One-sitting reads?
May 4, 2007 9:50 PM   Subscribe

What are some great books that aren't hideously long?

I'm in the throes of a major book lust phase, but find that most of the things I'm drawn to are 600+ pages long. Which just kinda wears me out. So I'm looking for really great, amazing, get-out-your-highlighter-oh-my-god-this-is-incredible works of fiction that are less than 200 pages. 100 pages or thereabouts would be ideal, as that represents a "one-sitting reading."

I'm a big fan of Paul Auster, Steve Erickson, David Mitchell, that kind of thing. I've recently purchased "The Crying of Lot 49" by Pynchon and "The Body Artist" by Don Delilo, and a bunch of older stuff by Auster, who has always been good about word economy. But what next? What are some great novels that don't meander about, something that can be absorbed in a day or two rather than a month or two?
posted by jbickers to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (79 answers total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
Of Mice and Men,
The Catcher in the Rye
The Old Man and the Sea.

All around 150-200 pages and shorter
posted by TheOtherGuy at 9:59 PM on May 4, 2007

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (clocks in at just over 200)
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
posted by jodic at 10:04 PM on May 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Probably the most compact book I've read so far is Voltaire's Candide: Or Optimism, which is only around 150 pages.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 10:04 PM on May 4, 2007

I read Jarhead on a flight from Seattle to L.A.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:05 PM on May 4, 2007

Seconding TheOtherGuy, I read over half of Slaughterhouse-Five on my commute to and from work today - about an hour.
posted by chriswarren at 10:08 PM on May 4, 2007

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
posted by phoenixc at 10:12 PM on May 4, 2007

Do you like crime fiction?

The names I'm going to list are genre fiction but they are well executed and some have limited literary merit.

The publisher Black Lizard reprinted a lot of crime noir from the 30s up through maybe the 60s(?). Most of them are around 150 pages, give or take 25. A lot of the titles are now out of print but only within the last 5 years or so and they had large runs. You can get most of them used at a good price from Amazon or Half.

The two best authors are Jim Thompson and James Cain, but sniff around Amazon, and read some reviews, there is a large selection.

Another crime author who also has some literary merit is Georges Simenon. His output of mysteries is huge. I believe he has been reprinted by a couple of different publishers and paperback editions are common. The Maigret mysteries are all on the skinny side. There's a list or two on Amazon to point you to the better ones in the series. Don't think that because it's part of a mystery series it will be bad writing. It might not be to your taste but he was well regarded.
posted by BigSky at 10:14 PM on May 4, 2007

I read The Plague in one sitting. I'm pretty sure I also read Catch-22 in one sitting. Naked Lunch, too.

I would recommend any of these.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:16 PM on May 4, 2007

If you like Paul Auster, I assume you've already read the New York Trilogy?
posted by raf at 10:20 PM on May 4, 2007

jodic beat me to it, but Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez I haven't found many books that say so much, so well in so few pages.
posted by BostonJake at 10:23 PM on May 4, 2007

The South by Colm Tobin

I'm an avid reader and I'm not sure I've ever met a book that packed so much into such a small space.
posted by fshgrl at 10:29 PM on May 4, 2007

Grade 12 Lit class: The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness, 1984
posted by travosaurus at 10:36 PM on May 4, 2007

The Following Story by Cees Nooteboom.
posted by JulianDay at 10:38 PM on May 4, 2007

Fight Club - Chuck PahalnuiksomethingIcan'tspell
posted by unixrat at 10:40 PM on May 4, 2007

Animal Farm
posted by jedrek at 10:45 PM on May 4, 2007

Seconding The Alchemist, Vonnegut, Chuck Palahniuk, perhaps some Michael Chabon? The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is ~300 pages long, but reads really quickly.
posted by gignomai at 10:45 PM on May 4, 2007

perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
posted by YoBananaBoy at 10:46 PM on May 4, 2007

Oh, and Salinger's Franny and Zooey is ~200 pages. (Possible controversial statement: I loved Franny and Zooey but absolutely hated Catcher in the Rye).
posted by gignomai at 10:50 PM on May 4, 2007

Candide is exactly what came to my mind, too. Also:

The Stranger
The Metamorphosis
Miss Lonelyhearts/Day of the Locust
The Bushwhacked Piano
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:55 PM on May 4, 2007

The Postman Always Rings Twice is a quick read that ends on page 116.
posted by cribcage at 11:15 PM on May 4, 2007

I came in here to say Breakfast at Tiffany's, but jodic already beat me to it. In Cold Blood is also an excellent novel barely under 350 pages, but I almost read it in one sitting because it is so captivating.
posted by sbutler at 11:20 PM on May 4, 2007

