best books you can read in under an hour each
May 24, 2015 11:25 PM   Subscribe

"For those who love books, but don’t have enough time for reading. Here are the best books you can read in under an hour each." 24 books to read in under an hour (infographic) by Piotr Kowalczyk at Ebook Friendly. (via Electric Literature) Previously: What to read when pressed for time
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (40 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
When in 7th grade, I was assigned to do a book report specifically on a Non-Fiction book and in the not-very-big school library, I was the first to get to what was probably the shortest book in the Social Science shelves (the ol' 300s)... the 144-page How To Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff. Its copyright date showed me it was already a year older than I was and seemed almost beyond its sell-by date by its 1950s-cartoon-style illustrations. But the illustrations just made it that much quicker and easier a read so I dug in. And a funny thing happened... I slowed down as I was going through its examples of Statistical Manipulation (or "Statisticulation", a term I adopted for myself) and started thinking of the numbers and percentages and charts and stuff that surrounded this 12-year-old and by the time I was through writing the book report, I was a dedicated Skeptic and a Critical Thinker. That book changed my life. I was so happy to see it pop up in bookstores in later editions and be frequently revived in interest (it's currently the #1 Statistics book on Amazon AND sold out). It is still one of the favorite books of my life and something I recommend to EVERYONE. Because, sadly enough, this book that was really designed to encourage skepticism toward statistics has seemed to become a textbook for scheming data-mongers, because I keep seeing examples from the book over-and-over-and-over to this day. READ THIS BOOK. It won't take long.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:49 PM on May 24, 2015 [26 favorites]

I've mentioned this when recommending some fairly short books before, but I once asked a mildly well-known literary theorist what he'd been reading lately, and he named a very short book(*) and began to rant about how he was done reading long books--just done. He had read enough of them, he figured, and few had seemed worth it. He thought there were so many good short books in the world that do so much, so well, without drowning the reader in repetitious themes that he could focus on them and do perfectly well, even as a literary scholar. I imagine that was the sort of private rant you shouldn't take too seriously, but at the time, I thought it was pretty funny, true enough, and a fairly liberating way to look at both literature and scholarly work, even if I continued to read some big books when I felt like it. (Incidentally, Melville House's Art of the Novella provides an interesting reading list too.)

* I think it was Blumenberg's Shipwreck with Spectator, not a novel, and what likely spurred the rant was that Blumenberg normally writes some really, really oversized books. Which isn't to say that Shipwreck with Spectator doesn't read like a long book. It sure does.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:02 AM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oneswellfoop, I think you'd also like How to Lie with Maps by Monmonier (if you haven't read it already) which was inspired by the Huff book. And then there's How to Spy with Maps.
posted by hazyjane at 12:06 AM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

There is also How to Lie with Charts by Gerald Everett Jones, but I like to go back to the original inspiration (especially since I discovered it looking for a short, easy book).
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:11 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

The math in that infographic is shaky. "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" clocks in at about 26000 words, which they abstract out to 64 pgs/53 minutes (about 406 words/pg or 490 words/min), but "Fall of the House of Usher", at a lean ~7200 or so words is 25 pages/21 minutes (288 words/pg, 342 words/min), both faster than the initially cited 250 words/pg / 300 words/min guidelines. Brokeback Mountain is somewhere around 10-11k words, and it's clocked as being the same length as Jekyll and Hyde.

also, any length of time spent reading Niall Ferguson is too much

(pssst: Heart of Darkness is a bit too long for a 1-hour read, but you can definitely do it in 2.)
posted by kagredon at 12:23 AM on May 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

"I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."

--Woody Allen
posted by zardoz at 12:24 AM on May 25, 2015 [11 favorites]

Illusions by Richard Bach was a favorite of mine in and after high school. It's very short, but invites non-linear rereading.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:37 AM on May 25, 2015

This is timely. I can't sleep. I just read Phoenix.
posted by Jode at 1:08 AM on May 25, 2015

I don't get why anyone would prefer short books. If it's a good book, surely you don't want it to end. And if it's not good, you can stop reading. If you don't have a lot of time for reading, you can read a long book slowly, and still spend no more time per week reading than you would with short books, but with the advantage of less frequently having to spend time finding things to read.
posted by lollusc at 2:44 AM on May 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

One of film crit hulk's maxims is turning out to be applicable to almost anything in life: more book does not necessarily equal better book.
posted by ominous_paws at 3:24 AM on May 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

the advantage of less frequently having to spend time finding things to read.

