We are now past the mid-way point in February, which is technically the shortest month, but is besides the one that—for me, anyway—feels the longest. specially this class, for all of the reasons that you already know. At this point, if you keep monthly learn goals, even undefined ones, you may be looking for few a estimable, abruptly novels to knock out in an afternoon or two. last year, I wrote about the best contemporaneous novels under 200 pages, so now I must turn my attention to my favorite short classics—which represent the quickest and cheapest way, I can tell you in my salesman voice, to become “ knowing. ”
A few notes : Because the “ contemporary ” tilt surveyed novels published since 1970 ( inclusive ), this list will define “ classical ” as being primitively published before 1970. Yes, these distinctions are slightly arbitrary, but one has to draw the occupation somewhere ( though I let myself fudge on translation dates ). I did not differentiate between novels and novellas ( as Steven Millhauser would tell you, the novelette is not a mannequin at all, but merely a length ), but let ’ s be honest with ourselves : “ The Dead ” is a short circuit narrative, and so is “ The Metamorphosis. ” Sorry ! I limited myself to one book by each writer, valiantly, I should say, because I was tempted to cheat ( looking at you Jean Rhys ) .
Most importantly for our purposes here : lengths vary with editions, sometimes wildly. I did not include a ledger below unless I could find that it had been published at least once in fewer than 200 pages—which means that some excellent novels, despite coming tantalizingly close to the charming phone number, had to be left off for want of proof ( see Mrs. Dalloway, Black No More, Slaughterhouse-Five, etc. etc. and so forth ). however, your personal edition might not precisely match the total I have listed here. Don ’ thyroxine worry : it ’ ll still be unretentive.
ultimately, as constantly : “ best ” lists are subjective, no ranking is definitive, and I ’ ve surely forgotten, or never read, or run out of outer space for plenty of books and writers here. And true, the annoying constraints of this list make it more heavy populated by white and male writers than I would have liked. consequently, please add on at will in the comments. After all, these days, I ’ m constantly looking for something old to read .
Adolfo Bioy Casares, tr. Ruth L.C. Simms, The Invention of Morel (1940) : 103 pages
Both Jorge Luis Borges and Octavio Paz described this fresh as perfective, and I admit I can ’ t discovery much fault with it either. It is technically about a fugitive whose stay on a cryptic island is disturbed by a gang of tourists, but actually it ’ randomness about the nature of reality and our relationship to it, told in the most hypnotize, surrealist manner. A beneficial anti-beach read, if you plan that far ahead .
John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men (1937) : 107 pages
Everybody ’ sulfur gateway Steinbeck is amazingly moving, even when you revisit it as an adult. Plus, if nothing else, it has given my family the highly useful verb “ to Lenny. ”
George Orwell, Animal Farm (1945) : 112 pages
If we didn ’ thymine keep putting it on lists, how would future little children of America learn what an fable is ? This is a public service, you see .
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) : 112 pages
A people-pleaser, in more ways than one : private detective Holmes, after all, had been dead for years when his creator last bended to public need ( and more importantly, the need of his wallet ) and brought him binding, in this meet and much-beloved fib of curses and hellbeasts and, of course, deductions .
James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1933) : 112 pages
A twentieth century classical, and however one of the best, most authoritative, and most interest crime novels in the canon. Fun fact : cain had primitively wanted to call it Bar-B-Q.
Nella Larsen, Passing (1929) : 122 pages
One of the landmarks of the Harlem Renaissance, about not lone raceway but besides gender and class—not to mention self-invention, perception, capitalism, motherhood and friendship—made indelible by what Darryl Pinckney called “ a thick fatalism at the core. ”
Albert Camus, tr. Matthew Ward, The Stranger (1942) : 123 pages
I had a small obsession with this book as a dark adolescent, and I even think of it with extreme point affectionateness. Is it the thinking person ’ randomness Catcher in the Rye ? Who can say. But Camus himself put it this way, writing in 1955 : “ I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical : “ In our society any man who does not weep at his mother ’ s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death. ” I entirely meant that the hero of my script is condemned because he does not play the game. ”
Juan Rulfo, tr. Margaret Sayers Peden, Pedro Páramo (1955) : 128 pages
The strange, fragmented ghost floor that excellently paved the way for One Hundred Years of Solitude ( according to Gabriel García Márquez himself ), but is an enigmatic masterpiece in its own right.
