Want to be well-read in the classics, but don’t have time to read War & Peace? Grab one of these short classics you actually have time to read!
Do you want to be well-read but don’t have the time to sit down and read a 1,000+ page novel? While War and Peace is a long classic worth your time, how likely are you to have the time to sit down and read it?
Yet at the same time, you don’t want to feel like a complete fool when you converse with some crazy English major who only reads books written more than 100 years ago. What if you could feel well-read without taking up too much of your time?
Enter my list of short classics you actually have time to read. Though I listed all the short classics I could find, I’ve highlighted the ones that I think would be most valuable. For example, John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony is short, but I’ve never actually come across it in a conversation.
My highlighted list of short classics is more practical in nature. These featured short classics have conversational value.
If you hang around smart people long enough, you might actually have a chance to bring them up in conversation. Plus, you’d be surprised how often classics are referenced in popular culture. For example, Of Mice and Men is referenced in the tv shows Friends and Lost and even a Katy Perry song.
Not only was I aiming for short classics with conversational value but also I chose stories that each taught a valuable lesson. In these short classics, you can see perfect examples of human nature – the darkness, absurdities, and greed that are common to all men.
So, in 200 pages or less, here are some short classics you actually have time to read in your busy schedule.
Sidenote: I included both traditional classics and modern classics on my list. Also, page counts are from Goodreads.
Short Classics Under 100 Pages
If you don’t have much time but want to read short classics, one of the best places to start is with poetry. With a poetry collection, you can easily sneak in a few poems in your free time – and a page of poetry is a lot quicker to read than a page of regular text. William Blake’s small collection of poetry is the shortest classic on my list. Showing the contrary states of the human soul, Blake aims to portray the innocence of childhood against the realities of a fallen world. A perfect example, is his famous poem, The Tyger, in which Blake intones of the tiger, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” 56 pages
Tyger Tyger burning bright
In the forests of the night.
-William Blake, The Tyger
Besides poetry, another great way to enjoy short classics is to read classic plays. Even at the same number of pages, plays have much more spacing inside the text, making them quick reads. The second shortest item on my list of short classics is Molière’s famous play, The Misanthrope. This short work is a humorous look at the absurdities of human nature. Molière uses the protagonist, a man quick to judge others but blind to his own flaws, as a perfect satire of not just the French Aristocracy, but people in general. 64 pages
“Betrayed and wronged in everything
I’ll flee this bitter world where vice is King
And seek some spot unpeopled and apart
Where I’ll be free to have an honest heart.”
-Molière, The Misanthrope
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
If you aren’t in the mood for poetry or a play, The Little Prince is a short illustrated story full of morals – if only you have eyes to see them. It’s one of those classic books in which you can get out of it as much or as little as you want. This short allegory follows a young boy, the Little Prince, who decides to give up his pleasant life on his tiny planet to go discover the universe. Along the way, he encounters a strange place called Earth and learns about some of the absurdities of the adults. 93 pages
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Imagine having the luckiest day of your life. In today’s world, that might mean winning the lottery. In John Steinbeck’s novella, The Pearl, it meant that a poor diver named Kino found the largest and most beautifully perfect pearl. His luck had changed … or had it? Short classics are best when they teach you about human nature, and The Pearl perfectly captures the vices of greed and envy. “Luck, you see, brings bitter friends,” as poor Kino learns of his fellow man. A short little story with a powerful lesson, The Pearl is a great introduction to the classics and John Steinbeck’s brilliant body of work. 96 pages
“For it is said that humans are never satisfied,
that you give them one thing and they want something more.”
-John Steinbeck, The Pearl
The Legend of Sleeping Hollow and Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving (83 pages)
The Wasteland by T. S. Eliot (88 pages)
Sonnets From the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (93 pages)
The Red Pony by John Steinbeck (95 pages)
Short Classics Under 150 Pages
Pack your tissues because this classic novel is a book that will make you cry. This memorable story follows eternal optimists George and Lennie who share a common dream – to own some land of their own. When life leads them to work on a California ranch, they bump up against the reality that life can be extremely unfair. I think if you were to only read one of the short classics on my list, this would be the one. Steinbeck is a brilliant writer, and I promise that this story will stick with you long after you’ve read it. 112 pages
“The best laid schemes of mice and men
often go awry.”
