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 during our collective quarantine.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong
FUNNIEST SHORT NOVEL
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.
6. 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.
7. The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
Sparse and funny, Sigrid Nunez introduces us to a protagonist who finds herself straddled 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.