Brief but intense: Kaddish for an Unborn Child by Imre Kertesz and Ch√Ęteau d'Argol by Julien Gracq. Slightly longer but easier & breezier:
Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart and Death and the Penguin by Andrei Kurkov.
posted by misteraitch at 11:33 PM on May 4, 2007

A lot of Philip K. Dick's stuff is short.
posted by jtron at 11:41 PM on May 4, 2007

Perfume is pretty short.
posted by bigmusic at 11:44 PM on May 4, 2007

Heart of darkness by Joseph Conrad.
posted by docgonzo at 11:52 PM on May 4, 2007

Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company were both quick reads that I enjoyed.
posted by cior at 11:57 PM on May 4, 2007

everyone should read "the diving bell and the butterfly" at some point in their life. its not very long but incredibly poignant.

i also loved "the time travellers wife" which i read in a single flight from lahore to london.
posted by dnc at 12:01 AM on May 5, 2007

Adding my vote for Miss Lonelyhearts and Slaughterhouse-5. Other short fiction that I remember reading in one sitting:
The Dangling Man by Saul Bellow
The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
So the Wind Won't Blow it All Away by Richard Brautigan
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder
Post Office by Charles Bukowski
Black Dogs by Ian McEwan
posted by hydatius at 12:24 AM on May 5, 2007

Ayn Rand's Anthem struck me as pretty great when I read it ... back in junior high. Don't be fooled by the 50th Anniversary Mega Edition; the original paperback was just over 100 pages.

Oh, and look, you can download it to your ipod.
posted by roger ackroyd at 12:30 AM on May 5, 2007

Fight Club - Chuck PahalnuiksomethingIcan'tspell
posted by unixrat

Seconded! His other books are worth a look in too. I finished Diary and am halfway through Invisible Monsters and they're great!
posted by cholly at 12:52 AM on May 5, 2007

You said novels, but I can't help recommending Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. IMO, there's no better example of the sort of thing you're after.

As for fiction, anything by Jorge Luis Borges should suffice.
posted by treepour at 1:01 AM on May 5, 2007

Johnny Got His Gun - Dalton Trumbo
Factotum - Charles Bukowksi
posted by Pigpen at 1:09 AM on May 5, 2007

Patrick O'Brian
posted by singingfish at 1:33 AM on May 5, 2007

You didn't ask for them, and I actually have some sort of weird distaste for most short stories myself, but there are some short-story writers who stand up, and stand out -- whose stories have some real meat to them -- even if you don't quite like the form. Alice Munro is a no-brainer, as is Haruki Murakami. I was strongly and unexpectedly taken with Mark Helprin's recentish collection, The Pacific, too.
posted by mattpfeff at 2:21 AM on May 5, 2007

Demian by Hermann Hesse. Siddhartha is also good but I much prefered Demian...and Steppenwolf which is 236pages but you wouldn't notice it.

Different Seasons contains 4 separate novellas averaging 125pages each, 2 of which were adapted to be classic films (and one other so-so film I haven't seen).

Milan Kundera's Slowness is great at 170pages, if lighter than his other works. But his books (up until the last one or two--I wouldn't recommend Identity) hold you and zip along as if they were half their length.

The Stranger by Albert Camus.
posted by Martin E. at 2:57 AM on May 5, 2007

I'll avoid the obvious canon items because if you're succeptible to book lust in the first place, you likely know about or could easily find them, if you haven't already read.

The Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse is nice at ~115pp. Siddhartha's nice and all, but ultimately a bit dry.

The Afterword by Mike Bryan at ~185pp is the afterword to the best-selling novel of all time, The Deity Next Door; just the afterword. It's also about "the nature of faith in the modern world." You'll just have to see.

The Testament of Gideon Mack is actually about twice your stated limit, but I read it in two days, though couldn't quite tell you how; I kind of inhaled it.

The British Museum is Falling Down by David Lodge isn't especially deep, but it's a lot of smart fun, and 175pp.

If you want low commitment, Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics and Mr. Palomar are actually collections of shorts, but each link the sections with a central character all the way through.
posted by Su at 2:58 AM on May 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Aldous Huxley - Brave New World. Very engaging, thought provoking, quick read.
posted by wayward vagabond at 3:01 AM on May 5, 2007

Grendel by John Gardner. Pair it with Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf to get both sides of the story at about 200 pages each.
posted by itstheclamsname at 3:11 AM on May 5, 2007

The Little Prince
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 3:17 AM on May 5, 2007

Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queneau. Hilarious and weird.

Envy by Yuri Olesha. Also hilarious and also weird.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:24 AM on May 5, 2007

Eathan Frome by Edith Wharton.
posted by dame at 4:34 AM on May 5, 2007

If you like mysteries, try The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

Also, anything by Evelyn Waugh (e.g. Scoop, The Loved One, Brideshead Revisited) or Muriel Spark (e.g. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie).