-Robert Burns, To A Mouse
Based on two lectures she gave at women’s colleges at the University of Cambridge, A Room of One’s Own is an influential feminist text. Virginia Woolf believes that for a woman to truly write, she needs two things: money and a room to herself. While you may not agree with everything she says, this short essay covers the interesting topics of intellectual freedom and the process of creating. Of all the short classics on my list, I feel this is the most thought-provoking of them all. 112 pages
“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters;
and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”
-Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
E. M. Forster
Lucy has her whole life planned out. She’ll marry her perfectly respectable fiance Cecil and live a quiet peaceful life in England. However, when she visits Italy with her cousin Charlotte, Lucy’s life is turned upside down as she meets an explosion of colorful characters, including the passionate George. Can she accept the chaos of this new life or go back to her old ways in England? If you tend toward the romantic, this is the perfect choice for you. 119 pages
“Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.”
-E. M. Forster, A Room with a View
On the surface, Animal Farm is just a simple tale of animals revolting against the cruel farmer to set up their own government. In reality, Animal Farm is the perfect parable for the danger of giving up our freedoms for the sake of security. If you’ve ever wondered how a dictatorship comes to be, this classic short novel will show you. To get the most of this short classic, you’ll want to pair it with my favorite book of all time, George Orwell’s 1984. 122 pages
“All animals are created equal. But some are more equal than others.”
-George Orwell, Animal Farm
Ready for a short novel that will make you think? Enter Albert Camus’ thought-provoking short classic book, The Stranger, the story of Mersault, a seemingly ordinary man without any feelings. After he kills a stranger on an Algerian beach, Mersault is put on trial for murder. On the surface, The Stranger seems like a simple novel, but if you care to look deeper, you can find the roots of many philosophical questions (though few answers). 123 pages
“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”
-Albert Camus, The Stranger
Based on actual people and events, The Crucible is a short classic play set during the Salem Witch Trials. In the 1690s, the townspeople of the small New England town of Salem are suddenly engulfed in rumors of witchcraft. The mass hysteria leads to the accusation and trial of Elizabeth Proctor for being a witch. Remember that Miller’s play was written in 1953, right in the middle of the Senator McCarthy era. The hysteria of the townspeople in the play perfectly mirrors the hysteria caused by McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade and reminds us to not let our fears get the better of us. 143 pages
“Until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven.”
-Arthur Miller, The Crucible
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (107 pages)
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (117 pages)
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (118 pages)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (126 pages)
Candide by Voltaire (129 pages)
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (131 pages)
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (132 pages)
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (140 pages)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (144 pages)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Unknown (144 pages)
Short Classics Under 200 Pages
One of those short classics you probably read in high school, Ray Bradbury’s novel seems particularly prophetic in our current age of technology. Set in a society where printed books are considered dangerous, Fahrenheit 451 tells the tale of Guy Montag, a fireman whose job it is to search out and burn books until he begins to question everything he has ever known. Ray Bradbury’s novel serves as a warning against the dangers of censorship and the consequences of an addiction to television. 175 pages
“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door …
Who knows who might be target of a well-read man?”
-Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
F. Scott Fitzgerald
I swear every American teenager reads this classic in high school, but if you happen to have skipped it, you really ought to read it now. Even if you read it in high school, you really should read it again as an adult. You’ll pick up a lot more of the underlying themes. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great American novel serves as the quintessential work of the Jazz Age. As the narrator enters the world of Long Island’s fabulously wealthy, we meet the mysterious Jay Gatsby and the beautiful Daisy Buchanan. A short but memorable book that everyone should read in their lifetime. 180 pages
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
What happens when a group of English schoolboys is marooned on a deserted island? The above quote perfectly summarizes this novel. As the boys attempt to rule themselves, the dark side of human nature comes out in all its ugliness. Even if our society isn’t perfect, this book makes you glad that at least you live in a civilized society. If you didn’t by chance read this book growing up, now is a great time to pick it up. It’s probably even more terrifying to read as an adult imagining your kids as characters in the novel than it was to read as a teen. 182 pages
“We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?”
-William Golding, Lord of the Flies
Coming in just below the 200-page mark and the final of the short classics I’ll feature is Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. I can’t say I particularly liked this novel, but I still feel it deserves to be highlighted on my list of short classics. For its time, Kate Chopin’s tale of a woman’s infidelity was rather shocking and delves into the main character’s psychology. I’ve chosen more fun easy reads thus far, but I figure I might as well end on a short book that might impress the English major sitting next to you. 195 pages
“The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.”
-Kate Chopin, The Awakening
Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville (160 pages)
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (162 pages)
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (170 pages)
The Call of the Wild by Jack London (172 pages)
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (176 pages)
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (176 pages)
Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill (179 pages)
Our Town by Thornton Wilder (181 pages)
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin (184 pages)
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (188 pages)
The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (192 pages)
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (194 pages)
Do You Prefer Short Classics or Long Classic Books?
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my Short Classics list? What short classic books have I forgotten? Or would rather have the depth of long classic books? As always, let me know in the comments!
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