30 Best Short Books of All Time (You Can Finish in One Sitting)

Looking for a short book for a quick afternoon read? Here are the 30 best short books, including novels, novellas, and short stories.

There are too many great books to read.

Short stories, modern classics, fairy tales, non-fiction, you name it. Some folks have already given up on books.

But honestly, who can forgo the joy of reading a book? So here’s what we do.

We’ve curated a collection of the greatest short books you can tackle in a single day or even a single sitting.

A mix of narrative styles and genres, the 30 books highlighted below will provide you the delight of reading a novel without fear of adding a half-started book to your TBR (to be read) pile.

For the most part, the list will contain some of the most outstanding novellas in history.

Besides that, there’ll be several collections of short stories, poetry, and some of the best non-fiction ever published. Roughly speaking, all books here range somewhere between 100-250 pages.

Greatest Short Books of All Time

There’s no way to be totally fair and objective in listing the greatest short books of all in such a brief review.

There are indeed an unlimited number of great writings in various styles and genres.

Nevertheless, for our purposes, hopefully, we can perhaps agree that what follows includes some of the most prominent ones:

The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar is the first novel written by one of the most famous American writers/poets and Pulitzer Prize winner Sylvia Plath.

Plath was diagnosed with chronic depression and died of violent suicide when she was 30. That’s probably the reason she could scrape out the hollow intricacies of depression with such a beautiful voice. 

The ruthless honesty of her debut novel and fascinating narration of her real-life journey garnered Plath great respect from her contemporary peers.

And on the title, spoiler alert! Her depression is symbolized by the bell jar.

Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea is a masterpiece of modern fiction by Dominican-British author Jean Rhys.

The novel is a postcolonial and feminist prequel (or simply a response) to Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre. So perhaps it’s best to read Jane Eyre first to understand the background and depth of the Wide Sargasso Sea.

The novel is a story of a young woman in early nineteenth-century Jamaica struggling with a loveless marriage.

“The distillation of [Rhys’s] life and craft… Nowhere is her prose more supple, more assured,” Sara Paretsky wrote, reviewing the book in NPR.

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, depicting the lively background of New York City.

The book is almost a century old and still is a good read, perhaps because it explores timeless themes like life and death.

The book had four film adaptations, including the most recent movie (2013) starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.

The Old Man & The Sea

This is a 1952 novella by the American author Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway is arguably one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, which fundamentally transformed fiction with his economic writing style.

The Old Man and the Sea is the story of a Cuban fisherman catching a giant marlin.

It became a Book of the Month Club selection and made the author a celebrity. He did, nonetheless, give us a handful of valuable life lessons in his book, making it a truly unforgettable novel.

Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is one of the world’s great anti-war novels written by Kurt Vonnegut.

Vonnegut’s parents left Germany during the Great War. He was a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany and witnessed the destruction of Dresden by Allied bombers which inspired him to write this book.

He wrote numerous works of short fiction and non-fiction. This novel, however, was the brilliant peak of his career. It is sad and funny simultaneously, with a profound moral structure covering every sentence.

Must-Read Short Books Under 100 Pages

Well, we live in an age where 2-minute YouTube videos seem long, and conversations are limited to 140 characters.

But that shouldn't mean putting books aside altogether.

Here are 5 great books for a quick afternoon read.

The Death Of Ivan Ilyich

Russian contemporary literature has offered some of the most pleasing combinations of insight and creativity.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy is undoubtedly one of them. In 1869 he converted to Christianity and wrote The Death of Ivan Ilyich shortly after.

This book depicts central human concerns over mortality and life and the gap between inner reality versus outer appearance.

He makes a great case about the true nature of life. Despite the depth of his thinking, Tolstoy doesn’t have an abstruse and complicated prose style.

The Metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis is one of Kafka’s shortest and best-known works.

The brain-swirling, nausea-causing plot is perhaps the only reason anyone can’t finish reading it in one sitting. The story is surreal, yet strangely enough, Gregor's main character is relatable.

Gregor Samsa is a traveling young man waking up in his bed to find himself transformed into a giant insect.

The book has been recognized as a classic example of absurdist fiction in the gothic horror genre.

A Doll's House

Puphejmo or A Doll’s House is a naturalistic/realistic play by Norwegian Henrik Ibsen.

Ibsen’s masterpiece was first performed in 1879. Since then, it has been adopted for the cinema and television more than a dozen times.

Although the manuscript was originally published in the late 19th century, it remains relevant and provocative for contemporary audiences.

Ibsen’s accurate description has been an excellent reference to understand how women were treated during the Victorian Era.

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men, the 1937 novella by John Steinbeck is a detailed and intricate story of two displaced migrant ranch workers (George and Lennie) searching for a new life and job during the Great Depression in the US.

George is “small and quick and dark of face”; Lennie, a man of enormous size, with the mind of a young child.

Steinbeck masterfully reveals the frailty of humans at times of desperation and misery.

