By Shani Asokan
For many young readers, classics can be daunting. A common complaint is that often, the best classic books tend to be awfully long. This is unsurprising, considering some of the most popular classics are close to or over a thousand pages long. However, tomes like Anna Karenina and Gone with the Windaside, even the more accessible classics like the ones by Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte can be a big step outside of the comfort zone for someone who prefers contemporary fiction.
A good way to bridge this gap, is to start with shorter classics that are engaging and easy to get through in a sitting or two. Yes, you heard me. Short classic books do exist, and there’s a wide variety to pick from. The following books are all under 200 pages, easy reads, and overall just great stories. That being said, if you still feel like they’re not for you, maybe you just aren’t a reader of classics. And that’s totally fine too. Reading tastes are subjective and genre-specific, and it’s isn’t the end of the world if you don’t want to read a classic or two.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Yes, we’re starting off with one that’s tried and tested to be a quick and easy read. This book does deal with some heavy political themes, but it’s easy to understand, and well written, perfect for a quick one-sitting read. The book features a group of farm animals who rise up against their human farmer. However, the utopian existence they try to establish for themselves quickly crumbles as the wants of a few outweigh the needs of the many. The story is essentially an allegory of the Russian Revolution but even if you aren’t a history buff, there’s plenty of lessons packed into this 112 page book.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
If you watched Netflix’s Haunting of Bly Manor and wondered what it was based on, this is the source material you’ve been looking for. Be warned however, this isn’t anything like the TV show. Yes, this horror novella also features a governess who’s hired to care for Miles and Flora, two young orphans living at Bly Manor, and yes there may or may not be ghosts haunting the house but the similarities end there. The novella is far more speculative horror, the kind that keeps you guessing even long after you’ve turned the last page. It’s also so short that to give anything more away would be to tell you the whole story. Give it a try!
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Another popular one, that’s already got a film adaptation. If you enjoyed the film of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio, you’re bound to like the book version too. Dare I say it, the book is always better! This 1925 novella is narrated by a man named Nick, who watches as his neighbour Jay Gatsby attempts (unsuccessfully) to court his married cousin Daisy. As you can imagine, tragedy ensues. Though none of the characters in this book are particularly likeable, the atmosphere of this book and the vividness with which New York in the roaring twenties is captured make up for it in a heartbeat.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Though Shirley Jackson is best known for another one of her novels, The Haunting of Hill House, I would argue that this novella is even better than that which birthed the first season of my favourite TV anthology. This novella follows the life of Merricat Blackwood, a young girl who lives in a large house with her sister and their ailing uncle. The rest of Merricat’s family perished in a case of arsenic poisoning some years back, and ever since then the three remaining Blackwoods ensconced themselves in their large house at the edge of a village whose inhabitants seem to both hate and fear them.
Told through the eyes of Merricat, an unreliable narrator if there was one, this book is wonderfully strange, gothic and just a lot of fun. Oh, and you might have seen the 2018 movie adaptation but I’ll say it again, the book is just so much better.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Definitely one of Capote’s shorter works. When it was published in 1958, it was thrust into the spotlight as various ‘It Girls’ of New York in the 50’s lay claim to being the inspiration behind the books main character, Holly Golightly.
The book is narrated by an unnamed character who befriends his neighbour Holly Golightly, a young socialite with no apparent job. She spends her life socialising with wealthy men who take her out to all the popular clubs and restaurants, give her spending money and extravagant gifts. Holly hopes to marry one of them someday. Told in slice-of-life style, this book and its main character are fan favourites. You’ve probably seen the 1961 film adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The longest book in this list of recommendations at 208 pages, this book follows a group of schoolboys after their plane crashes onto a deserted island. As expected, chaos ensues. Much like Animal Farm at an allegorical level this story explores the idea of how civilisation and social order deteriorates quickly, far from the reach of everyday laws and norms. The overarching themes of this book include groupthink versus individuality, morality, and rational versus emotional decision-making.
At a surface level, this book is about a group of boys struggling to survive on a deserted island, and all the hijinks they get up to along the way.