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If you’re in the mood for a quick read, pick up one of these classic books under 200 pages for your next evening off.
There’s a common misconception that all classic books must be excruciatingly long. On the contrary, literary masterpieces come in all shapes and sizes. Here, we have featured 10 classic novels by renowned authors – including several Nobel prize winners – that pack a powerful impact without taking forever to read.
In other words, whether you’re trying to reach your yearly reading goal, or just want the satisfaction of finishing a novel really quickly, these books under 200 pages will help you make it without too much effort.
Books under 200 pages:
1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Acclaimed as ‘the great American novel’, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece has firmly established itself in the annals of literary history, and many would say rightly so.
It’s likely you’ve already read it. Maybe you’ve also seen an ever-charming Leonardo DiCaprio playing Gatsby in the lavish 2013 adaptation. Still, if you have read it, I urge you to read it again. Even if you were forced to read it in high school and hated it, I still urge you to read it again. And if you haven’t, well, you are in for a treat.
It’s 1922. As a shallow society scrambles for material wealth and social status, a charming man plays the game while trying to win back lost love – but loses himself in the process.
Fitzgerald’s portrayal of characters, their shallow dreams, and the irony he uses to describe the Roaring Twenties makes for thought-provoking reading. The lesson is brutal: the American Dream is exactly what it is. It’s not real, it’s just a dream.
2. Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
Franny and Zooey is a collection of two short stories: Franny, first published in The New Yorker in 1955, and Zooey, first published in The New Yorker in 1957.
Like many of Salinger’s stories, Franny and Zooey follows the Glass family, focusing on two siblings – hence the title – who are probably too smart for their own good. Franny is a twenty-something college student in the middle of an existential breakdown; Zooey, as a misanthropic actor offering his sister unwanted guidance on her struggles.
The book touches on familiar Salinger-esque themes, including adulthood, spirituality, alienation (self-imposed or otherwise), and ultimately, family issues. Despite a rather intellectual content, the flow is witty and humorous, with some sharp comedy woven into the fabric of the dialogues.
JD Salinger is one heck of a storyteller, even on such a small scale.
3. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
To think of this long essay purely as feminist literature is to do this book a huge disservice.
This is the essence of Virginia Woolf herself, captured at the top of her game, all within 120 pages. This is the famous English novelist reaching out and handing out to you the precious outcome of years of her hard work – her research, her thoughts, her soul.
The essay’s fundamental argument is simple: writing literature requires education, time, and privacy. In other words, a room of one’s own. For any avid reader, it is depressing to think of the many masterpieces that were never written because a huge portion of the population was denied access to all that. Virginia Woolf brilliantly illustrates the issue through the character of Judith Shakespeare, William’s just as talented sister who, as a woman, was never able to write a word.
In the end, Woolf exhorts women to recover their voices and their lives, so that they will not be lost in history again.
4. The Stranger by Albert Camus
If you’re interested in philosophy, or Existentialism specifically, The Stranger is the place to start. The plot is very simple, and overall the book is a rather quick read, and yet it all works together to create a prodigious philosophical work.
Meursault, the main character, is a man devoid of ordinary sentiments. As a matter of fact, Meursault’s lack of normal emotional response is the basis of the novel. His deficiencies first show when his mother dies, a tragic event that does not seem to upset him in the least. They show again when he helps a friend reach out to his ex-girlfriend with the sole purpose of beating her up.
The novel explores deeply into the abyss of absurdity and forces us to face a realm of apathy as Meursault’s condition condemns him to a tragic end. The Stranger is a mandatory read for those interested in exploring the meaning (or lack thereof) of life.
5. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Animal Farm is undeniably one of the best short novels ever written. It’s a deceptively simple tale written as a fable, and yet it’s possible to read it on countless levels. It is a dystopian tale, equal part allegory and satire, as Orwell made no secret of what regime he was so mercilessly mocking. Orwell, a democratic socialist, was in fact a critic of Stalin, and notoriously hostile to Moscow-directed Stalinist communism.
The allegorical plot revolves around a group of farm animals who revolt against their owners, driving them out of the farm and taking care of affairs themselves. With the goal of creating an egalitarian society, they adopt the Seven Commandments of Animalism, the most important of which is, “All animals are equal”.
