How to be well-read in no time: 40 short novels

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How to be well-read in no time: 40 short novels

How to be well-read in no time: 40 short novels is a list of books that provides a varied glimpse of the written style of many of the great authors. A concise selection, the titles can be worked through over a very short period, or, alternatively, they can be sandwiched between larger classics in an even more ambitious reading program. For further reading suggestions see our Top 100 Novels of All Time.


Slaughterhouse-Five

1. Slaughterhouse-Five

By Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most. More »

To the Lighthouse

2. To the Lighthouse

By Virginia Woolf

Widely acclaimed since its first publication in 1927, Virginia Woolf’s ‘To the  Lighthouse’ is a novel whose overt simplicity of plot hides a complex mix  of autobiographical detail, searching social questions and deep philosophical  enigmas.  The author’s innovative use of  nonlinear plot, stream- … More »

The Metamorphosis

3. The Metamorphosis

By Franz Kafka

It is one of the most memorable first lines in all of literature: “When Gregor Samsa woke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into some kind of monstrous vermin.” So begins Kafka’s famous short story, The Metamorphosis. Kafka considered publishing it with two of the … More »

Animal Farm

4. Animal Farm

By George Orwell

This is a classic tale of humanity awash in totalitarianism. A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. First published during the epoch of Stalinist Russia, today … More »

Of Mice And Men

5. Of Mice And Men

By John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men is a novel written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. Published in 1937, it tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in search of new job opportunities during the Great … More »

The Old Man and the Sea

6. The Old Man and the Sea

By Ernest Hemingway

The last novel Ernest Hemingway saw published, The Old Man and the Sea has proved itself to be one of the enduring works of American fiction. It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far … More »

Waiting for the Barbarians

7. Waiting for the Barbarians

By J. M. Coetzee

A modern classic, this early novel by Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee centers on the crisis of conscience and morality of the Magistrate-a loyal servant of the Empire working in a tiny frontier town, doing his best to ignore an inevitable war with the “barbarians.” More »

A Christmas Carol

8. A Christmas Carol

By Charles Dickens

This new selection of Dickens’s Christmas writings confirms his lasting influence upon our idea of the Christmas spirit: that Christmas is a time for celebration, charity, and memory. In addition to the beloved A Christmas Carol, this volume includes such festive works as … More »

Things Fall Apart

9. Things Fall Apart

By Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as … More »

The Stranger

10. The Stranger

By Albert Camus

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)Albert Camus’s spare, laconic masterpiece about a Frenchman who murders an Arab in Algeria is famous for having diagnosed, with a clarity almost scientific, that condition of reckless alienation and spiritual exhaustion that characterized so much of twentieth-century life. Possessing both the force of a … More »

As I Lay Dying

11. As I Lay Dying

By William Faulkner

Long been recognized not only as one of William Faulkner’s greatest works, but also as the most accessible of his major novels. This Norton Critical Edition is based on the 1985 corrected text and is accompanied by detailed explanatory annotations.  “Backgrounds and Contexts” is divided … More »

Invisible Cities

12. Invisible Cities

By Italo Calvino

Imaginary conversations between Marco Polo and his host, the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan, conjure up cities of magical times. “Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvelous invention like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant” (Gore Vidal). Translated … More »

Heart of Darkness

13. Heart of Darkness

By Joseph Conrad

Dark allegory describes the narrator’s journey up the Congo River and his meeting with, and fascination by, Mr. Kurtz, a mysterious personage who dominates the unruly inhabitants of the region. Masterly blend of adventure, character development, psychological penetration. Considered by many Conrad’s finest, most enigmatic story. More »

The Quiet American

14. The Quiet American

By Graham Greene

“I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused,” Graham Greene’s narrator Fowler remarks of Alden Pyle, the eponymous “Quiet American” of what is perhaps the most controversial novel of his career. Pyle is the brash young idealist sent out by Washington … More »