Italo Calvino, tr. Archibald Colquhoun, The Cloven Viscount (1959) : 128 pages
This international relations and security network ’ metric ton my favored Calvino, but you know what they say : all Calvino is full Calvino ( besides, I forgot him on the contemporary tilt, so I ’ m making up for it slightly here ). The companion volume to The Nonexistent Knight and The Baron in the Trees concerns a Viscount who is clocked by a cannonball and cleave into two halves : his dependable side and his bad side. They end up in a duel over their wife, of course—just like in that episode of Buffy. But turns out that double the Viscounts doesn ’ t translate to double the pages .
Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899) : 128 pages
I know, I know, but honestly, this book, which is frequently taught in american schools as an exemplar of early on feminist literature, is still kind of edgy—more than 120 years subsequently, and it ’ s however taboo for a woman to put herself and her own desires above her children. Whom among us has not wanted to smash a symbolic looking glass vase into the hearth ?
Leo Tolstoy, tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) : 128 pages
Another classic—Tolstoy can do it all, farseeing and short—particularly beloved by the excellently difficult-to-impress Nabokov, who described it as “ Tolstoy ’ s most aesthetic, most perfect, and most sophisticated accomplishment, ” and explained the push of it this means : “ The Tolstoyan formula is : Ivan lived a bad animation and since the bad life is nothing but the death of the soul, then Ivan lived a support death ; and since beyond end is God ’ s living light, then Ivan died into a new life—Life with a capital L. ”
Richard Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar (1968) : 138 pages
Brautigan ’ s balmy post-apocalyptic novel concerns a bunch of people living in a commune called iDEATH. ( Which, um, relatable. ) The landscape is bang-up and the tigers do mathematics, and the titular watermelon boodle seems to be the natural material for everything from homes to clothes. “ Wherever you are, we must do the best we can. It is so army for the liberation of rwanda to travel, and we have nothing hera to travel, except watermelon sugar. I hope this works out. ” It ’ s all folderal, of class, but it feels so thoroughly .
James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) : 140 pages
Another early novel on the capable of passing—originally published in 1912, then again under Johnson ’ randomness diagnose in 1927—this one presented as an “ autobiography ” written by a Black man living as white, but anxiously, considering himself a failure, feeling until the end the grief of giving up his inheritance and all the pain and rejoice that came with it .
Thomas Mann, tr. Michael Henry Heim, Death in Venice (1912) : 142 pages
What it says on the tin—a fib vitamin a doomed as Venice itself, but besides a curious and philosophical mini-masterpiece. The year before the koran ’ south publication, Mann wrote to a ally : “ I am in the midst of work : a truly foreign thing I brought with me from Venice, a novelette, serious and saturated in shade, concerning a case of pederasty in an senesce artist. You say, ‘ Hum, hum ! ’ but it is quite respectable. ” indeed.
Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) : 146 pages
If you ’ ra reading this space, you probably already know how much we love this book at Literary Hub. After that excellent opening paragraph, it only gets better .
Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man (1964) : 152 pages
Isherwood ’ sulfur miniature, jewel-like masterpiece takes invest over a single day in the biography of a middle-aged english exile ( who shares a few qualities with Isherwood himself ), a professor living anxiously in California after the unexpected death of his partner. An absolutely absorb and profoundly enjoyable novel .
Fyodor Dostoevsky, tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, Notes from Underground (1864) : 154 pages
credibly the best rant always passed off as literature. Doestoevsky ’ s first gear masterpiece has been wildly influential in the development of existential and dystopian storytelling of all kinds, not to mention in the development of my own high school misanthropy. Maybe yours, besides ? “ It was all from ENNUI, gentlemen, all from ENNUI ; inactiveness overcame me. .. ” actually, now I ’ molarity think that it might be a estimable book to re-read in pandemic isolation.
Anna Kavan, Ice (1967) : 158 pages
The narrator of this strange and terrifying novel compulsively pursues a young woman through an icy apocalypse. You might call it a fever dream if it didn ’ t feel so. .. cold. Reading it, wrote Jon Michaud on its fiftieth anniversary, is “ a disorient and at times emotionally draining have, not least because, these days, one might become convinced that Kavan had seen the future. ” Help .
Jean Toomer, Cane (1923) : 158 pages
Toomer ’ s experimental, multi-disciplinary novel, now a modernist classic, is presented as a serial of vignettes, poems, and swaths of dialogue—but to be honest, all of it reads like poetry. Though its initial reception was uncertain, it has become one of the most iconic and influential works of 1920s american english literature .
J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World (1962) : 158 pages
alone in a Ballard novel can climate change make you actually become insane—and only a Ballard novel could still feel thus sticky and hot in my mind, years after I read it in a single good afternoon.
