Right now, the world can be a very scary place, and you might not feel like going outside for obvious reasons. But this is where reading comes in. Watching movies and television shows is great, but if you want to exercise your brain a little bit more, reading a great book can be the perfect way to unwind without shutting down your brain completely. That’s why we put together this list of short novels that can be read in one sitting on a lazy afternoon.
Some local bookstores are still open or offering delivery, and Amazon is usually a good bet for a quick book haul. If you have a Kindle, all of these books can be downloaded, too.
We know that sometimes reading can feel daunting, but short novels or novellas are a sure shot at relieving any anxiety you might be having, and a welcome distraction to our current situation. Take a break with the best short novels to read this summer.
1. Weather by Jenny Offill
As in our current situation with climate change, Jenny Offill manages to give us humor and perspective all in one thick gulp. Told from Lizzie, a lethargic librarian who lives in Southern California, we experience the view of the dying world through her eyes and emerge with a slight chance of hope. Written in small vignette style paragraphs, this is a quick, short read for anyone looking for literary fiction about climate change and ourselves. Perhaps it will change your mind or spring your thoughts into productive actions.
2. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
In this hilarious and timely novella, the protagonist works at, yes, a convenience store. She sees no other way of life and finds joy in the repetitions and customers who visit the store everyday. It is a bold statement on the rigid work culture in Japan as seen through the eyes of a woman who fits in a little too well. Does she have any personality or is she simply an emblem of what society wishes it’s people to be? A bestseller in Japan, Convenience Store Woman has hit American bookshelves with awe and glee.
3. James Baldwin: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations
The Last Interview series has collected the last sets of audio transcripts and written interviews with the author James Baldwin. Dive into the mind of the acclaimed writer and activist James Baldwin as he speaks with interviewers about his work, life, writing process and the state of the world. If you’ve ever wanted to get a behind the scenes look at an author you admire, The Last Interview series is an excellent place to start. You’ll finish the book knowing more about the author and perhaps having changed your own mind about ideas you thought you knew.
4. Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by Anonymous
Perhaps you’ve heard of the acclaimed Twitter account of the same name. Perhaps you’ve been indoctrinated into the Goldblattian way of life. Either way, this is an astounding small book, a memoir about the writer behind the famed Twitter account. She writes about how her life crumbled after her divorce and how so unexpectedly an online community found its way into her heart. Witty, heart wrenching, and eye-opening to other people’s experiences, Becoming Duchess Goldblatt is a memoir you won’t want to miss this summer. Especially if you’ve been keeping up to date in the Twittersphere.
5. Cool for America: Stories by Andrew Martin
If you read Andrew Martin’s debut novel Early Work then you’ll be intrigued by his book of short stories that follows his former character Leslie as she moves from New York to Missoula, MT to cure a lingering depression. As any New Yorker knows, getting a respite from the city on the open plains may be the only cure possible. Martin writes with a sensitive touch, an alacrity for emotional depth and fine-tunes our ears for real friendship in these interconnected stories.
6. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
A letter written to his mother who cannot read that exposes their history, novelist and poet Ocean Vuong has written the most beautiful book published in 2019. The story follows the life of Little Dog, exploring masculinity and trying to sort out what happened in the Vietnam War to his family. A book about addiction, class, race and the unspeakable truths, Little Dog navigates a hard world in which he knows he must persevere. Vuong writes about being caught between two worlds and how in the end all we can do is reach out for each other.
7. Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
In this book of essays all centering on technology by famed New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino, you’ll explore how the internet has corrupted us all and how we might find our way back. In the opening essay, Tolentino tells readers how she discovered chat rooms and the endless possibilities of being online, all with the wit and perspective of how easily corrupted she was at such a young age. She writes about how hard it is to know your own self with the current reflections of our online identities corrupting our views and what may happen if we don’t see ourselves clearly. Told with a fresh eye and beautiful, dexterous prose, Tolentino has given us nine new essays about how her own sense of self has been tied up with the internet her entire life.
8. Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg
Inspired by true events of the death of Sara Morgan on a college campus in 1997, Goldberg spins a chorus of voices to explore the aftermath. The boyfriend, Blake Campbell, pleads temporary insanity, which raises more questions as the community tries to figure out what happened. Everyone wants an answer: from Sara’s half-sister; the girl who found Sara’s body; to the journalist connecting the dots to serial killer John Logan who is already in prison. Debut writer Goldberg boldly suggests that this case isn’t an anomaly but rather the realities of everyday life for women. A haunting, explosive tale, it will keep you turning the pages until the very end.
