The Best Short Books You’ll Ever Read

No time for War and Peace? These great short books, recommended by Features Editor Dawn Raffel, are all under 150 pages. Warning: You'll want to linger.

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The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

This modern classic, about a Latina girl growing up in Chicago, has been translated and taught all over the world. At 110 pages, it packs a punch all out of proportion to its size. Not surprisingly, given the compression and power of her work, Cisneros is also a poet.

What's to Become of the Boy? by Heinrich Boll

Boll (1917-1985) won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1972. His brief, wrenching account of growing up in Nazi Germany, in a family that hated Hitler, will leave you thinking of nothing else.

Natural Histories by Guadalupe Nettel

In a newly-released 128-page collection, Nettel offers five entrancing tales in which animals—even fish and insects—reflect hidden aspects of human nature. Like many of the best short books, this one is in translation. Not to worry: Nettel's insights into marriage, family, and desire transcend borders and cultures.

The Possession by Annie Ernaux

In 62 laser-sharp pages, Ernaux zaps an obsessive, jealousy-fueled romance gone haywire. Is it truth or fiction? Probably a bit of both, and essential reading for anyone who's ever messed up in love.

In the Orchard, the Swallows by Peter Hobbs

This recently released novel, about a Pakistani boy imprisoned for falling in love with the wrong girl, is both exquisitely written and surprisingly inspiring. At 137 pages, it weighs in as one of the giants of 2014.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

For those who like their fiction hard-boiled, nobody did it better than Raymond Chandler, who died in 1959. The prolific master of the detective story turned to writing after he lost his job with an oil company during the Depression. The Big Sleep (134 pages) was his first novel to feature his famous P.I., Philip Marlowe.

The Adventures of Mao on the Long March by Frederic Tuten

Tuten's inventive, witty, genre-busting riff on Mao is a novel like none you've read. While parodying Hemingway, Kerouac, and Dos Passos, the author blends history, imaginary conversations, and quotes from real but unidentified sources. Hailed upon its 1971 release by heavyweights like John Updike, Iris Murdoch, and Susan Sontag, the 144-page book has enjoyed a near-cult following among writers and artists.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin wrote only two novels before she died in 1904. The first is largely forgotten, but the second, The Awakening, is now considered a classic. At the time of its publication in 1899, it was widely condemned for portraying a woman who, trapped in a loveless marriage, has an affair. In the 1970s, the 120-ish page book (it depends on your edition) found—and held—its audience.

The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold by Kate Bernheimer

Bernheimer draws on folklore and fairy tales to vividly evoke the enchantment of a young woman's inner life. This 128-page novel is part of a trilogy in which all three pieces are breathtakingly brief—wholly original and compellingly readable.

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

Yes, we promised no War and Peace, but The Death of Ivan Ilych is your opportunity to read a masterwork by one of the greatest writers of all time. You can do this, dear reader. (Page count depends on which edition/translation you grab, but all are well under 150 pages.) No one is wiser than Tolstoy (1828-1910) about death and dying—or living, for that matter.

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