10 Books You Can Read in One Day

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 [1832] 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 [1886] 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 [1967] 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 [1937] 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 [1891] 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 [2016] 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 [1940] 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 [1965] 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 [2005] 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 [1956] 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?

22 thoughts on “10 Books You Can Read in One Day

  1. This list is great except when I read Ice it was so good I read it again the next day.

    I would add based on recent reads and re-reads: Borges’ “Labyrinthos”, Aikman’s “Sub Rosa” and Wolfe’s “Third Head of Cerberus”.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum. I can’t read more than a chapter a day of late-period Henry James, it’s that dense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for these great recommendations. As you know, Aickman and Wolfe are on my TBR. I guess when compiling this list I was thinking more of one story-books or short novellas rather than collections of short stories.

      And I so agree about Henry James and density! I haven’t read many of his late short stories or novellas (covered The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller), but judge this on the basis of such books as The Ambassadors and The Wings of the Dove that are in stark contrast to the simplicity of Washington Square and The Portrait of a Lady. He once gave advice to starting writers to just write any however simple story in whatever language and the only rule is that it should be “interesting”. I guess he thought better of it later on and added another that it should also be densely-written 🙂

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      1. Maybe then add Voltaire’s “Candide” and the wonderful (even if rarely read) “A Night in the Luxembourg” by Remy de Gourmont

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  2. I read several short novels by Amelie Nothomb, but not ‘Sulphuric Acid’. It’s going on my list. I notice that Nothomb is still turning out short novels almost yearly, but she is no longer getting the publicity like she used to. That might be because she is so prolific.

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    1. Perhaps! I guess her controversial ideas have also become better known and do not warrant any shocking publicities anymore (as they undoubtedly did in the 1990s). I haven’t read many of her novels, but loved her debut most – Hygiene and the Assassin.

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  3. Wonderful list Diana. Unfortunately, I’m not a fast enough reader to go through a book in one day but two novellas that I greatly appreciate are Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and Steinbeck’s To A God Unknown. The latter can’t top Of Mice and Men but It really spoke to me. I read the Tolstoy and Chekhov stories that you name in college. Perhaps it’s time to revisit. You’ve also piqued my curiosity about Ice.

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    1. Thank you, To a God Unknown definitely goes to my TBR! I see it explores the theme of the connection of a man to his land, and though I know other Steinbeck’s books explore that too, I think the best book on that theme I read was Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil, which I recommend. In turn, I am now curious about this book because I see that it took Steinbeck a very long time to complete.

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  4. Great list. I have read “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” and “Of Mice and Men” and I can vouch for those. Weird that I haven’t read “The Fall”, Albert Camus is one of my favourite authors. I’ll have to rectify that.

    Thanks, Diana.

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        1. Oh, definitely, no other author shaped me as much, I think. Thanks to Camus I feel at home when it comes to existential literature. Actually, I am now reading one of his favourite books – Blood Dark by Louis Guilloux and may review it next month. I can also recommend Brussels Tropismes bookshop for Camus books.

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          1. Oh, I love that shop. Galerie St. Hubert, I believe. The thing is, I used to live in Brussels, met my husband there. And now, almost forty years later, our son moved there. We have always visited there at least once a year and will continue to do so always.

            Thanks for the book recommendations, Diana. I have put them on my shopping list for Brussels. I know I could order them but French books are pretty expensive outside of the French speaking world, I find.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. I recently read one I can recommend, Voting Day by Clare O’Dea — as a bonus, it mainly takes place on a single day, February 1, 1959, day of a failed referendum to give Swiss women the vote. The four linked stories were a quick read and shed light on a forgotten corner of women’s history.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great list! Coincidentally I just finished “Ice” yesterday, and it’s one of my favorite books of all time so I second that. However, I would feel that due to the wordiness and overall confusion in some parts of that book, it should be read slowly. Perhaps reading it one sitting wouldn’t allow full appreciation/understanding of everything there.

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