Bookfilter: Your favorite short(ish) reads
December 10, 2017 8:55 PM   Subscribe

What are some of your favorite books that are less than 300 pages?

After destroying my 30-book goal last year, this year I decided to try for 50 books. I was ahead of schedule most of the year, but since August I've started a new job and moved twice, and did NaNoWriMo to boot (which I finished!). This has left me pretty behind, but I think I can still do it - if I stack the deck a little.

So, I'm looking for books that are:
- Absolutely no more than 300 pages (ideally 250 or less)
- Possible to find at your average not-enormous library
- Mostly considering fiction since non-fiction tends to be longer by design, but I'm open to suggestions
- Maybe a short series? (I devoured the Keys to the Kingdom series in less than a week last year, and was in no particular hurry at the time)

I don't consider myself particularly picky when it comes to books, but here are some things I've noticed I especially enjoy. Feel free to suggest things that don't fit any of these, but if you could flag those that do that would be super helpful.
- sometimes-surreal, not fully explained magical weirdness (Discworld, The Colors of Madeline)
- fiction based on folklore (Midnight Never Come, Lamb)
- animal fiction (my guilty pleasure)
- Modern supernatural stuff in general (not vampires; more like Nevermore or the Peter Grant series)

posted by Urban Winter to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Anthem by Ayn Rand. I’ve read it numerous times and never gets old. Leaves me thinking. Short, easy read.

Jeff Resnick Murder Mystery series.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:06 PM on December 10, 2017

100% The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon). It's a much better take on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen.

There's been a real resurgence of novelettes and novellas in science fiction and fantasy in the last few years, so looking up the Hugo awards in those categories might be a good idea, too.
posted by wintersweet at 9:08 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. Creepy, weird nature, not fully explained, animals (ha ha), modern Zone Fiction, a walking panic attack of a book. 208 pages. Movie comes out in February so it couldn't hardly be any hotter than it is now.
posted by glonous keming at 9:39 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

YAAASSSSSSS to Annihilation!!!

*=relevant to yr interests

Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
* Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
* Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
* Pastoralia by George Saunders
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
* Scary, No Scary by Zachary Schomburg
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Shells by Craig Arnold (poetry)
Tinkers by Paul Harding
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
* The Vegetarian by Han Kang
* We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
* With Deer by Aase Berg (poetry)
posted by phonebia at 9:49 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I often recommend Ira Levin's books as good short reads - most of them were adapted into movies |(Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives), and he was popular in his time, thus libraries tend to have them. Slightly more tricky to find might be Tevin's 'The Man Who Fell to Earth' which makes a bit more sense than the movie but is still strange and surreal at times.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:56 PM on December 10, 2017

G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday is short, surreal, and great. It's a Victorian supernatural spy thriller with (like The Princess Bride) only the good parts. It starts a little slow, with some political repartee between two poets, but that's just the part at the beginning of the roller coaster where you're hauled up the hill so that potential energy can turn kinetic.
posted by thesmallmachine at 10:10 PM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I just read I am Legend, which is 162 pages. If you've seen one of the many movie adaptations since it was written in 1954, none of them (that I'm aware of) give away a central plot twist that is actually quite good. It reads to me like a modern apocalyptic novel. What is crazy is that a book written 60 years ago could keep a secret about a plot twist that sneaks up on you. Either everyone in the world already knew what it was and thought it not worth talking about, or people have been able to keep a good secret, even with movie adaptations that don't do the book justice. I suspect it's more about me living under a rock about this book, but you can certainly see how what feels like a modern novel actually set a standard for the genre.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:35 PM on December 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't have an exact page count, but I remember the following being short:
Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending
Orhan Pamuk's The White Castle
This last one is probably going to be tougher to track down, but it's my favourite book hardly anyone's ever read: Djinn by Alain Robbe-Grillet.
posted by juv3nal at 10:47 PM on December 10, 2017

correction, maybe second favourite book hardly anyone's ever read, but the other one's long.
posted by juv3nal at 10:52 PM on December 10, 2017

I've taken to linking to my Goodreads "can't miss" list for book recommendations in situations like this.
Turns out 10 of them are about 300 pg. or less. you can order the list by number of pages.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:00 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes yes yes to The Raven and the Reindeer!! Also Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire. And maybe Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day. Or the Indexing series.
posted by tan_coul at 1:00 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

In the Land of Pain by Alphonse Daudet (translated by Julian Barnes) is a short (~120 pages) set of observations about the experience of pain caused by syphilis. Non-fiction by a short story writer, it’s full of striking images.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:16 AM on December 11, 2017

Stealing from phonebia to mark the books relevant to your interests:

No Word from Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza
* The Blue Fox by Sjón
Harare North by Brian Chikwava
* The Greenhouse by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (technically a little over 250 pages, but worth it)
* The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily by Dino Buzzati
* The Story Of A Seagull And The Cat Who Taught Her To Fly by Luis Sepúlveda
posted by snakeling at 1:24 AM on December 11, 2017

Hurrah, I get to post Gilead by Marilynne Robinson! 282 pages and not a word out of place in all of it. It doesn't for your genres but it's beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.
posted by giraffeneckbattle at 1:30 AM on December 11, 2017

The Stranger by Albert Camus is 123 pages long in paperback.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:18 AM on December 11, 2017

John Wyndham's books are all under 300 pages and they are really worth reading. "The Chrysalids" is my favourite but "Day of the Triffids" is a classic along with most of his other work.
posted by h00py at 5:30 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here are my favorite fiction books that are less than 250 pages. I've left off all nonfiction, graphic novels, playscripts, anthologies, and children's books. Since you mentioned the Colours of Madeleine (which I also love!) I've left on YA titles. I've marked those which specifically apply to one of your particular interests with an asterisk.

