I have recently watched A Clockwork Reader’s YouTube video 10 Short Books You Can Read in a Day and have decided to share my own recommendations of short books you can finish in just one day (and by authors from eight different countries!). The books below are listed in no particular order and they are all under 160 pages‘ long (though the number of pages given is approximate since editions vary).
I. Colonel Chabert  by Honoré de Balzac (101 pages)
What everyone knows is that Colonel Chabert died honourably in one of the battles of Napoleon. He is one of the heroes who gave his life for the glory of the Empire. The problem is that he has actually survived, while everyone believed him dead, and he returns to France. Finding his wife re-married, Chabert slowly senses that everyone thinks that he is really better off dead. This is a penetrating novel by Balzac about society’s hypocrisy and the fight for justice.
II. The Death of Ivan Ilyich  by Leo Tolstoy (86 pages)
This novella by Tolstoy is about the examination of life, dying and how morality fits into all of this as it focuses on a judge who is finally forced to face his death and ponder his past actions. Japanese director Akira Kurosawa famously re-worked Tolstoy’s story to film Ikiru (To Live) (1952), a film which I highly recommend (Kazuo Ishiguro has also recently re-worked the script of Kurosawa for the film Living (2021)).
III. Ice  by Anna Kavan (158 pages)
Haunting and mesmerising Ice by British author Anna Kavan opens up one “strange and dystopian world…full of foreign invasions, threats of a nuclear attack and desperate measures”. The focus is on one man who becomes obsessed with one elusive girl gone missing. I feel like this book is now unjustly buried and in need of a popular revival.
IV. Of Mice and Men  by John Steinbeck (107 pages)
This classic tale tells of big Lennie and small George, two friends-handy men, travelling across American South in search of jobs so that they can finally realise their American Dream and own a home of their own. However, the tragedy is just around the corner when the pair lands an envious job at a ranch owned by one ruthless man.
V. The Duel  by Anton Chekhov (128 pages)
This novella is probably my favourite narrative work of Chekhov. The setting is a village near the Black Sea and the focus is on Laevsky, a lazy and egoistic man, who is challenged to a duel by Von Koren, a scientist and a man of principles. Now that Laevsky’s possible end draws near, is he capable of changing his immoral ways?
VI. Convenience Store Woman  by Sayaka Murata (160 pages)
In this short, but powerful story, Keiko is thirty-six, single and, apparently, going nowhere, so the society assumes she must be terribly unhappy and in a desperate want of a boyfriend or a marriage. The truth is, however, she is not. The society is pushy and prejudiced. Murata demonstrates one of the social problems plaguing Japan – its disregard and disrespect of individuality and its insistence on all young women to assume “proper” societal roles.
VII. The Invention of Morel  by Adolfo Bioy Casares (120 pages)
This enigmatic novel is very thought-provoking and tells of a man who finds himself on a strange island, intrigued by very mysterious behaviour of some tourists on this island. While spying on them, he falls in love with one woman, not even realising the sheer fragility of a thing he calls his reality.
VIII. Closely Watched Trains  by Bohumil Hrabal (96 pages)
Bohumil Hrabal is one of the best Czech writers of all time. Closely Watched Trains is a rather disturbing coming-of-age story about one railroad apprentice in occupied Czechoslovakia near the end of the WWII. Shy and tormented by his sexuality, Milos Hrma is readying to finally affirm his existence in this world.
IX. Sulphuric Acid  by Amélie Nothomb (144 pages)
Amélie Nothomb is controversial so this little book of hers is also controversial. It can be described as a mix of Takami’s Battle Royale and the shocking, but true prison experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo in 1971, and the plot is that in some distant future millions of people tune in every night to watch a TV programme called Concentration, featuring real people forced to submit to Nazi-like brutalities. Zdena, one of the guards in the programme, becomes obsessed with one of the participants – a beautiful woman Pannonique.
X. The Fall  by Albert Camus (147 pages)
“The only thing on show is spite, so people hasten to judge, so as to avoid being judged themselves“, says Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a lawyer stuck in Amsterdam and sharing details of his life with a complete stranger. Camus slowly unveils to us the man’s previous life, his view on the society around him and his existential crises; Camus here at his most philosophical and rebellious.
Do you have favourite short books/novellas which are perfectly manageable to finish in one day?