Don’t Judge a Book by Its Size: 8 Small Books You Should Read
Have you ever read a novel that was 400+ pages long and at the end you realize that it could have been an excellent short story?
Brevity is not easy.
I recently finished a short novel and was impressed that the author was able to pack more storytelling into fewer than 200 pages than most long novels I’ve read. Heck, she even packed more storytelling into the first paragraph than should be humanly possible.
(Elena Ferrante is a genius, yall.)
It got me thinking about the books that are small, but mighty. Here are 8 books that are fewer than 200 pages that you should read now.
Days of Abandonment – Elena Ferrante
If intensity could be defined by a book, it would be this one. Woah. It is one of those hold-on-to-your-hat this will be uncomfortable and may induce anxiety but wow that was one heckuva ride types of books. The first paragraph sets the stage (see above) and then you’re off. It’s like climbing into the mind of a woman who thought she had everything together and figured out and is suddenly very aware that this is not so. I could say more, but I couldn’t say it better than Ferrante, so just go read the first paragraph and, well, the rest of the novel because you won’t be able to look away.
A Mercy – Toni Morrison
Set in the 1600s in Colonial America, Morrison tells the story of slavery from the perspective of several distinct characters but mainly focuses on the story of a naive teenage girl, Florens, who works as a slave on a small farm in Maryland. The chapters alternate between the voice of Florens who is writing a confessional to a lover and the other characters tell their stories one at a time in the even-numbered chapters. The effect is you get a lot of points of view of a haunting tale and all in fewer than 200 pages.
The All of It – Jeanette Haien
This is one of those novels I read quickly and then it kind of stuck around with me. Set in Ireland, the story focuses on a woman who is grieving her husband. Or at least we think he’s her husband. We, and the priest she is telling her story to, find out that things aren’t always what they appear to be.
Desperate Characters – Paula Fox
If there were a predecessor to the intensity of Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment it would be Paula Fox. Once again you find yourself quickly in the middle of a story of a woman who thinks she has everything together and then… a cat bites her. And it’s all spinning out of control from there. Francine Prose, in Reading Like a Writer, uses the novel as an example of excellent paragraphing. That certainly is the case, but Fox also excels with narration, gesture, and character development in the novel. And does this all in 170 pages.
Grief Is the Thing With Feathers – Max Porter
If you like weird books, then, hello, here you go – grief in this short novel takes the form of a crow who has moved in to the home of a widower and his young children. It’s both painful and beautiful to read. If you aren’t in to weird books then this one might be better saved for later, when you would find a crow embodying grief would be a thing you could actually connect with.
Another Brooklyn – Jacqueline Woodson
I’ve recommended this one before, but it’s worth adding to the short but mighty list.
It’s the story of a black girl who moved with her father and brother to Brooklyn from Tennessee in the 70s. This short novel is packed with thoughtful insights about our memories coming into contact with hard truths.
Chronicle of a Last Summer – Yasmine El Rashidi
A diary-like story of a woman (who starts out, in this novel, as a girl) growing up and recording her life through successive revolutions in Egypt. El Rashidi uses the character’s voice to convey growth and maturity in this coming-of-age story. As a reader you “grow up” with her as she becomes more politically and personally aware.
Goodbye, Vitamin – Rachel Khong
You probably are not used to laughing out loud when reading about dementia, but Khong made me smile, laugh, cringe, and cry. It is a diary-like tale of an adult woman moving home to help her parents as her father’s dementia takes him away from a job that he loves.