Knut Hamsun, tr. Sverre Lyngstad, Hunger (1890) : 158 pages
The Nobel Prize winner ’ south first novel is, as Hamsun himself put it, “ an undertake to describe the strange, curious life of the beware, the mysteries of the nerves in a starvation body. ” An modernist psychological horror novel that is notoriously difficult, despite its length, but besides notoriously worth it .
James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956) : 159 pages
still my favorite Baldwin, and one of the most convert love stories of any kind ever written, about which there is excessively much to say : it is a must-read among must-reads .
Willa Cather, O Pioneers! (1913) : 159 pages
A mythic, proto-feminist frontier novel about a young swedish immigrant making a home for herself in Nebraska, with an unbearably cool and advanced championship ( in my opinion ).
Françoise Sagan, tr. Irene Ash, Bonjour Tristesse (1955) : 160 pages
Sagan ’ s famously disgraceful novel of youthful hedonism, published ( besides excellently ) when Sagan was just 19 herself, is much more psychologically nuanced than widely credited. As Rachel Cusk wrote, it is not just a sexy french fresh, but besides “ a consummate portrayal that can be read as a review of family life, the treatment of children and the psychic consequences of different forms of upbringing. ” It is a novel concerned not alone with morals or their lack, but with the very nature of morality itself .
Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Sailor (1924) : 160 pages
Bartleby may be more iconic ( and more fun ), but Billy Budd is operating on a grand scale, unfinished as it may be .
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) : 160 pages
Everyone ’ south gateway to Pynchon, and besides everyone ’ s gateway to slapstick postmodernism. Either you love it or you hate it !
Franz Kafka, tr. Willa and Edwin Muir, The Trial (1925) : 160 pages
Required understand for anyone who uses the term “ Kafkaesque ” —but don ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate forget that Kafka himself would burst out laughing when he read bits of the fresh out loud to his friends. Do with that what you will.
Kenzaburo Oe, tr. John Nathan, A Personal Matter (1968) : 165 pages
Whew. This book is a batch : absolutely gorgeous and supremely irritating, and probably the Nobel Prize winner ’ s most crucial .
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (1936) : 170 pages
In his foreword to the first edition, T.S. Eliot praised “ the big accomplishment of a style, the smasher of phrasing, the magnificence of wit and characterization, and a quality of horror and sentence very about related to that of Elizabethan tragedy. ” It is besides a glitter modernist masterpiece, and one of the first novels of the twentieth century to explicitly portray a lesbian relationship .
Yasunari Kawabata, tr. Edward G. Seidensticker, Snow Country (1937) : 175 pages
A fib of doomed love whirl out in a series of indelible, freeze images—both beautiful and basically fishy of beauty—by a Nobel Prize achiever .
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) : 176 pages
This novel, Rhys ’ s celebrated rejoinder to one of the worst love interests in literary history, tells the story of Mr. Rochester from the point of horizon of the “ madwoman in the attic. ” See besides : dear morning, Midnight ( 1939 ), which is claustrophobic, deplorable, otiose, and bloody very well reading.
George Eliot, Silas Marner (1861) : 176 pages
Like Middlemarch, Silas Marner is finely written and ecstatically bore. Unlike Middlemarch, it is quite short .
Muriel Spark, The Girls of Slender Means (1963) : 176 pages
The girls of Spark ’ s novel populate in the May of Teck Club, disturbed but not destroyed by WWII—both the Club, that is, and the girls. “ Their slenderness lies not therefore much in their means, ” Carol Shields wrote in an taste of the bible, “ as in their half-perceived notions about what their lives will become and their overestimate of their power in the world. They are unafraid and frightened at the lapp time, as alone the very youthful can be, and they are as hardhearted in heart as they are merry in mode. ” Can ’ thyroxine go faulty with Muriel Spark .
Robert Walser, tr. Christopher Middleton, Jakob von Gunten (1969) : 176 pages
Walser is a writer ’ second writer, a painfully underestimate genius ; this novel, in which a privileged youth runs off to enroll at a surrealist school for servants, may be his best .
Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) : 179 pages
Read for proof that Holly Golightly was meant to be a Marilyn .
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (1958) : 181 pages
A mighty, clear-eyed, and haunting novel, which at the time of its issue was transgressive in its center of african characters in all their world and complexity, and which paved the way for thousands of writers all over the worldly concern in the years to follow.