The book is undoubtedly an authentic poetic piece of literature which, along with his other writings, brought him the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature and the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The House On Mango Street

The House on Mango Street is a 1984 modern classic by Mexican-American author Sandra Cisneros.

It depicts a deep and heart-touching story of a young woman named Esperanza living in a ghetto neighborhood and dealing with the horror of everyday life against all the odds.

The book was acclaimed by critics and beloved by readers of all ages.

“The San Francisco Chronicle” has called the book “Marvelous . . . spare yet luminous. Her rich Hispanic heritage was apparently well placed in American literature.

Short Books To Read Online

Sometimes, buying or borrowing a book isn't possible. You’re in a rush or in a remote place, and you just need quick access. That’s where the internet comes to the rescue.

Here are 5 of the best books you can read online.

The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep is a modern, noir-like detective story by Raymond Chandler. This is the first novel to feature Philip Marlowe as the lead character. The book was originally published in 1939, right before World War II. Not long after, Chandler turned into an unlikely godfather of science fiction.

The book was adapted for film twice, in 1946 and again in 1978. And in 2005, it was included in Time magazine’s “List of the 100 Best Novels. “The Big Sleep” refers to the gangster’s euphemism for death. 

The Lottery

The Lottery was first published in 1948 by Shirley Jackson in The New Yorker.

The story describes a fictional small village on a warm morning. Residents gather to observe an annual rite known as “the lottery,” in which a member of the community is selected by chance.

Jackson was especially concerned about the violent and inhumane practice of modern society.

The story reveals the dangers of unquestioning attachment to traditions. Her book was translated into numerous languages and received global recognition. 

Animal Farm

Eric Arthur Blair, known by his pen name George Orwell was a prolific writer.

Animal Farm is a simple, plainly written tale of animals rising to take control of their destiny, run the farm they work for, and live off a central doctrine of rules. 

This book reveals his deep understanding of social and political movements at the time. The cherry on top, this satirical allegorical novella is one of the most captivating books you can read online.

A Christmas Carol

Yes, ghost stories of Christmas are not news. Charles Dickens wrote this book in 1843, and ever since, it has been one of the most influential English prose writings.

Dickens’s famous novella runs through several themes, including poverty, greed, generosity, and not least of all, time. 

Dickens wrote this book in the lowest days of his life. His publishers had decreased his monthly pay, forcing him to borrow money against his insurance policies.

He started to research child labor, which turned to his source for inspiration for A Christmas Carol

The Fifth Child

Doris Lessing is a British writer and Nobel Prize winner with a high sense of social and political responsibility. She wrote The Fifth Child in 1988 and received global recognition.

The Swedish Academy described her as an “epicist of the female experience with skepticism, fire, and visionary power.” 

Harriet, the protagonist of Lessing’s 1988 novel, has a terrible feeling about her youngest son. Finally, her family is torn apart by the arrival of this angry, violent, destructive child.

Lessing’s metaphorical language is moving, disturbing, and yet incredibly powerful. 

Best Short Books Of 2021

Now that we’ve covered some of the finest short books in history, it’s time to check out the most recent publications.

Here are 5 of the best books published in 2021.

Chatter: The Voice In Our Head & How To Harness It

An award-winning psychologist, Ethan Kross, interweaves cutting-edge science with real-world case studies to reveal the hidden power of our inner voice.

Chatter: The Voice In Our Head & How To Harness It is a national non-fiction best-seller. Many have claimed–on a factual research basis-that applying its methods brings better mental health, more life satisfaction, and even better-functioning hearts.

Call Us What We Carry

Call Us What We Carry is a 2021 poetry collection by Amanda Gorman.

Her energizing and unforgettable voice has made her an inseparable part of modern American literature. This book made it on the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal best-seller lists.

The Best American Short Stories 2021

Collections have a certain advantage over other books. You can try many styles and sounds in one place.

The Best American Short Stories 2021 is a new collection of the 2021’s best stories selected and edited by two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward.

She has assembled a rich and diverse group of voices with the scattering of experience across different strata of American society.

Crying in H Mart

In Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner navigates her own life before and after her mother’s death from cancer.

This short memoir powerfully maps a complicated, heartwarming, and heartbreaking relationship between a mother and her daughter.

In its debut year, the book was ranked #2 on the New York Times best-seller list for hardcover nonfiction

The Christmas Pig

There is something fascinating and somewhat nostalgic about fairy tales that might be related to many people’s first encounters with books. J. K. Rowling surely has a way of getting into your skin with her writings.

The Christmas Pig received positive critical reviews.

That sounds like a start to introducing your child to the amazing world of books.

Best Short Books Of 2020

Here are the 5 best books published in 2020.

The Office Of Historical Corrections

The Office of Historical Corrections is a collection of 6 stories and one novella written by American writer Danielle Evans.

