cover image Great Short Books: A Year of Reading—Briefly

Great Short Books: A Year of Reading—Briefly

Kenneth C. Davis. Scribner, $28 (448p) ISBN 978-1-982180-03-4

It’s time to remedy the fact that short novels “get no respect,” according to this thoughtful survey from historian Davis (Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America). Brief novels, which usually land between 100 and 200 pages, are “like a great first date... pleasant, even exciting, and memorable,” he writes. “But there is no long-term commitment.” Davis presents one short novel for every week of the year, “plus six bonus books” and follows the same format for each entry: he quotes the opening paragraph of the book, before offering a (spoiler-free) plot summary, a biographical essay on the author, a “why you should read it” assessment, and a list of things to read next by the author. There are classics—The Great Gatsby thanks to its “timeless and timely” nature; Lord of the Flies makes for “a thrilling read”; and Animal Farm is as “a potent cautionary tale in our time”—as well as lesser known and more recent novels. Alberto Moravia’s Agostino “is both painful and candid”; Natalia Ginzburg’s The Dry Heart “grows more complex and tragic as it unfolds”; Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys is lauded for its spare prose; and Leïla Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny is a showcase of psychological complexity. Davis’s conversational tone makes him a great guide to these literary aperitifs. This is sure to leave book lovers with something new to add to their lists. (Nov.)