As Books Editors, we set aside more designated reading time than most people do. Still, even we are daunted by copies of
The Goldfinch looming on our desks. Once we embark on a bulky book, will we have time for anything else (including, but not limited to, reading other books)?
Sometimes, especially when in the midst of a reading slump, shorter books seem more approachable. Enter: the novella. A novella is defined as a fictional narrative that is longer than a short story but shorter than a regular novel. Another differentiating factor: Novellas tend to involve fewer conflicts than novels, but these conflicts have a bit more time to develop than in short stories. There are actually lots of debates on what novellas are and aren’t (restricted to a certain page count, for example), but we’ll leave that for another time.
Since we know all of you are extremely busy (it is the holiday season, after all), we’ve compiled a list of short, classic works, some novels and some novellas, that are all under 200 pages (We bet you didn’t know The Great Gatsby was only 180 pages).
Have even LESS time to read? Take a look through our compilation of short stories you can read in under 10 minutes!
The Stranger by Albert Camus (123 pages): Camus’s classic novel about a man who, somewhat aloofly, kills someone and must face the consequences is often cited as a major exemplar of existentialist thought (though Camus preferred not to be lumped into the existentialist category).
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (166 pages): This novel about an ambitious scientist who conducts an unorthodox experiment and creates a “monster” is an early example of gothic horror writing during the Romantic period.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (55 pages): No one should miss Kafka’s tale of a man who wakes up one morning to discover that he has been transformed into a gigantic bug. If you’ve already read it, you could also take a look at Haruki Murakami’s tribute to the story, published in The New Yorker.
Silas Marner by George Eliot (160 pages): We bet you didn’t know that George Eliot, best known for the sprawling and fantastic Middlemarch, ever wrote anything so short! In this novel, Silas Marner is a member of a small religious community, and is accused of stealing the church’s funds, and is found guilty. The rest of the book chronicles his life after leaving the community where he has been shunned.
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (96 pages): Going through a bad breakup? Then you probably shouldn’t read this book. It’s the depressing story of unrequited love. Werther loves a girl, but she is already engaged to another. He becomes friends with them both, and things get messy.
Passing by Nella Larsen (102 pages): This novella, set in 1920s Harlem, is about the reuniting of two mixed-race childhood friends. One of them, Clare, is able to pass as white, and has even lied to her husband about her racial origin. This beautifully written book depicts the horrors of racism and the lengths that some people went to to not be considered “lesser than.”
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (180 pages):For those of you who haven’t read this book, get to it! It’s only 180 pages. This classic, referred to by some as “the Great American Novel” is about a man who lets his love obsession get the better of him, and it ultimately leads to his demise (it’s about a lot more than that, but you’ll just have to read it to uncover it all).
The Awakening by Kate Chopin (128 pages): This novel focuses on a woman who is trying to reconcile her views on femininity and motherhood with those of the very conservative South. It does not have a happy ending.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (72 pages): Conrad’s classic is about an ivory trader in Central Africa who is searching for (and becomes obsessed with) another trader.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (182 pages): Austen’s first completed novel (though one of the last to be published) is about the trials of heart of a 17-year-old girl. She has to make some weighty love decisions, but she ends up happily ever after.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (96 pages): James’s novella is dissimilar from his other, longer works, which tend to offer commentary on the societal norms of his day. The Turn of the Screw, on the other hand, is a ghost story, but whether or not the ghosts in it are real is a point of contention amongst critics.
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (128 pages): This story is about a Swedish immigrant family in farm country. Alexandra, the farm owner’s daughter, inherits the farm and devotes herself to making it a profitable enterprise, even though many others are giving up and leaving.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (144 pages): This crime novel features Chandler’s famous character PI Philip Marlowe. An old man is being blackmailed and he wants Marlowe to make it stop.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (77 pages:) This novel, set against a bleak New England winter, tells the tragic story of Ethan Frome, his wife Zeena and her companion Mattie. Frome is stuck in a loveless marriage, and falls in love with the young woman who comes to take care of his wife. Trouble ensues.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (128 pages):This is one of the most famous novels featuring Sherlock Holmes. It is about a mystery involving an attempted murder inspired by the legend of a terrifying, supernatural hound.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (64 pages): This book is about two opposing personalities (one good, one evil) battling inside one man (but it’s really about man’s dual nature–something that was particularly intriguing during the Victorian period).
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (180 pages):A young, handsome man sells his soul to be young and beautiful forever. He never ages; a portrait painted of him ages instead. Despite his good looks, he is a nasty, despicable creature with no heart.
War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (160 pages): This classic science fiction novel about alien invasion is where so many bad book adaptations get their ideas. (Don’t watch the movies! Read this book instead!)
Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville (160 pages): Melville’s classic is about unintentional mutiny onboard a ship. Billy Budd is falsely accused of mutiny, and when the accusations are formally made against him, he is unable to respond due to his stutter. He strikes out, and accidentally kills the man who made the accusations. The story covers the aftermath of this event.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (80 pages): A miserly business owner withholds both livable pay and general kind-heartedness from his employees, even on Christmas Day. This all changes, however, when he’s reminded unwillingly of his past, and shown how others think and speak of him.
The Pearl by John Steinbeck (96 pages) Steinbeck’s novella addresses the age-old theme of good and evil, through the story of Kino, a man who discovers a massive pearl. He sells the object, which we learn is cursed, in order to pay for his newborn son’s medical treatment, and bad luck ensues.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (160 pages): This novella is fairly different from the movie version (the male protagonist is gay…pretty big difference) and Capote’s prose is simply stunning, so even if you’ve seen the movie, this is still worth the read!
Animal Farm by George Orwell (140 pages): Orwell’s novella is an allegory for the Russian Revolution, and the hypocrisy of the newly-instilled leaders. Of course, it’s overtly political, and uses talking pigs, sheep, and horses to illustrate Orwell’s viewpoints.
CLARIFICATION: The page counts for these titles are for the full books they are featured in. They include introductions, Author’s notes, etc. (This means most of these novels are even shorter than what is listed here).
CORRECTION: A previous version of this text listed that Kafka’s Metamorphosis is 201 pages. It is actually around 55 pages.