Tuesday, July 27, 2010

50 Books, 150 Pages or Less: Part 1 of 3

A good novel doesn’t have to be long novel. Here are some great, short reads for those of us with a shortage of time or attention. Look for parts two and three in the coming months.

by César Aira

139 pages

A strange, ultimately touching story about a migrant family living atop an incomplete apartment building that is also inhabited by ghosts that only they can see. According to the New York Times, "Aira is one of the most provocative and idio­syncratic novelists working in Spanish today, and should not be missed."

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Travels in the Scriptorium
by Paul Auster

145 pages

Booklist called Auster's spare novel "an archly playful and shrewdly philosophical tribute to the transcendence of stories." A man who has lost his memory wakes up in a barren room only to confront a parade of people he may have hurt, though he does not know how.

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The Mezzanine: A Novel
by Nicholson Baker

135 pages

Reviewing this novel in 1989, the New York Times stated that "Its 135 pages probably contain more insight into life as we live it than anything currently on the best-seller lists." Despite having almost no plot or conflict, The Mezzanine is an insightful and very funny book about the trivial objects and events that populate daily life.

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The Actual
by Saul Bellow

103 pages

Library Journal called this late novel by the Nobel laureate "an achingly simple cry from the heart that reads like a parting love letter." After living most of his adult life overseas, Bellow's narrator returns to Chicago and becomes reacquainted with his first love.

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The Uncommon Reader
by Alan Bennett

128 pages

The Queen of England develops a passion for reading after chasing a runaway corgi into a bookmobile and feeling obligated to check out a book. USA Today called Bennett's book a "hilarious and pointed...lesson in the redemptive and subversive power of reading," saying that, "Most of all, The Uncommon Reader is a lot of fun to read."

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The Lemur
by Benjamin Black

132 pages

A journalist agrees to write to the biography of his father-in-law, a former CIA operative and the head of a telecommunication company. To help he hires a researcher who is quickly murdered, possibly for learning a little too much. Who killed him and why? Kirkus Reviews declared that "Black's prose is so mesmerizing--crisp precise, alive with telling details--that you'll enjoy every step." Benjamin Black is a pen name of Man Booker Prize-winner John Banville.

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By Night in Chile
by Roberto Bolaño

130 pages

Bolaño's fever dream of a novel is a deathbed confession by a priest and literary critic who passively supported the Pinochet regime. By Night in Chile, which the New York Times described as "densely learned" and "richly evocative," Was the first of Bolaño's critically acclaimed novels to appear in English.

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A Month in the Country
by J.L. Carr

135 pages

Physically and mentally scarred by his experience as a soldier in World War I and reeling from a divorce, Tom Birkin seeks solitude in the English countryside. The Atlantic Monthly called Carr's much-loved novel "a story of spiritual regeneration, even of resurrection," that possesses "not mere lyrical beauty but a rare generosity of vision and an ever alert sense of the absurd."

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The Final Solution: A Story of Detection
by Michael Chabon

131 pages

Retired and intent on beekeeping, a detective resembling Sherlock Holmes is persuaded to take the case of a stolen parrot. New York Magazine called Pulitzer Prize-winner Chabon's sly but resonant homage to the classic detective story "a profound pleasure."

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The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros

134 pages

Cisneros' iconic first novel. In a series of short vignettes, teenage Esperanza describes growing up in Chicago amongst great poverty and her dreams of escaping. When this book was originally published in 1991, the New York Times stated that Cisneros "seduces with precise, spare prose, creat[ing] unforgettable characters we want to lift off the page... She is not only a gifted writer, but an absolutely essential one."

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The Body Artist : A Novel
by Don DeLillo

124 pages

Delillo's novel about a recently widowed "body artist" who discovers a small, strange man living in her rented house is a meditation on art, time, and perception. The New York Times praised the book's "exquisite beauty," describing it as an "intimate affair, quiet, spare and strange--but not so strange as to distract from the glories of the chiseled prose."

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by Penelope Fitzgerald

141 pages

Follows the lives of an eccentric community living on barges in the Thames. Booker Prize judges called Fitzgerald's novel "flawless" when it was first published in 1979. For more on Fitzgerald, see our earlier post: Have You Read...Penelope Fitzgerald.

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Ellen Foster
by Kaye Gibbons

126 pages

Orphaned eleven year old Ellen Foster's moving and often funny account of finally finding a place to call home. Gibbons book was an early selection of Oprah's Book Club.

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Necklace and Calabash: A Chinese Detective Story
by Robert van Gulik

143 pages

A Dutch diplomat and expert on Chinese history and culture, van Gulik wrote a series of mysteries set in medieval China that featured the inimitable magistrate Judge Dee. These mysteries have had a devoted following, and garnered plenty of praise, ever since they appeared in the 1950s and 60s. The St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers goes so far as to call them "certainly the finest ethnographic detective novels in English." Though it is one of the last books in the series, Necklace and Calabash is a great place to start.

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The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story
by Susan Hill

145 pages

When it was published in the UK, The Independent called Hill's novel "A masterclass in the art of dread." An old-fashioned ghost story about the sinister secrets hiding in a mysterious painting.

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by Andrew Holleran

150 pages

"Grief," according to, "is a strange, slim, beautiful book… like a single note struck on a perfect silver bell, it carries far." Holleran's eloquent, understated novel is narrated by an aging professor who moves to Washington, DC after the death of his mother. Grief won a Stonewall Book Award in 2007.

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The Name of the World
by Denis Johnson

129 pages

Johnson's spare, poetic story of a college professor's attempts to come to terms with the deaths of his wife and child. The Los Angeles Times said, of Johnson's novel, "How easy it is to forget, with all the trivia in print cluttering our lives, that words can be this supple a vehicle for transcendent healing."

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1 comment:

Nate said...

This post is fantastic. I have it bookmarked and have already checked out three of the books. Please post the next installment soon!