11 Excellent Books You Can Read in a Day

This guy has the right idea.
This guy has the right idea. © Alexandre Dulaunoy

If you’re an informal member of the 52-book challenge like me, you might be scrabbling to catch up to that week 46 mark. Even us voracious readers get distracted by the latest episode of Downton Abbey or holiday gift shopping on Etsy.

So you need a few quick reads but don’t want to sacrifice on quality? Add these novellas and bite-sized memoirs to your reading list. Better yet, go get them right now – several of these are completely free and kindle-ready!

From short-and-(not so?) sweet classics like Frankenstein to contemporary masterpieces like Sleep Donation, here are 10 of my favorite under 200-page books.

 1. Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Only a great comic like Ephron could write a novella about divorce that doubles as a workout for your abs. I devoured Heartburn recently, after Amy Poehler referenced it repeatedly in her own memoir. Loosely based off Ephron’s own life, this hilarious book follows a Jewish foodie and writer as she confronts her husband’s infidelity and her own misgivings about life and love. Another plus: once you’ve burned all those calories from laughter, you can whip up one of the book’s many delectable recipes and enjoy guilt-free!

Heartburn Nora Ephorn quote

2. Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

The newest work from the brilliant Karen Russell puts an original spin on the post-apocalyptic genre: What would a post-sleep, insomnia-infected world look like? As always, Russell finds a way to reinvent on a classic speculative fiction theme, while drawing creepy parallels to our over-worked, stressed out society of today.

3. Candide, or The Optimist by Voltaire

You might remember the great Enlightenment thinker Voltaire from history class, known for his forward-thinking defenses of civil rights and criticism of oppressive institutions. This novella is Voltaire’s masterpiece, a cheeky satire that chronicles the adventures and disillusionment of the very naïve Candide. Besides its significance as a philosophical and historical work, Candide is fast-paced and entertaining; a must read from the western canon, and a good excuse to brush up on some history for context while you’re at it.

4. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Since my scare-tolerance never graduated past RL Stine, I picked up Coraline recently to get into the Halloween spirit. Typical of author Neil Gaiman’s style, Coraline is a surreal, funny, and creepy children’s adventure story wrapped around an earnest parable on courage. Perfect if you’re looking for a quick read you can share with the kids (but a fantastic read for adults, too!). Once you’ve finished, check out the equally-excellent film adaptation.

5. & 6. Frankenstein & The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

You’ve no doubt heard of these two. Both are classic stories of creative genius gone wrong, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson. Ideal if you’re looking for high-brow horror stories that ponder humanity’s capacity for good and evil. These two are free and must reads if you haven’t gotten to them yet.

7. The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James

While Henry James might not be for everyone, this petite novella is the perfect dose for beginners. Consistent with James’ penchant for histrionic, ruminating characters and irony, Beast in the Jungle follows a man sure that he is fated to suffer a horrific catastrophe. This free read is ideal if you are hankering for a story of existential horror and psychological complexity.

the beast in the jungle quote

8. Daughters of Empire: A Memoir of a Year in Britain and Beyond by Jane Satterfield

A beautiful memoir by British-born American writer Jane Satterfield about rediscovering her English roots amidst an unexpected pregnancy and a crumbling marriage. Satterfield is a poet by training and fills the book with lyrical prose, sharp observations, and scholarly allusions that will excite literature geeks. This one’s a little harder to get your hands on, but it’s worth the cost and the wait.

9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

A classic sci-fi romp that reads like one long comedy sketch. Adams’ original and hilarious novella reimagines the universe as an absurd, improbable place, where Earth is a supercomputer built by pan-dimensional beings to discover the meaning of life. The book leaves no place in the galaxy unprobed for comedic material.

10. Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahlmedium_3515201536

Ever wonder how Roald Dahl came up with his many fantastical and hilarious children’s stories? Boy gives Dahl fans a glimpse into the author’s life with characteristic wit and countless tales of childhood trauma and mischief. Likely to leave you chuckling and craving a re-read of The BFG or Matilda.

11. Passing by Nella Larsen

In 1920’s New York, two women share a secret that challenges the racist conventions of American society. From one of the foremost women writers of the Harlem Renaissance, this critically acclaimed novella deftly examines issues of race, identity, and class in American society while delivering a suspenseful story you won’t be able to pass by.


Have other suggestions for great books under 200 pages? Leave them in the comments section!

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