Because sometimes you’re not in the mood for an epic, 700-page saga.
By Jessica Dukes
Most of our childhood favorites can be considered short novels or novellas, so no wonder it’s comforting to have a handful of thinner books on our TBR pile. As a loose guide, short novels are 200 pages or fewer, novellas are 60 to 120 pages, and short stories average 4,000 words. Consider this collection our grateful nod to brevity: short stories, novellas, and novels—all 200 pages or less—that we can consume in one sitting.
We Love Anderson Cooper by R. L. Maizes
The characters in this collection of short stories all mean well, but their actions often fall short of their intentions, leading to some sad and funny twists. In an interview, the author says, “I selected stories about outsiders because it’s a theme most people can relate to, especially these days.”
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Once upon a time, the Queen of England went for a walk with her corgis and encountered a bookmobile. A palace kitchen worker happened along, and much to his surprise, the Queen loved his book recommendations. This short and sweet novel confirms the power of literature to bring joy to everyone, even a Queen.
God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Morrison passed away in August 2019, leaving a legacy of beautiful and difficult truths. In this, her final novel, Bride was so desperate for love when she was young that she lied about something big. Years later, her lie is exposed. But Bride’s story is a one of redemption, and of arriving safe at the other end of tragedy.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
A boy is welcomed into his neighbors’ home—three generations of private women—and taught hard lessons about life, death, and the supernatural space in between. Now a grown man, he second-guesses every mystical thing he saw when he was young. Typical of Gaiman, Ocean makes you want to run out and find the magic in your own life.
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Winner of the Man Booker Prize, Barnes makes you question your life in 163 pages. Tony Webster is middle-aged, divorced, facing retirement, and not interested in grappling with past friendships. Yet here he is, forced to give a second glance at everything he once believed about himself.
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten
Maud is 88 years old, lives alone on purpose, and her hobbies include ruining people’s lives online. When a corpse is found in her apartment, everyone assumes Maud has graduated to murder. Too bad she doesn’t have any friends left to vouch for her. Don’t miss this hilarious and twisted two-story collection.
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
A husband and wife get married with their eyes open to all of life’s inevitable challenges. But now, faltering careers and parenthood have pushed them close to the edge of failure. Here, the wife revisits the arc of their marriage and comes to a few uncomfortable conclusions about their love story.
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
A chance encounter stirs up the past, sending August to the Brooklyn of her mostly-happy childhood. It was a tight neighborhood with even tighter friends, but as an adult she’s able to see certain people for what they were: flawed, struggling, and even criminal.
Tinkers by Paul Harding
In his last moments, a man is set free from life’s tangibles—the clothes, dishes, and mementos. Sliding backward in time, he reunites with his father and the untamed Maine of his childhood before consciousness takes him somewhere else. Tinkers, Harding’s debut novel, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Elevation by Stephen King
When Scott Carey becomes ill, old friends and new neighbors come to the rescue. You won’t find King’s usual gory storytelling here. In fact, Elevation is quite a tender story about friendship and the ways a community tends to circle the wagons around its own … with a supernatural twist, of course.
Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
The story of Agu, a barely-surviving child soldier, put Iweala’s debut novel on the bestseller list. With his family murdered and no good options in front of him, Agu finds a new family among the commanders and boys who are as lost as he. Despite the miserable events of his story, it’s an exhilarating read.
Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez
Young Sierva Maria is ignored by her cruel parents. When she’s bitten by a rabid dog, they arrange a proper exorcism at a local convent. Father Delaura, who once saw Sierva in a dream, takes charge of her care and—possible possession aside—becomes consumed by his fated love for her.
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
The Red Lobster is going out of business and Manny has to keep a brave face as he and his staff close up one last time. This is a gem of a book with a main character so fully realized you’ll swear you’ve met him somewhere. Also, if you’ve ever worked in a failing chain restaurant, you’ll appreciate it on an even deeper level.
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
Silvie and her father are deep in the British woods at an Iron-Age reenactment village, hoping to evoke simpler times. The villagers build an authentic ghost wall to hold back invaders, but it’s supposed to be capped with enemy skulls. As the modern world rages outside, how far will they go to connect with the past?
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Another Man Booker Prize winner, Kang introduces Yeong-hye, an unforgettable woman whose small rebellion—renouncing meat—leads to a bleak spiral of self-discovery. In all ways, this is a novel about bodily consent—with food, appearances, sex—and the consequences of demanding it.
Sing to It by Amy Hempel
Her first collection in a decade, Hempel returns with 15 beautiful and heartbreaking stories. Her characters wrestle with the regret of being childless, the pain of caring for the unloved, the betrayal of infidelity … and they often do it alone, with only us, the reader, to witness it all.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Most of Christie’s mystery novels are on the short side, and they all deserve a read. Start with her first novel which also introduces fabled Inspector Hercule Poirot. Poirot solves a murder, Christie begins her legendary career, and the mystery genre is never the same.
The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
Nine-year-old Linus has just escaped Nazi Germany with an African grey parrot. He runs all the way to rural England where he meets an old man, a former detective, who reluctantly takes him in and realizes he has one last mystery to solve. The parrot keeps repeating sets of numbers in German. What do they mean?
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Set against gleaming Manhattan skyscrapers and the Tiffany & Co. storefront, Holly Golightly has left small-town Texas and is charming her way into the swankiest parties in town. The name “Holly Golightly” immediately brings Audrey Hepburn’s iconic movie role to mind, but if you haven’t read Capote’s novella, it’s time.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Thirty years ago, The Alchemist hit the shelves and showed us all how to follow our dreams. It’s the story of young Santiago, who leaves home in search of worldly treasures. His actual journey, however, yields life lessons and friendships more valuable than anything he can hold in his hands.