Looking for that perfect beach read? But feeling stressed because you only have a day or two to devote to it? We’ve got you covered. If you’re looking for a fast, easy read, here are 11 novels you can read in a day — they’re all under 200 pages!
Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation
Named one of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2014, Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage that offers bracing emotional depth for a novel that can be consumed in one sitting. The narrator, known only as “the wife,” exchanges love letters with her husband postmarked with the titular Department of Speculation in reference to the uncertain fluidity of their life and love. Offill muses on love, infidelity, intimacy, maternal joy and sorrow, and the specter of thwarted ambitions with an incisiveness leanness.
Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Jackson was a mid-century queen of Gothic fiction. Macabre short story The Lottery and supernatural The Haunting on House Hill earned her a reputation as an author with a knack for the weird. Her final novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle is no exception, offering a Gothic tale of the Blackwoods who find their isolated lives in their Vermont estate upended when their inheritance-seeking distant cousin comes to town. The Blackwoods are the last of their line, as the rest of the family died in a suspicious arsenic poisoning incident. Narrator Mary Katherine “Merricat” is obsessed with the macabre, and she weaves a tale of unsettling dread. Jackson was an expert at packing palpable horror and thrills into her brief tales. The novel is currently being adapted into a feature film starring Sebastian Stan.
Toni Morrison, Sula
Winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, Morrison is best known for her 1987 novel Beloved. But if you’re looking for something that packs an equal punch in less pages, try her 1975 novel Sula. It tells the story of Sula, an anti-heroine, who draws ire from her community for her defiance of gender norms and social conventions. With lesbian undertones in the friendship between Sula and her neighbor Nel, the book holds a hallowed place in black queer feminist literary criticism. If you’re looking for a tale that’s as provocative now as the day it was written, you can’t get much better than this exploration of the complexities of female friendships and gender roles.
Han Kang, The Vegetarian
Named one of the best books of 2016 by Time and winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, The Vegetarian is a three-part South Korean novella. Set in modern day Seoul, it chronicles the devastating consequences of a woman’s choice to stop eating meat. The novel was first published in South Korea in 2007 but was only translated into English in 2015. The plot may sound like a logline for a sitcom, but the book delves deep into explorations of innocence, violence, and the capacity for beauty in our lives. It was adapted into a Korean art house film in 2009.
Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding
Carson McCullers became a literary sensation when she published her first book, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, in her early 20s. Despite having only written four novels and a handful of short stories, she’s remembered as a master of the Southern Gothic, crafting charming and troubling stories of the spiritual isolation of outcasts living in the deep South. The Member of the Wedding tells the story of 12-year-old tomboy, Frankie, who is so in love with her brother and his bride-to-be, she intends to join them on their honeymoon. McCullers first devised the central conceit of the novel while living in a communal house in Brooklyn with Gypsy Rose Lee, W.H. Auden, and Benjamin Britten — you’d be hard pressed to find a book with a more compelling backstory. McCullers adapted the novel for the stage in 1950 and this inspired a 1952 film starring Julie Harris. It was remade with Anna Paquin in 1997, using the book (not the stage play) as its source material.
Lorrie Moore, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?
The New York Times called Lorrie Moore’s second novel a “sad, witty, disillusioned fairy tale.” Moore was inspired by a Nancy Mladenoff painting of the same name, which she purchased at an art gallery. “These frogs that looked as if they had been kissed and wounded represented the mythic aspect of what I was trying to do,” she told the Times. Like several other novels on this list, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? is a coming-of-age tale that tracks our protagonist Berie through adolescence and middle age. Growing up in upstate New York, Berie flits between her current distant relationship with her husband and the close bond she experienced with her childhood friend Sils.
Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers
Imagine Mary Poppins is a bird akin to Poe’s Raven comes to your home to help you cope with grief as long as you may need him – that’s the central conceit of Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Porter’s poetic meditation on grief and loss topped many Best of the Year lists following its release in 2015. When a father and two sons must face the tragic and accidental loss of their wife/mother, they find themselves adrift. Enter “Crow,” the titular bird of the Ted Hughes poem who comes to life to aid the family in their grief. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s a moving, haunting, compassionate look at loss and the human struggle to overcome the dizzying, staggering effects of grief.
Larry McMurtry, Horseman, Pass By
Larry McMurtry is a Pulitzer Prize-winning literary institution at this point – as instrumental to the mythos of the American West as John Ford or Ansel Adams. All of that was ahead of him in 1961 when he published his first novel Horseman, Pass By about life on a ranch from the perspective of young boy Lonnie Bannon. The title is drawn from a W.B. Yeats poem, echoing the novel’s pragmatic eye and indomitable spirit. The novel inspired the 1963 Paul Newman film Hud, which starred Newman as the novel’s antagonist, the ruthless and alcoholic Hud.
S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders
“Stay gold, Ponyboy” is such an entrenched part of the pop culture vocabulary that it’s hard to imagine a world without The Outsiders. The coming-of-age novel that examines the tensions between the poor Greasers and the rich Socs (short for socials) seems to have defined multiple generations (and pops up regularly on required school reading lists). The novel, published when author S.E. Hinton was just 18, turns 50 this year. Hinton told EW she wrote the book out of a desire to “read a book that dealt realistically with teenage life as I was seeing it.” If you’ve only seen the 1983 film (which features a young Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, and more), do yourself a favor and pick up this classic of American youth.
Kate Chopin, The Awakening
Kate Chopin’s naturalist 1899 novel is a proto-feminist masterwork that many consider a precursor to American modernist literature. It also marked one of the first major works to seriously tackle the concerns and lives of women who felt stifled by the confines of societal expectations and motherhood. The Awakening tells the story of Edna Pontellier, a New Orleans socialite who finds herself torn between the prevailing expectations of the turn-of-the-century American South and her desire for social freedom spurred by her love for a young man, Robert Lebrun. Chopin based her character’s awakening on her own sense of independence. When first released, the novel was considered immoral for its frank depictions of female desire and its tale of a woman who chooses self-fulfillment over maternal duty. If you’re filling your summer with feminist reads like Roxane Gay’s Hunger and Anne Helen Petersen’s Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman, take a look at this seminal feminist text.
Henry James, The Turn of the Screw
Though James was celebrated for his groundbreaking works of psychological realism, his gothic ghost story novella The Turn of the Screw is perhaps his most popular work. It has inspired countless adaptations and imitators, most notably the 1961 film The Innocents. An unnamed narrator takes a governess position at a British country house and soon finds herself haunted by the ghosts of her predecessor and her lover. She becomes convinced that her young charges are haunted and possessed by them as well, leading her to sense a great evil in the house. Its heavy sense of atmosphere and dread accumulate, driving to a horrific conclusion. The novel still generates controversy over whether the governess is truly seeing ghosts or if the novel is an account of her psychological distress and mental unraveling. Read it for yourself and decide where you stand.