5 Great Books Too Short for NaNoWriMo

Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club

If you’re one of the stalwart few who struggled up the 50,000-word summit during National Novel Writing Month, you likely have a new appreciation for the mountain of words it takes to make a book.  And the potentially dispiriting thing about that climb? As mountains go, it isn’t even a very big one. Fifty thousand words equates to a pretty slim read of less than 200 pages. That’s barely even a novel!

But even if you didn’t hit your goal, don’t toss your work-in-progress into the recycling bin just yet, because there are plenty of great books out there that wouldn’t qualify their authors for a NaNoWriMo victory. As they say, it’s not the number of pages, it’s the words printed on them. Here are 5 great books short enough to polish off in an afternoon, but deep enough to keep you thinking long into the night.

Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk (49,962 words): You can probably breeze through this book in less time than it takes to do a deep dive on the latest Ikea catalogue, but that didn’t stop it from launching Palahniuk’s career as his generation’s most beloved wunderkind of the grotesque. Plus it made for a pretty great movie.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (47,094 words): This slim tome is regularly cited by critics as the best American novel ever written. A legion of high school students may disagree, but at least they can console themselves with the fact that it’s a heck of a lot shorter than Great Expectations.

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut (49,459 words): Vonnegut’s masterwork packs more ideas—time travel, gender politics, a potent antiwar allegory, er, aliens putting people on display in zoos—than most novels twice its length. (Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle would also fit nicely on this list, and is equally rich with weirdness.)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (46,333 words): Adams’ book, which pretty much created and then killed the sci-fi comedy genre by perfecting the form in a single go, offers up perhaps the most potent laughs-to-word count ratio in all of literature.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (46,118 words): Bradbury’s most famous work, this visceral story about censorship and oppression wouldn’t provide much fuel for its book-destroying protagonist, but its message sparked a flame that’s still burning bright 60 years later.

What’s your favorite super short read?

  • Heather Scott-Penselin

    hmmm I’ve read every one of these except Slaughterhouse 5 – been meaning to read that. I prefer Palahniuk’s “Rant” to his “Fight Club” and still haven’t worked up the courage to read his short story that has caused people to pass out. (“Guts”).

  • http://theravensskull.wordpress.com/ Jonnah Z. Kennedy

    Here’s what I believe, personally, as a writer myself. I think that the perfect length of a novel is either below 300 pages, or just above (as much as 50 pages above, but still). Many novels are famously long, and still have great insight, but some of the truly best novels ever written have been some of the slim tomes above. The edition of To Kill a Mockingbird that I have (the 50th Anniversary, I think) is 321 pages, yet, it explores so many issues and says so much and more without going far beyond 300 pages; Misery, another one of my favorite books, stops at just 310 pages, and I still can’t believe it was ONLY 310 pages, it was truly incredible. Including all the novels above, I just thing that the best books are always the ones that are able to do so much without being either daunting or totally full of themselves with it, because they’re accessible and did good at what they set out to do, if there was a point to their odyssey anyways.