown
102 Minutes, Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn - Note: this is a later edition than mine with a new postscript, so it may go over the 300-page limit. Mine is 337 pp. counting the notes and index, but has 278 pp. of text.
Methland, Nick Reding
posted by epj at 1:05 PM on October 19, 2013

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett
The Professor's House by Willa Cather
Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
posted by Redstart at 3:42 PM on October 19, 2013

Tempest-Tost, the first book in Robertson Davies' Salterton Trilogy, is 284 pages in the edition I have. (And as I've commented earlier, his use of language is delightful and there are lots of wonderfully quotable passages.)
posted by Lexica at 3:55 PM on October 19, 2013

I would go with The Stars at Noon or Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson.

Also, Murakami's Norwegian Wood.
posted by sad_otter at 5:29 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another Ishiguro: An Artist of the Floating World, which is shorter than the two already mentioned and, to my mind, even better: it's a masterclass in 'characterization from the outside', in which you learn as much about the first-person narrator from the other characters' responses to him as from his own narration.

Patrick O'Brian's Testimonies: 200-odd pages, multiple narrators, atmospheric, intense.

Much of Nabokov weighs in at under 300 pages, especially the earlier books; you might be able to find one or more that no one in your group has read.

If surreal Irish comedy isn't too far afield, Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman. And if early-20C literary fantasy ditto (don't think Tolkien - no wizards or high language here, but appealingly human characters and a humorous, ironic, highly educated voice), Hope Mirrlees' Lud-in-the-Mist.
posted by zeri at 6:15 PM on October 19, 2013

Play Little Victims by Kenneth Cook.

I read it in high school, and I re-read it every year or so, and it still blows my mind.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 7:10 PM on October 19, 2013

Dark Matter is a simply, elegantly, beautifully told ghost story set in the Arctic. Short, not well-known, scary, entertaining, well-written. One of my recent faves.
posted by ORthey at 10:36 PM on October 19, 2013

I've recommended this one in AskMe before: Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader is a very funny novella (120 p.) about the personal and social upheaval that ensues when the Queen of England develops an unexpected reading addiction. Very appropriate for a book club! I read it in one sitting and enjoyed it greatly.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:54 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson.
posted by aspo at 8:44 AM on October 20, 2013

pete_22, I'd be curious to find out what your group finally agrees upon for your reading agenda. Do share, if you're comfortable doing so.
posted by .kobayashi. at 3:37 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Will do. We'll be deciding this Saturday. Thanks everyone for all the great suggestions!
posted by pete_22 at 4:54 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you haven't all read all the E. M. Forster, several of his books are under 300 pages, including A Room with a View, Maurice, and Howards End. Some of them are even available from Project Gutenberg.

On a completely different note, I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed 1066 by David Howarth. It covers the course of the year, and does an amazing job of crafting memorable, interesting characters out of all the major players. Military history is really not a big interest of mine, but I found this book fascinating.
posted by kristi at 11:41 AM on October 22, 2013

Terry Prachett's books are all brief, and they might be a good fit for a book group because they are fun & funny, yet also have very good characters.

/former English major here; I found my copy of Richardson's Clarissa last weekend and almost passed out: I read that?!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:27 AM on October 24, 2013

Response by poster: So we put all these suggestions into a spreadsheet, crossed out the ones that one or more of us had read, and were left with about 35 to vote on. The top choice was Dark Matter, so we'll be reading that first. The next ten in the voting are The Girl in the Green Raincoat, The Penelopiad, Riddley Walker, The Bookshop, Erasure, Kitchen, Running wild, The Knife Thrower, Waiting for the Barbarians, and We the Animals.

Thanks again for your help!
posted by pete_22 at 2:14 AM on November 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

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