You could also try Miramar by Naguib Mahfouz.
posted by purplesludge at 5:28 AM on May 5, 2007

Middle Passage, Dreamer, or probably a number of other things by Charles Johnson.

More Vonnegut: Mother Night is excellent.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:29 AM on May 5, 2007

Tristessa by Jack Kerouac. 96 total pages.
posted by grieserm at 6:35 AM on May 5, 2007

Check here.
posted by jtfowl0 at 6:38 AM on May 5, 2007

Some really great recent (last 20 years or so, most more recent than that) plays:
In the Blood, Suzan-Lori Parks
Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg
Doubt, Jon Patrick Shanley
Angels in America I + II, Tony Kushner
The Designated Mourner, Wallace Shawn
I think Martin McDonagh is fun to read, too.

Granted, I'm a high school drama teacher, but I do think that plays-as-literature are underrated. The above are, really, plays I'd love to teach if I thought I could get away with it.
posted by HeroZero at 6:41 AM on May 5, 2007

I think I also meant to attach the adjective "readable" to that list of plays. There are plenty of great playwrights (Chekhov, my all-time fave, is the first that comes to mind) who I think are not especially great upon first read, needing a full production to really be appreciated by a new audience.
posted by HeroZero at 6:44 AM on May 5, 2007

I'm just peering across the room at the thinnest looking trade paperbacks on my literature shelves:

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (Nice choice! A favorite).
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Travels with Charlie by Steinbeck

Most of the above I own because I was assigned to read them in college. So, they definitely say "get out your highlighter" to me. (But don't worry--I didn't list any that I didn't like). For pleasure, I myself generally read children's books. And most kids' novels, with the exception of some fantasies and a few others, will take you about as long as a 100-page adult novel to read. But there really are some seriously thought-provoking ones that shouldn't be overlooked if you haven't read them and you want quick reads:

The Chocolate War and I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Giver by Lois Lowry and its sequels, Gathering Blue and Messenger
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

I'd normally mention many more, but I tried to tailor my list since you seem interested in the slightly meatier, if short, stuff.
posted by lampoil at 7:09 AM on May 5, 2007

Things Fall Apart by Chinue Achebe
The Crying of Lot Forty-Nine by Thomas Pynchon
Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West
posted by alms at 7:24 AM on May 5, 2007

Trout Fishing in America
In Watermelon Sugar

A pair of Brautigans that are both so short and so good.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:34 AM on May 5, 2007

If you like Paul Auster, have a go at some of his favourite writers. Beckett's First Love is brilliant and very short. Knut Hamsun's Pan comes in at 126 pages in the newish translation by Sverre Lyngstad (though the slightly longer Hunger would be the one to go for for the full Auster experience). And as everyone else has said, read Borges.

Other great short novels in descending order of Austerishness: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Nabokov. South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami. The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino. The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth. Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. A Hero of our Time by Lermontov. Amongst Women by John McGahern. The Cossacks or The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy. As everyone says, Candide and L'etranger. And maybe (though not even a novella) Flaubert's A Simple Heart (in Three Tales).
posted by Mocata at 8:06 AM on May 5, 2007

"The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare" by G. K. Chesterton.
posted by Zaire4Ever32 at 8:18 AM on May 5, 2007

Seconding Steinbeck's shorter works. Cannery Row and its sequel, Sweet Thursday, are both short, sweet, and quick reads.
posted by steef at 8:25 AM on May 5, 2007

Okay, if we're talking about good middle school books, John Knowles's A Separate Peace is a wonderful read.

And if we're discussing plays, I highly recommend Death of a Salesman and The Glass Menagerie, both pretty short.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 8:38 AM on May 5, 2007

A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan.
posted by Hlewagast at 8:48 AM on May 5, 2007

Thirding Muriel Spark - not just The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

All of her books that I've read have been worth reading, and her style is so spare and precise. You never feel like she's wasting your time.

Rick Moody's short stories are great too - much better than his novels imho.

Big Sur is one of Kerouac's better ones and also one of the shortest.
posted by tiny crocodile at 8:50 AM on May 5, 2007

Anything by Cormac McCarthy will absolutely move you.
posted by wsg at 8:55 AM on May 5, 2007

"Baby Cat-Face" and "Wild at Heart" by Barry Gifford.

Yes, that Wild at Heart. But the book is far superior waaaaaay different.

