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Short(er) classics


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I'm not much of a reader, but now I'm finding that I have twenty minutes a day on the tube where I'd rather read a book. Before this I had been trying to read a few "classics", the kind of book you'd get asked about on a decent quiz. The things I went for were a bit long (Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment). I enjoyed them but they take too long when I'm only doing short bursts. This week though I read Of Mice and Men. This was the perfect length, finished within a week. What else should I be going for next?

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A few I can see from here to keep you going, think they would all be classed as novellas:

Notes From Underground

Death in Venice

The Outsider

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Heart of Darkness

A Clockwork Orange

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

I Am Legend

Animal Farm

The Time Machine

How about short stories? In which case Chekhov and Kafka would get my vote.

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Browsing my bookcase, I can see the following that fit the bill:

The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux) - it's not very well known, but it's a wonderful Gothic companion to Jekyll and Hyde

Nineteen Eighty Four (Orwell)

Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury)

The Thirty-Nine Steps (Buchan)

The Trial (Kafka)

The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger)

The Odyssey (Homer)

The Outsider (Camus)

Washington Square (James)

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Looking at the number of dots on these on my Kindle:

The Great Gatsby

Turn of the Screw

Three Men in A Boat

I've taken to reading Shakespeare plays too, don't take long to read and are obviously amazing. Nowhere near as good as watching them performed on stage but still, the language and poetry is awe-inspiring.

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Perhaps a bit obvious (and a story you're no doubt familiar of) but how about A Christmas Carol?

Riddley Walker isn't too long either (if an '80s novel counts)

Riddley Walker is excellent; in fact all of Hoban's are on the shorter side but I'm not sure that Riddley would be the best to start with or to read in short bursts. The Riddley speak demands a bit more immersion. Perhaps The Medusa Frequency would be a better first one to try.

I'd second the Shakespeare recommendation (of course, it's what I do!) but also widen it out to include Marlowe, Jonson etc. The act and scene structure of plays works really well in short doses. Also, collections of poetry work well in this regard.

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Riddley Walker is excellent; in fact all of Hoban's are on the shorter side but I'm not sure that Riddley would be the best to start with or to read in short bursts. The Riddley speak demands a bit more immersion. Perhaps The Medusa Frequency would be a better first one to try.

A good point, and I somehow managed to miss the short bursts comment from the OP, as Walker is definitely a book you need to acclimatise to.

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Definitely Puckoon, as Uncle Mike mentioned. Not only is it short, it's also the funniest book ever written, so you can't go wrong really.

I'd also recommend some of the Russians. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is fairly short. As is Lermentov's A Hero of Our Time. Even better, that is sub divided into novellas, so perfect for on the bus reading. And Lermentov killed himself in the same way as his protagonist, which is just tragically cool.

EDIT: Just noticed that Disco Benny recc'd some Virginia Woolf...all of hers are fairly short, aren't they? Not sure I'd ever read To The Lighthouse again personally, but it's certainly short. I always liked Orlando best of her stuff, it's kind of SF if you read it with a squint!

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  • 7 months later...

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad.

The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon

Catcher in the Rye - Salinger (maybe need to be young for this one though)

I've just finished reading Catcher in the Rye and don't understand the needing to be young to read it. I thought it was a fairly gritty take on the pressures of being a teenager and seeing where you fit in and all.

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A lot of the criticism on this board is from those who find Holden Caulfield a dick. And he is! Reading it as an angsty teenager, though, you see him more of a cool, anti-authority figure - a peer you want to identify with and perhaps wish you had the balls to do the things he does.

I loved it as an adult.

Edit: If you liked that, try 'Vernon God Little', which feels very much like a modern reworking. It's not overly short, but very readable.

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  • 2 weeks later...

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