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

15. The Death of Ivan Ilyich

By Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s most famous novella is an intense and moving examination of death and the possibilities of redemption, here in a powerful translation by the award-winning Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.Ivan Ilyich is a middle-aged man who has spent his life focused on his career as a bureaucrat and … More »

The Time Machine

16. The Time Machine

By H. G. Wells

When a Victorian scientist propels himself into the year a.d. 802,701, he is initially delighted to find that suffering has been replaced by beauty, contentment, and peace. Entranced at first by the Eloi, an elfin species descended from man, he soon realizes that these beautiful people are simply … More »

Darkness at Noon

17. Darkness at Noon

By Arthur Koestler

Originally published in 1941, Arthur Koestler’s modern masterpiece, Darkness At Noon, is a powerful and haunting portrait of a Communist revolutionary caught in the vicious fray of the Moscow show trials of the late 1930s.   During Stalin’s purges, Nicholas Rubashov, an aging revolutionary, is imprisoned and … More »

The Great Gatsby

18. The Great Gatsby

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish … More »

Notes from the Underground

19. Notes from the Underground

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

In 1864, just prior to the years in which he wrote his greatest novels—Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed and The Brothers Karamazov—Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) penned the darkly fascinating Notes from the Underground. Its nameless hero is a profoundly alienated individual in whose brooding self-analysis there is … More »

The Picture of Dorian Gray

20. The Picture of Dorian Gray

By Oscar Wilde

Since its first publication in 1890, Oscar Wilde’s only  novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, has remained the  subject of critical controversy.  Acclaimed by some as  an instructive moral tale, it has been denounced by  others for its implicit immorality. After having his … More »

The Red Badge of Courage

21. The Red Badge of Courage

By Stephen Crane

ENDURING LITERATURE ILLUMINATED BY PRACTICAL SCHOLARSHIP  The story of a young soldier’s quest for manhood during the American Civil War.  EACH ENRICHED CLASSIC EDITION INCLUDES:  • A concise introduction that gives readers important background information  • A chronology of the author’s life and work … More »

The Catcher in the Rye

22. The Catcher in the Rye

By J. D. Salinger

Anyone who has read J.D. Salinger’s New Yorker stories–particularly A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, The Laughing Man, and For Esme With Love and Squalor–will not be surprised by the fact that his first novel is full of children. The hero-narrator of The Catcher in … More »

Fathers and Sons

23. Fathers and Sons

By Ivan Turgenev

When a young graduate returns home he is accompanied,  much to his father and uncle’s discomfort, by a strange  friend “who doesn’t acknowledge any authorities, who  doesn’t accept a single principle on faith.”  Turgenev’s  masterpiece of generational conflict shocked Russian  society when … More »

Siddhartha

24. Siddhartha

By Herman Hesse

This classic novel of self-discovery has inspired generations of seekers. With parallels to the enlightenment of the Buddha, Hesse’s Siddhartha is the story of a young Brahmin’s quest for the ultimate reality. His quest takes him from the extremes of indulgent sensuality to the rigors of ascetism and … More »

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

25. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson’s short novel, Dr. Jekyll and  Mr. Hyde, first published in 1886, became an instant classic, a Gothic horror originating in a feverish nightmare whose hallucinatory setting in the back streets of London gripped a nation mesmerized by crime and violence.  Its revelatory ending … More »

The Turn of the Screw

26. The Turn of the Screw

By Henry James

This Modern Library Paperback Classics edition brings together one of literature’s most famous ghost stories and one of Henry James’s most unusual novellas. In The Turn of the Screw, a governess is haunted by ghosts from her young charges past; Virginia Woolf said of this masterpiece of psychological … More »

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

27. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll

Since childhood, Kusama has been afflicted with a condition that makes her see spots, which means she sees the world in a surreal, almost hallucinogenic way that sits very well with the ‘Wonderland of Alice’. She is fascinated by childhood and the way adults have the ability, at … More »

