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?