The New York Times columnist Joumana Khatib wrote, “Evans’s stories and their sensitivity to issues around race and power feel particularly resonant in 2020.”

Evans’s previous writings on race, grief, apology and American history too received positive critical reviews.

To Be A Man

Sex, power, violence, passion, and self-discovery are some of the primary driving forces in human existence that fascinated Nicole Krauss.

To Be A Man is the first collection of short stories published by this American author. She is best known for her debut novel: Man Walks into a Room.

I Hold A Wolf by the Ears

Laura van den Berg’s first story collection was named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR, Bustle, Good Housekeeping, the New York Public Library, Library Journal, and many others.

Van den Berg is undoubtedly a passionate and talented writer who successfully crafted some of the most well-paced stories with beautiful writing.

Verge 

Verge is a prize-winning collection of 20 stories by Lidia Yuknavitch, one of the most galvanizing voices in American fiction.

She gives us a slice of what it means to be alive, outcast, and marginalized at these times. Her shocking and ruthless realism is explosive, deadly, and spectacularly beautiful.

The verge was named one of the “Best Books Of The Year” by the Bustle & Lit Hub.

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change The World & Become A Good Ancestor

2020 was, to some degree, a move towards anti-racism and understanding the roots of best practices to wipe out this evil from the face of the earth.

For that purpose, Layla Saad structured her book as a 28-day guide targeted at white readers, helping them identify the impact of white privilege and white supremacy on their lives.

The book was selected as the New York Times and USA Today best-seller!

Best Short Books Of 2019

Here are 5 of the best books published in 2019.

Long Live The Tribe Of Fatherless Girls: A Memoir

One of the most anticipated audiobooks of 2019 by acclaimed literary essayist T Kira Madden about coming of age and reckoning with desire as a queer, biracial teenager.

Her raw and expressive prose, combined with bright, vivid narrative and utmost honesty, created some outstanding writings on gender studies, objectification, and the interconnection of sex and identity.

Orange World & Other Stories

Orange World & Other Stories is a collection of seven short stories written by the American writer Karen Russell.

Russell has extraordinary and irresistible gifts of language and imagination, making her writing particular and alive.

“I kept Hawthorne in mind while reading Russell’s astonishing new stories... Russell seems the most natural storyteller alive, so completely does she give herself to premises that might undo a lesser writer,” Dan Chiasson wrote in a review about her.

Grand Union

Grand Union is the first-ever collection of stories from the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author Zadie Smith.

She has established herself as one of the most iconic, critically respected, and well-known writers.

She has a nearly twenty-year career in urban realism and speculative fiction writing with experimental creativity in form and language, which created this enchanting and varied collection.

Sing To It

Amy Hempel is one of the most celebrated and original voices in American literature.

Sing to It oscillates between hilarity and pain in exquisitely nuanced sentences. She certainly possesses a deep understanding of the vicissitudes of the world, and her imagination allows her to capture your mind and attention for days.

It is truly fascinating what an excellent writer can do in such a short book.

Everything Inside

Edwidge Danticat is an internationally acclaimed and best-selling author.

Her personal experience provides a detailed and lively presentation of how migration transforms one’s identity, relationships, and understanding.

Her books such as Everything Inside have been selected for Oprah’s Book Club and nominated for the National Book Award.

People Also Ask

Some of the most common questions regarding the best short books.

What’s A Good Short Book To Read?

As simple as the question might appear, there isn’t a single answer.

For one reason, there are way too many good books in different styles, genres, and subjects. Moreover, each person has unique interests and preferences, making it impossible to provide an all-pleasing answer to that question.

All 30 books listed above have some merit to them.

Still, if you’re a fan of classic literature, you shouldn’t miss Dickens, or Tolstoy. Kafka, Orwell, Vonnegut, and Plath all have a more modern style, each obviously in a different sense.

Make sure to read a few pages of every book, even if it’s a short novel. After all, judging a book was never supposed to be by its cover.

What’s The Shortest Best-Selling Book?

Harry Frankfurt’s 80-page “On Bullshit” was the shortest book to hit the number one spot on The New York Times Best Sellers list.

Several other short novels were listed as best-sellers as well, including We Have Always Lived In The Castle (1962) By Shirley Jackson, Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1958) By Truman Capote, and Invisible Cities (1972) By Italo Calvino.

What’s The Shortest Published Book?

Theoretically, you can write a one-word book and publish it on the internet or in some publishing house.

That being said, there are two good examples of the shortest books published that gained some notoriety.

One is What Every Man Thinks About Apart from Sex by Sheridan Simove. Nothing, according to the blank pages of this book!

The other is Putting My Foot Down by Brent Underwood, which was a picture of him putting his feet down.

The book took him only 5 minutes. His point was to show how easy it was to produce an Amazon best-seller, which he succeeded in!

What Are Really Short Books Called?

Short books don't have a specific name, but short novels do.

A novella is standalone prose fiction, shorter than most novels but longer than a short story or a novelette.

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