9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
A cult classic, if you’re in the mood to be transported back in time to a drug-addled era where nothing makes sense but you can achieve anything, then pick up Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This trip of a book will leave your head spinning. It follows a road trip gone wild with Raoul Duke and his lawyer Dr. Gonzo as they dive into counter culture and reflection. Will they emerge on the other side and if they do, who will they be?
10. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig
A motorcycle road trip taken by father and son across America, the big questions of how to live life and the philosophical answers that follow have enticed readers since its publication in 1974. An uplifting read, we follow the son and father as they travel the country and meditate on life, art, relationships and human values. If you’re feeling a little down about our current state of affairs, this book will pick you right back up and maybe leave you with some new philosophical answers to a few of your lingering questions.
11. Severance by Ling Ma
Told in a dystopian, apocalyptic New York City that’s been struck by Shen Fever, this book kicks off with an accurate portrayal of the city’s wealth gap. Typical complaints of being overworked and underpaid will feel relevant to many readers. Ma sets the tone of detachment right away with her almost apathetic descriptions of the city as it begins to deteriorate around her.
Shen Fever has spread quickly, leaving her the only person still commuting to work every day. Eventually, she sleeps in her office and watches as the people around her calcify into zombies, and so she does what anyone would do in this situation — she creates a social media account called @NYGhost. She begins documenting the action as the only person left in NYC, before making her crucial escape.
12. Eileen by Otttessa Moshfegh
Ottessa Moshfegh is a writer of many talents, and this novella is sure to shock, terrify and please. When we meet her protagonist, Eileen, she’s 24 years old, unhappy and working in a prison. As the story continues, we learn she is her alcoholic father’s caretaker. Intrigued by the new counselor at the prison, she becomes obsessed. When she befriends the new counselor, a budding friendship progresses to a lethal degree, leading to a shocking crime. Our depressed and weary Eileen must find a way to save herself. Set in New England at Christmastime, this novella will be a quick, creepy and mesmerizing read.
13. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Han Kang has written a story that is so much more than what the title suggests. Yeong-hye has decided to stop eating meat, to the point that her father tries to force open her mouth to shove it in, because she is disgracing the family. Yeong-hye distances herself steadily away from reality, eventually ending up in a hospital where her older sister visits her. We see Yeong-hye’s disturbing mental deterioration. “Why am I changing like this? Why are all my edges sharpening- what am I going to gouge?” As her life and mind break down, Yeong-hye becomes a symbol for so much more than vegetarianism, family values or cultural values in South Korea. Kang has written an intriguing masterpiece. You can read this short novel in a day, but you’ll be thinking about it much longer.
14. Animal Farm by George Orwell
You probably haven’t read this book since high school, but it’s worth a second look as an adult, especially in comparison to today’s society. While we all know the story — the animals rebel against their human farmer to create their own unique and more just society, which goes terribly wrong, of course — reading through the lens of 2020 might make you think about this novel differently. Animal Farm was written in 1945, but it will always be relevant as an allegory to our times. If you’re looking for a quick read without too much pain, this little book is for you.
15. Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Rachel Khong wrote the funniest novel of 2018 with a startling quirky and whimsical narrator, Ruth, who is living at home again with her aging parents. As her life with them unfolds, and her father’s dementia compounds into chaos, we see Khong’s sparse and unique prose come to life. A book full of jokes, one-off’s and demands on your psyche, this story follows Ruth as she tries to come to terms with her father’s past, a past he is quickly forgetting. Whimsical and true, this book will rub your funny bone and set you laughing as your spirits rise.
16. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
In Graham Greene’s wildly popular novel set in Vietnam during the war, British journalist Fowler is alerted to the biggest crime possible — his friend is about to steal his girl. Phuong, a former prostitute, is at the center of their dispute, which is told in an off-hand, hilarious point of view. As their feud begins, the setting explodes, literally. As the bombs go off, Fowler and Pyle find themselves hiding in a swamp as their car is set on fire. Greene is a master at setting and tone, and his plot advances as Pyle becomes involved with a dangerous group of individuals. Fowler must set him straight, or the lives of the people of Saigon, and their mutual love Phuong, will be in jeopardy.
17. The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
Sparse and funny, Sigrid Nunez introduces us to a protagonist who finds herself stranded with a Great Dane. His former owner, a cherished friend and mentor, has died and his widow has decided she cannot keep the dog. Our protagonist finds herself dealing with the loss of her friend while caring for his equally grieving Great Dane. She becomes increasingly obsessed with taking care of the mute dog and comforting him in his grief, as he stretches out across her bed and flops about Washington Square Park. Dogs are not allowed in the protagonist’s building, and she must decide how to care for her new friend and keep her apartment. This National Book Award-winning novel is a quick and satisfying read.