Could you recommend some novels and/or novellas?
April 26, 2020 4:59 PM   Subscribe

In normal times, I spend a lot of time reading. Right now, I'm struggling to focus on anything, let alone sit down and read. I'm in the mood for novels or novellas that are some or all of the following: short-ish; punchy; a little weird or surreal; neither super-dark nor super-light; and maybe funny or wry. Could you recommend some?

I am very flexible on genre/content, but:
- Any genre is fine!
- Series or stand alone works are both fine!
- The main character shouldn't die or be totally miserable at the end.

If it helps, here are some books that I've read recently that are similar to what I have in mind: Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, My Year of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, The Murderbot Diairies series by Martha Wells, Claire DeWitt and The City of the Dead by Sara Gran, and Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.

Thank you so much for your help, I really, really appreciate it!
posted by cimton to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Any of Vonnegut's books will scratch all those itches.
posted by General Malaise at 5:19 PM on April 26, 2020

My first two thoughts were Vonnegut and Tom Robins. My favourite of the latter is Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, ymmv.

If you're open to essays try Samantha Irby.
posted by jrobin276 at 5:27 PM on April 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's been a long time since I've read any of his books so this may not fit, but "surreal" always makes me think of Jonathan Lethem.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 5:31 PM on April 26, 2020

If short stories and an emerging author work for you, maybe That's When the Knives Come Down by Dolan Morgan. His work is exactly what I think of when I hear "surreal" and "wry," and it's very good for a pandemic.

(Disclaimer: I know Dolan and previously published one of the stories in this collection before it appeared here.)
posted by hippugeek at 5:36 PM on April 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Science Fiction: Martha Well’s Murderbot series. The first 4 are novellas. The final one is due out in the next week or so and will be a full-length book. Don’t know if that’s a problem.
posted by AMyNameIs at 5:46 PM on April 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Was coming here to say Murderbot but I see you've read them, watch for the novel as AMyNameIs says! Also have you read the other Sara Gran novels with DeWitt because they are exceptional.

I think you would also like This is How You Lose the Time War as well as To Be Taught, If Fortunate (by Becky Chambers who has written a whole bunch of great books but this one is short).

In a more non-SF fashion, I really liked Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine has hints of darkness but the bulk of the novel is actually about an out-of-step woman figuring out her life. It's not short but it's not hard to put down and pick up a lot. Along those samelines but with a completely different type of woman is Weather by Jenny Offil. Her earlier book is likewise great but a little darker. Also Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice is a really neat end-of-the-world story that has ups and downs but surprisingly winds up okay.

For non-fiction, Caitlin Doughty's books about funeral customs are good and her latest, for kids, is called Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs. And if you haven't read The Library Book by Susan Orlean, you probably should,.
posted by jessamyn at 5:52 PM on April 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

Any of the short stories by Borges
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:11 PM on April 26, 2020

Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children novellas might fit the bill. The first one is a murder mystery, so there's some murders, but aside from all that it's really quite upbeat! It's about a boarding school for children who have come back from portal fantasies.

The first one (Every Heart a Doorway) takes place at the school, but many subsequent ones are about the characters' backstories or further adventures in their worlds. Definitely a dark overtone, but very positive and defiant.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:13 PM on April 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

To Say Nothing Of The Dog by Connie Willis. Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer.
posted by azalea_chant at 6:20 PM on April 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Try Max Barry. My favorite is Lexicon, but if you want something a little lighter and funnier, maybe try Company or Syrup.
posted by Redstart at 6:30 PM on April 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

The unpleasant profession of Jonathan Hoag, though it's probably a short story.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 6:36 PM on April 26, 2020

2nding This Is How You Lose The Time War. I devoured it in about 24 hours and it was delightfully punchy, sharp, and satisfying.

I think you would like Magic For Liars, too.
posted by wintersonata9 at 6:52 PM on April 26, 2020

I suggest reading the story by P. Djeli Clark A Dead Djinn in Cairo, and then the novella in the same "world" The Haunting of Tram Car 015.
posted by gudrun at 6:56 PM on April 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes might work for you.
posted by praemunire at 9:11 PM on April 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Shopgirl by Steve Martin. Charming, wry, short and sweet!
posted by stella1 at 10:02 PM on April 26, 2020

Some fantasy / SF novellas:

The Penric and Desdemona series by Bujold.
D.A. by Connie Willis
Nine Goblins by T. Kingfisher.
Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear.
posted by mark k at 10:19 PM on April 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I recently read this book of short stories by Margery Allingham, and these grabbed me at a time when I couldn't focus on much else. So if you're at all interested in Golden Age crime, give them a try.
posted by altolinguistic at 1:48 AM on April 27, 2020

My Sister the Serial Killer is amazing on all counts.
posted by BibiRose at 5:48 AM on April 27, 2020

I'm half way through the Red Chesterfield by Wayne Arthurson.

A mystery told in tiny vignettes that are very vivid.

Here is a next chapter interview with him about it.

You might try YA lit. My friend is a children's librarian and described good YA as designed to have something on every page to make you laugh, cry, or need to know what comes next.... so young readers stay engaged. Works just as well for the quarantined adult.

For quirky YA there is not much better than Daniel Pinkwater.
posted by chapps at 7:55 AM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Penric and Desdemona series by Lois Bujold.
T. Kingfisher's Swordheart.

You might also want to check out answers to my question back in January.
posted by fings at 8:07 AM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

You should definitely check out Haruki Murakami. His short story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman fits your description well.

If you like that, and you're ready to dive into something deeper, read his long, weird, and good 1Q84.
posted by cleverevans at 9:04 AM on April 27, 2020

How about short stories? Based on your likes, I think you'd enjoy Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, and/or You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian. Both are about the same amount of dark as We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Both are funny/punchy. Both are weird/surreal, especially Machado.

For an actual novel, I've been recommending Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor to anyone who will listen. VERY funny, very weird, really fun, but with some emotional heft.
posted by lunasol at 10:27 AM on April 27, 2020

Underrated classic: Was by Geoff Ryman. It's an incredibly poignant deconstruction of The Wizard of Oz written when Wicked was just a gleam in Greg Maguire's eye.
posted by zeusianfog at 2:47 PM on April 27, 2020

I have been rereading O. Henry

The short stories of Mark Twain, as well as his novels
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 1:28 AM on April 28, 2020

Anything by Nell Zink.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:04 AM on April 28, 2020

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