100-150 pages long:
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
1066 and All That by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman
*Animal Farm by George Orwell (*animal fiction)
The Stranger by Albert Camus
*The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns (*sometimes-surreal, not fully explained magical weirdness)

150-200 pages long:
*Tea With The Black Dragon by R. A. MacAvoy (*modern supernatural, no vampires)
Don't Bite the Sun by Tanith Lee, and sequel Drinking Sapphire Wine
*Grendel by John Gardner (*fiction based on folklore)
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
*The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (*sometimes-surreal, not fully explained magical weirdness)
Circus World by Barry Longyear
*The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher (*fiction based on folklore, if you count Hans Christian Anderson as folklore)
Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
*Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer, and sequels Authority and Acceptance (*sometimes-surreal, not fully explained magical weirdness)
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

200-250 pages long:
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub by Stanislaw Lem
*Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (*sometimes-surreal, not fully explained magical weirdness, although the "magic" is science fictional in approach here)
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
*A Short Sharp Shock by Kim Stanley Robinson (*sometimes-surreal, not fully explained magical weirdness)
*Broken Wings by L-J Baker (*modern supernatural, no vampires)
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and sequels
Dinner at Deviant's Palace by Tim Powers
All the Colors of Darkness by Lloyd Biggle Jr.
The Pride of Chanur by C. J. Cherryh -- sequels are also good, but they are longer
The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip, and sequels Heir To Sea And Fire and Harpist In The Wind
Fool's Run by Patricia McKillip
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny
Rakóssy by Cecilia Holland
Morvern Callar by Alan Warner
The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis
An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden
Bellwether by Connie Willis
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden
posted by kyrademon at 6:27 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

This will be a longshot at the library, but Samuel R. Delany's The Einstein Intersection packs a whole lot of surreal mythologizing into 149 pages.

Nice Dragons Finish Last is 287 pages, "a new urban fantasy series about dragons in the ruins of Detroit"
posted by foxfirefey at 6:31 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury are both under 300 pages and incredible.

The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway is 127 pages.

The Shape We're In by Jonathan Lethem is my absolute favourite science fiction short story ever, and it has been published as a 55-page standalone book.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard is a great little memoir about writing, and it's just a little over a hundred pages.
posted by 256 at 6:40 AM on December 11, 2017

Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore - It is magical realism and this is not a series but it does have a companion short story
posted by soelo at 7:44 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sourdough by same author as Mr. Penumbra, a quick 272 pages.
posted by Botanizer at 7:48 AM on December 11, 2017

I always, always recommend The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson. If you like fantasy magical-weirdness with an adult protagonist and no gore, you will like this - it's wonderful. I bought it in late August and have read it three times.

Margaret Drabble wrote a number of short novels that are engaging and go very fast - the ones from the sixties and seventies have, to me, a lot of historical interest. The Millstone, A Summer Birdcage, The Garrick Year and particularly Jerusalem the Golden might be of interest.

Doris Lessing had a number of short books, many with SFnal themes - The Summer Before The Dark, Memoirs of A Survivor, Briefing for A Descent Into Hell and The Fifth Child. Since she was a nobel laureate, a large library should have some at least.
posted by Frowner at 8:59 AM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.
Nutshell by Ian McEwan.
Also seconding Pastoralia by George Saunders.
posted by toby_ann at 9:19 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, I immediately thought of Dream-Quest when I read this question. Lathe of Heaven is great too -- you can tell it was written a while ago, but it's very engaging, very nightmarish.

I enjoy Ursula-Vernon-as-T.-Kingfisher books, but I'm not sure that your average public library is going to have them.
posted by inconstant at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2017

Nthing Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire which seem to match your specifications very well.

Also All Systems Red, a novella about a military robot with quite the personality.
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:06 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

"The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro.
posted by eugenen at 3:32 PM on December 11, 2017

Cat's Cradle, Vonnegut
posted by Bron at 4:59 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sorry, gotta recommend a non-fiction work:

Black Hole Blues by Janna Levin is utterly fantastic. My paperback copy is under 250 pages, including the notes and index.
posted by kristi at 10:28 AM on December 13, 2017

I have a whole Goodreads shelf for excellent short reads!

My picks for you would be The Brief History of the Dead, Wise Children, and Like Water for Chocolate.
posted by exceptinsects at 12:31 PM on December 14, 2017

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