Leonard Gardner, Fat City (1969) : 183 pages
universally acknowledged as the best packing novel ever written, but sol much more than that : at its core, it ’ s a masterpiece about that secret likelihood of life, if not of literature : never achieving your dreams .
N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (1968) : 185 pages
House Made of Dawn, Momaday ’ s first fresh, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and is much credited with usher in the native american Renaissance. Intricate, amatory, and exuberant, it is at its core about the creaking dissonance of two incompatible worlds existing in the lapp plaza ( both literally and metaphysically ) at the same clock .
Chester Himes, If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945) : 186 pages
Himes ’ first novel spans four days in the life of a Californian named Bob Jones, whose every footfall is dogged by racism. Walter Mosely called Himes, who is besides renowned for his detective fabrication, a “ far-out american english genius, ” and besides “ one of the most important american writers of the twentieth century. ” If He Hollers Let Him Go, while not technically a detective story, is “ hard located in the same Los Angeles noir tradition as The Big Sleep and Devil in a Blue Dress, ” Nathan Jefferson has written. “ Himes takes the familiar mechanics of these novels—drinking, driving from one end of Los Angeles to another in search of answers, a life under ceaseless threats of danger—and filters them through the lens of a blacken homo lacking any representation and control over his own life, producing something black and more oppressive than the traditional pulp detective ’ s fib. ”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925) : 189 pages
All my animation I have wanted to scoff at The Great Gatsby. normally, things that are universally adored are bad, or at least average. But every time I reread it, I remember : impossibly, annoyingly, it is a good as they say .
Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin (1957) : 190 pages
calm one of my favorite campus novels, and unretentive adequate to read in between classes .
Charles Portis, Norwood (1966) : 190 pages
Portis has gotten a lot of ( well-deserved ) attention in holocene years for True Grit, but his first novel, Norwood, is about ampere thoroughly, a amusing masterpiece about a young man traipsing across a dreamlike America to lay his hands on $ 70 .
Philip K. Dick, Ubik (1969) : 191 pages
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep ? and A Scanner Darkly have more mainstream name recognition ( thank you Hollywood ) but Ubik is Dick ’ s masterpiece, filled to the brim with psychics and anti-psis, dead wives half-saved in cold-pac, and disruptions to clock time and reality that can be countered by an aerosol you get at the drugstore. sometimes, anyhow.
Clarice Lispector, tr. Alison Entrekin, Near to the Wild Heart (1943) : 192 pages
Lispector ’ south debut novel, first published in Brazil when she was only 19, is hush my front-runner of hers : audacious, sharp-edged, and brilliant, a window into one of the most interesting narrators in literature .
Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962) : 192 pages
This novel is credibly more celebrated these days for the Kubrick film, but despite the much ghastly content, the original textbook is worth a read for the speech alone .
Barbara Comyns, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1954) : 193 pages
Comyns is a criminally under-read genius, though she ’ s been getting at least a small taste of the attention she deserves in holocene years due to reissues by NYRB and Dorothy. This one is my favorite, interpenetrate, as Brian Evenson puts it in the introduction of my copy, with marvelousness, “ a kind of hybrid of the pastoral and the naturalistic, an idyllic text about what it ’ s like to grow up next to a river, a text that besides equitable happens to contain some pretty shock and deplorable disasters. ” Which is putting it rather gently indeed.
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) : 194 pages
In 194 pages, Janie goes through more husbands than most literary heroines can manage in doubly as many ( and finds herself in equally short orderliness ) .
Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911) : 195 pages
To be honest with you, though it has been variously hailed as a masterpiece, I find Ethan Frome to be lesser Wharton—but even lesser Wharton is better than a draw of people ’ s best .
Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967) : 198 pages
The mood this novel—of disappeared teens and australian landscape and uncertainty—lingers much longer than the actual read prison term .
Angela Carter, The Magic Toyshop (1967) : 200 pages
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“ The summer she was fifteen, ” Carter ’ s second novel begins, “ Melanie discovered she was made of flesh and blood. ” It is that year that she is uproot from her home in London to the wilds of America, and it is that class she comes to terminus with herself. “ It is frequently the charming, fabular aspects of Carter ’ randomness stories that people focus on, but in The Magic Toyshop I responded to the way she blended this with a clear-eyed realism about what it was to live in a female soundbox, ” Evie Wyld wrote in her ode to this novel. “ In a fresh indeed brilliantly conjured from splayed toothbrush heads, mustard-and-cress sandwiches and prawn shells, bread loaves and cutter, brickwork and yellow family soap, the female body is both one more familiar object and at the lapp prison term something strange and troubling. ”