And actually, Sailor and Lula turn up in "Baby Cat-Face" too.
posted by hermitosis at 8:56 AM on May 5, 2007

I have to add: Lolita! Short, sweet, sharp.
posted by tiny crocodile at 9:01 AM on May 5, 2007

Most Christopher Moore books are fairly short. And funny as hell.
posted by purephase at 9:17 AM on May 5, 2007

Necessary Betrayals by Guillaume Vigneault
posted by acro at 10:36 AM on May 5, 2007

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin is easy to read in a day; the surprise ending isn't a surprise to anyone anymore, but the engrossing storytelling makes it worth it. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is also quick.
I have to disagree with tiny crocodile, however; you'd be doing Nabokov a disservice by speeding through a book that dense. Read that one when you're looking to invest more time.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 12:28 PM on May 5, 2007

You might like Waiting for Godot.
posted by salvia at 1:32 PM on May 5, 2007

Another plug for Great Gatsby, as well as On the Road, Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, and Candide.
posted by devilsbrigade at 1:57 PM on May 5, 2007

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens is really short, but the best thing he wrote if you ask me.
posted by reklaw at 4:11 PM on May 5, 2007

Oh, and seconding A Clockwork Orange and Animal Farm - both one sitting and well worth it.
posted by reklaw at 4:23 PM on May 5, 2007

My Antonia. Ethan Frome.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:15 PM on May 5, 2007

I'd suggest Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, though I guess it is really more of a short story collection.
posted by sad_otter at 9:31 PM on May 5, 2007

To Kill a Mockingbird
posted by clh at 9:35 PM on May 5, 2007

Just finished Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana, a very funny and fast-moving little espionage satire. There's really so much great short stuff to recommend, but it's hard since you didn't narrow it down...did you want just modern fiction? I'd definitely second the short story recommendation; they're a great way to get to know an author in small bits.

Anyway, Candide is a great quick one, Chekhov's short stories are amazing and essential, Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics is a short and sparkling collection of linked stories about a group of particles/characters at various points in the history of the universe...
posted by mediareport at 9:40 PM on May 5, 2007

I'm reading Graham Green's The Power and the Glory, a vivid and somewhat bleak story about a priest in Mexico. Recommended.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 2:05 AM on May 6, 2007

Nicholson Baker has some very fun short novels; The Mezzanine is a particularly brilliant little book:

Baker's irresistibly readable short novel presents the quirky and often hilarious inner life of a thoroughly modern office worker. With high wit and in precisely articulated prose, the unnamed narrator examines, in minute and comically digressive detail, the little things in life that illustrate how one addresses a problem or a new idea: the plastic straw (and its annoying tendency to float), the vacuous civilities of office chatter, doorknobs, neckties, escalators and the laughable evolution of milk delivery from those old-fashioned hefty bottles to the folding carton...The rambling "footnotes" alone are worth the price of this cheerfully original novel.

Hey, A_E, I'm reading The Power and the Glory now, too. It's great, but that sun beating down on everything - whew! :)
posted by mediareport at 8:59 AM on May 6, 2007

I haven't checked through the whole list, but if they haven't been mentioned yet you should definitely try The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, and Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson. Especially the Prophet. It's amazing. Less than an hour, easily, and absolutely stunning language. It's beautiful.
posted by twirlypen at 10:20 AM on May 6, 2007

Ian McEwan's books are pretty short, and good. Somebody mentioned Black Dogs, which I haven't read. Enduring Love and Amsterdam are short and worth a read. Atonement and Saturday are a little longer, I think, but still in the range of requiring only a day or two's commitment.
posted by chinston at 1:27 PM on May 6, 2007

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. My copy is 159 pages and I think my first read was in one sitting.
posted by dreaming in stereo at 3:47 PM on May 6, 2007

gignomal, I've read all of the Salinger stories/books except for Catcher in the Rye -- I couldn't finish it. As someone put it in this other comment, "This is Kaliyuga, buddy, the Iron Age. Anybody over sixteen who still prefers Catcher in the Rye to Franny and Zooey is a goddam spy."

But to answer the question:
Salman Rushide: Harouin and the Sea of Stories. East, West.
Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees, Invisible Cities.
Haruki Murakami: Sputnik Sweetheart, The Elephant Vanishes.

Plays are also excellent one-reads. Try reading playwrights like David Mamet, Edward Albee, Eugene O'Neill, Samual Beckett...
posted by suedehead at 6:51 PM on May 6, 2007

Time's Arrow by Martin Amis is a damned good read. So is (if I remember correctly) Einstein's Dreams by Lightman. It's 144pages, but it's oddly sized short and narrow, so those are 144 small pages (at least the paperback I read).
posted by Martin E. at 6:47 AM on May 7, 2007

Hard Times, Charles Dickens
Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, Douglas Coupland

And seconds for Animal Farm, Brave New World, and A Christmas Carol.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:43 AM on May 7, 2007

I don't know how you guys are talking about The Prophet as if it's a short evening's work. I mean, I suppose it's short in terms of page length, but I always wanted to just stop and think for a while after every section, let it marinate in the back of my brain before moving on, and there are 28 discrete sections to do this with.
posted by gignomai at 5:26 PM on May 8, 2007

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