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

28. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

By Mark Twain

Climb aboard the raft with Huck and Jim and drift away from the “sivilized” life and into a world of adventure, excitement, danger, and self-discovery. Huck’s shrewd and humorous narrative is complemented by lyrical descriptions of the Mississippi valley and a sparkling cast of memorable characters. More »

The Sorrows of Young Werther

29. The Sorrows of Young Werther

By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

One of the world’s first best-sellers, this tragic masterpiece attained an instant and lasting success upon its 1774 publication. A sensitive exploration of the mind of a young artist, the tale addresses age-old questions — the meaning of love, of death, and the possibility of redemption — in … More »

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

30. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

By Muriel Spark

At the staid Marcia Blaine School for Girls, in Edinburgh, Scotland, teacher extraordinaire Miss Jean Brodie is unmistakably, and outspokenly, in her prime. She is passionate in the application of her unorthodox teaching methods, in her attraction to the married art master, Teddy Lloyd, in her affair with … More »

Candide

31. Candide

By Voltaire

Candide is the most famous of Voltaire’s “philosophical tales,” in which he combined witty improbabilities with  the sanest of good sense. First published in 1759, it  was an instant bestseller and has come to be regarded as  one of the key texts of the Enlightenment. … More »

Lord of the Flies

32. Lord of the Flies

By William Golding

The classic novel by William GoldingWith a new Introduction by Stephen King”To me Lord of the Flies has always represented what novels are  for, what makes them indispensable.” -Stephen KingGolding’s classic, startling, and perennially bestselling portrait of  human nature remains as provocative today as when it … More »

Silas Marner

33. Silas Marner

By George Eliot

Falsely accused, cut off from his past, Silas the weaver is reduced to a spider-like existence, endlessly weaving his web and hoarding his gold. Meanwhile, Godfrey Cass, son of the squire, contracts a secret marriage. While the village celebrates Christmas and New Year, two apparently inexplicable events occur. … More »

The Immoralist

34. The Immoralist

By Andre Gide

‘To know how to free oneself is nothing; the arduous thing is to know what to do with one’s freedom’ – Andre Gide. Michel had been a blindfold scholar until, newly married, he contracted tuberculosis. His will to recover brings self-discovery and the growing desire to rebel against … More »

Therese Raquin

35. Therese Raquin

By Emile Zola

In a dingy apartment on the Passage du Pont-Neuf in Paris, Thérèse Raquin is trapped in a loveless marriage to her sickly cousin, Camille. The numbing tedium of her life is suddenly shattered when she embarks on a turbulent affair with her husband’s earthy friend Laurent, but their … More »

Cain

36. Cain 

By Jose Saramago

“Suitably disturbing—and a pleasure to read.” — The ScotsmanIn this, his last novel, José Saramago daringly reimagines the characters and narratives of the Old Testament, recalling his provocative The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. His tale runs from the Garden of Eden, when God realizes he has forgotten … More »

Jamilia

37. Jamilia

By Chinghiz Aitmatov

“The most beautiful love story in the world.”—Louis AragonThe Second World War is raging, and Jamilia’s husband is off fighting at the front. Accompanied by Daniyar, a sullen newcomer who was wounded on the battlefield, Jamilia spends her days hauling sacks of grain from the threshing floor to … More »

Live and Remember

38. Live and Remember

By Valentin Rasputin

First published in Russian in 1974, Live and Remember was immediately hailed by Soviet critics as a superb if atypical example of war literature and a moving depiction of the degradation and ultimate damnation of a frontline deserter. The novel tells the story of a Siberian peasant who … More »

Death in Venice

39. Death in Venice

By Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann is widely acknowledged as the greatest German novelist of this century. His 1912 novella Death in Venice is the most frequently read example of Mann’s early work. Clayton Koelb’s masterful translation improves upon its predecessors in two ways: it renders Mann into American (not British) English, … More »

Into the Wild

40. Into the Wild

By Jon Krakauer

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the … More »

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