Small Books with a Big Punch

Over the weekend, I stumbled upon a somewhat disturbing statistic – last year, 25% of Americans didn’t read a single book. No Harry Potter, no Lisbeth Salander, and not one of James Patterson or Danielle Steel’s dozens upon dozens of books. It’s a statistic that surprised me – I get not reading much, but not a single book? – and bummed me out quite a bit. While I love video games, movies, television and all kinds of entertainment, nothing moves me quite as much as a good book. How could someone not even read one?

The answer from most people is, of course, time. Who has time to read a book? Books are looong. Books take time to read. Books require a bit of concentration. And books are long.

Putting aside the “lack of time” argument for a minute, I can sympathize with people occasionally decrying the length of books. I’ve had a run of 600+ page monster books this year, and it can be exhausting. But who says that a book is to be judged by it’s breadth and weight, rather than by it’s content?

There are scores of great books out there that are svelte, slender and shrimpy. I’ll exercise a bit of rare brevity and get right to it – here’s a bunch of books that even the most indolent reader could get through in a year. Don’t be a statistic! Read at least one of these sub-200 page books in 2010! Even though it’s already August, you still have time. Hell, if you’re a fast reader you can get through any of these in less time than it takes to watch King Kong.

Active Liberty by Stephen Breyer
Page-itude: 176 pages
In one of my favorite books on jurisprudence, Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer writes about his judicial philosophy. Active Liberty is a great look at Breyer’s belief in the “right of the citizenry of the country to participate in government”, and a good companion to Scalia’s A Matter of Interpretation, which is also a) worth reading and b) only 176 pages.

Clandestine in Chile by Gabriel García Márquez
Page-iness: 160 pages
One of my favorite books in recent memory, Clandestine in Chile is a memoir of Miguel Littin’s six weeks filming a clandestine documentary in Pinochet’s Chile. A breathtaking and suspenseful book, and a fantastic true story of civil disobedience.

Tinkers by Paul Harding
Page-tacularity: 192 pages
The most recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Tinkers hardly needs my endorsement to push people to pick it up. Harding’s masterful writing packs more punch into this book than most writers get in twice as many pages. If you do in fact need more convincing, Michele Filgate’s review of Tinkers should be more than enough to add the book to your to-be-read pile.

The Classics
It’s really a shame how often school can turn us off to the classics. There are books by Dickens and Dostoevsky that I’m not sure if I’ll ever enjoy, not because they are bad but because of when I was forced to read them. Adulthood and leisure reading is a great chance to catch up on the classics – and many of them can be read in an afternoon. The Old Man and the Sea, Of Mice and MenOf Empire, Eichmann and the Holocaust, The Great Gatsby, The Symposium, virtually all of Arthur Miller and Shakespeare … there’s no lack of books. If you need a starting point, check out the Penguin Books Great Ideas series and Beowulf on the Beach by Jack Murnighan.

Need more ideas? I solicited a few suggestions from my Twitter followers.

Recommendations from the Tweet-Nut Gallery
@IrishEyz77The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin
@nelizadrewThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
@ragesinggoddessPersuasion by Jane Austen and The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
@JoeBFosterPieta by William Zink
@rurugbyA River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
@dogearedcopyThe Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi
@HarvFThe Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
@BookishJuliaThe Last American by John Ames Mitchell

What about you? What books have had the greatest impact on you with the fewest pages?


21 responses to “Small Books with a Big Punch

  1. The Dangling Man by Saul Bellow and Room Temperature by Saul Bellow.

  2. Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

    (I had to read it three times to love it, but I do!)

  3. Im not surprised by that statistic. Out of my group of friends only two of us read and any time we try to discuss books we are essentially looked down on. It’s kind of ridiculous.

  4. I was lucky enough to teach “Of Mice and Men” for 4 years in my former profession a a high school teacher. Reading the end with each of my classes always moved me to tears.

  5. Thornton Wilder’s THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY. I somehow missed this book until a couple of years ago, when I listened to Sam Waterston’s very fine reading of it. THE BRIDGE is a thing of great and mysterious beauty.

  6. May I add: Vendela Vida’s new novel, “The Lovers,” which clocks in at 225 pages, just over your limit, but it reads like 175. I have had difficulty getting involved in much of what I start this summer, but this novel about a 53 year-old widow who returns to her honeymoon spot to remember her husband hooked me early and kept me reading right until the end.

  7. One classic that we’ve enjoyed reading aloud together is “The 13 Clocks,” by James Thurber. (I’ve grabbed rooms full of college students or neighbor kids and read aloud with equal success.)

    Whether it’s as full of “big ideas” (on time, freedom, convention, wickedness, laughter, change, happiness) as most of these titles I can’t surely say, but I keep coming back to this self-aware fairy tale to dig for treasure amidst the play of words. There is something about it that is indescribable, yet sustaining, like the Golux’s hat.

  8. I just read THE TYPIST by Michael Knight, which weighs in at 200 (small) pages and is a great read.

    Also: THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE. Not short, per se, but a quick, fun, easy read.

    And now I’ll spend the rest of the day thinking of these in order to distract myself from the sadness of that statistic.

  9. Anything by Steinbeck! Independent authors are also not constrained by the bizarre commercial considerations of modern publishers (based on how many copies can find in a carton or rack). Thanks for these lists–I’d add H.G Wells and Stephen Crane.

    Scott Nicholson

  10. Light Boxes by Shane Jones – a fable about a town February comes to stay until the people fight back – 160 pages

  11. I recommend THE VAMPIRE OF ROPRAZ by award-winning Swiss writer, Jacques Chessex. A novel based on a true story. It clocks in at a lean 106 pages – and doesn’t need more or less to weave a simple story with a powerful punch.

  12. The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace – debut novel that will have people talking. 19th century Italy (and I’m not a big fan of historical fiction), a love triangle(where the contessa befriends a village handyman) and the invention of the typewriter all wrapped into a highly readable, very engaging story.

  13. Robin Hillyer Miles

    The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett

  14. Mopus by Oisin Curran (from Counterpath Press). I like this book so much that I gave a copy to David Mitchell after interviewing him. “Concise Metafiction:” you think it’s an oxymoron? Then you haven’t read this book.

  15. I second THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY. Practically perfect in every way.

    Also, WHEN YOU REACH ME (199 pages!) and AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED by Anne Carson. Little red monsters and volcanoes and some of the best poetry I’ve ever read. After reading that beautiful book I was never the same.

  16. This book will take you an afternoon to read, but you will be thinking about it for a lifetime. Yes, it has several strikes against it

    227 pages over your limit, but barely

    poetry – yes I know no one reads poetry, but you really shouldn’t miss this story because you don’t read poetry

    written for young adults – that should never stop anyone from reading a book.

    The book I am talking about is Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

    When Billie Jo is just fourteen she must endure heart-wrenching ordeals that no child should have to face. The quiet strength she displays while dealing with unspeakable loss is as surprising as it is inspiring. Written in free verse, this award-winning story is set in the heart of the Great Depression.

    Really, read this book – you won’t be the same.

  17. Easy– The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. 96 pages.

  18. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

  19. I implore anyone who doesn’t think books can be fun and interesting to try something by P G Wodehouse. He is seriously funny and his books are light, cheerful and easy to read. What is there not to like??
    If you need any more persuading, my latest blog was all about him! 🙂 Read it here:

  20. Oh my goodness! an amazing article. Thank you!

  21. Pingback: Bookrageous Episode 37; Listener Questions | Brews and Books

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