Eventually, we’ll find this motto replaced by: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Books under 100 pages:
6. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s typical spare prose and testosterone-driven values can get on one’s nerves. As a matter of fact, his overwrought machismo is still in full display in the Old Man and the Sea – Hemingway is still Hemingway. And yet, his usual attitude is tempered here by a sense of reflection and melancholy that can produce some surprisingly tender feelings.
The Old Man and the Sea tells the story of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman living far out in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba. Having gone more than 80 days without catching a single fish, our hero spends three entire days with one stubborn marlin on his line, determined not to let it escape his clutches.
The depth of emotion he goes through is progressively tangible and one can’t help but feel tremendous sympathy for the fisherman. There’s an aura to the landscape that draws you into the current of the story before you realize it.
Ultimately this is the story of a quest, of how far a man will go to accomplish his dreams. If you’re into this sort of thing, it’s worth a read.
7. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Little Prince, first published in 1943, is the most famous work of French writer and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It can be described as a poetic tale – enriched with beautiful watercolor illustrations.
A pilot stranded in the Sahara Desert meets a young prince visiting Earth from a tiny asteroid. Over the course of a week, the pilot attends to his engine while the prince recounts the story of his life and the journey which led him to planet Earth.
Contrary to popular belief, this book was not written for children, but for the child still (hopefully) residing inside each adult. An allegorical social criticism of the grownup world, the story is deeply philosophical. It was written during a period when Saint-Exupéry fled to North America subsequent to the Fall of France during WWII.
Consequently, what might seem like a kid’s story turns out to be an allegory for humanity that is as relevant today as it was when conceived against the backdrop of a world at war, with each page unraveling a significant life lesson.
8. Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Don’t be fooled by book size when it comes to Dostoevsky. This book is short, yes, but it is also disturbing, unpleasant, hard to read, and of course, undeniably brilliant. In just under 100 pages Dostoyevsky manages to bring to life perhaps the most unsettling image of a human being in the entire 19th-century literature.
The protagonist is a man who did not find a place for himself in society – and for good reasons. He is, among other things, bitter, selfish, cruel, petty, entitled, and just downright miserable.
The plot is reduced to a skeleton: first, a long confession whereby the narrator rambles his resentment against the modern Petersburg society; then a short, fragmented diary concerning a couple of events where he makes an absolute fool of himself.
Dostoevsky takes us through the dark depths of the human psyche, and the complex motivations behind our actions. The underground man is an anti-hero, and yet, with all the above, he may remind you of so many people you know – sometimes even yourself. And that’s what really scary about it.
9. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect”
Thus begins the Metamorphosis, in one of the most memorable first lines in modern literature. Kafka really took bedbugs’ nightmares to a whole new terrifying level, huh?
There is no beating about the bush, no explanation whatsoever of how such a bizarre event occurred. Gregor Samsa, a regular hard-working man until the day before, has suddenly become a cockroach – now he, his family, and society must simply learn to deal with it.
Kafka talks about indifference, alienation, and guilt in a direct way which packs an incredible punch. On the other hand, the story has an entertaining and somehow funny factor which one could read casually like a macabre tale, ignoring all the existential business. With so many layers to it, it’s easy to see why The Metamorphosis remains one of the most analyzed and imitated books of the 20th century.
10. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
Beautifully written in a lyrical yet simple fashion, this novel is the ultimate expression of the journey of self-discovery.
Siddhartha is the beloved young son of a Brahmin, the well-regarded caste comprised of poets, priests, teachers, and scholars. Despite being loved by many, and despite being a talented student, Siddhartha is still profoundly discontent with this life. After careful consideration, he decides to leave his family behind to embark on a spiritual journey of self-discovery. His life story somehow resembles the story of Buddha. Siddhartha is to encounter Buddha (who is also referred to as Gautama in the book) and to talk with him, but he’ll later decide to follow his own path.
The story is obviously filled with Buddhist mysticism, but its deceptive simplicity makes it accessible to readers of all ages and backgrounds. Ultimately, Siddhartha’s story is one of discovery, of searching for meaning and finding one’s way in life: one we can all relate to.
That’s it! These are the best influential books under 200 pages that will help you reach your Goodreads goals in no time. Did you read any of these books? What is your favorite?
Tags: books under 200 pages, books under 100 pages, short classic books; best books under 200 pages.