I think this is where people split, as I have no problem finding things to read, quite the opposite.

Dan Rhodes did a lovely list on this: "I was reading a new novel the other day when it struck me that the author might as well be a murderer. It wasn't a bad novel, it was just too long. Passages that could and should have been lopped out had been left in, but I felt I had to plough through them in case they had any bearing on the story. It might have been a really good read if the author had had the gumption, or the balls, to shave off a hundred pages. And here's where the murder comes in. Say it takes the average reader an extra two hours (two hours they will never get back) to read all the filler. And what if the book does well and finds 250,000 readers? By my calculations this author will have wasted a total of 57 waking years - the equivalent of a long human life. And what if this monster continues to publish such books? Surely that would make them a serial killer?"
posted by Gin and Broadband at 3:45 AM on May 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

Am I missing something? Aren't these just short, y'know, stories? Because that's what we used to call written works that were short enough to be read basically in one sitting. And I think there's more than two dozen of really good ones available.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:13 AM on May 25, 2015 [12 favorites]

I was so happy to see it pop up in bookstores in later editions and be frequently revived in interest (it's currently the #1 Statistics book on Amazon AND sold out).

I think it's a fairly standard text on any Social Science methods 101 course.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:07 AM on May 25, 2015

It was on my Dad's shelf, and I misread it as "How To Live With Statistics" for a long time (he was a mathematician, so this didn't seem too far-fetched)
posted by thelonius at 5:14 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Or you can read the same book for an hour at a time, repeating until you reach the end. Just a thought.
posted by dis_integration at 5:14 AM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've been studying book lengths as of late. In order to determine word count, I put together a database with 380 instances where I could find audiobook recording times and known word counts. The average reading out loud rate is 151 words per minutes and never close to 300. The words per page average 292. Now, it might be that people read 300 words when not reading out loud. I don't.

Here is a list, ranked by word count from shortest to longest, of the Crime Writers' Association of Britain's top 100 mystery novels combined with the Mystery Writers of America's top 100 mystery novels (In combination, mostly due to overlap, 147 novels.)

Many of the absolute best mystery novels are very short (novella-length), including The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Daughter of Time and The Third Man.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:41 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Agreed that most of these works, while published in standalone form, may be more like short stories/novellas. That being said, I'm a really slow reader (mythically slow) and so any suggestions on good books that are brief and give a ping of "yippee I finished reading a book" can't be bad. So thanks for those links, joseph conrad is fully awesome.

For the blue's list of additions I offer:

The Painter and the Wild Swans (1993), by Claude Clément and Frederic Clément (in French Le peintre et les cygnes sauvages) is a children's picture book so 32 pages sometimes have text and sometimes illustrations. You may just be able to read it in an hour, but it was for me the most moving hour, and it became one of my favorite books with the final poem (most of the text is prose).

Mark Twain's The War Prayer (written 1905, published 1923) comes in at 96 pages, and is more of a short story, but still, a one-hour read that sticks with you. Published after his death (by his choice) it condemns war, religion, and blind fervor in general.
posted by datawrangler at 6:13 AM on May 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

Now, it might be that people read 300 words when not reading out loud. I don't.

Talking is almost always slower than reading, unless you have difficulties reading. Just compare the average written blogpost with a video blog to see the difference.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:15 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Prater Violet is one of my favorite shirt reads/novellas. It's a nice little story with an engaging narrator (Isherwood) in an interesting place (London's inter-war film industry) at an interesting time (the uh ...interwar years)
posted by The Whelk at 6:56 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does reading and "finishing" books make you a more accomplished reader than someone who reads parts of many books that he or she doesn't finish? I don't think so.
posted by jayder at 7:44 AM on May 25, 2015

I don't get why anyone would prefer short books.

They're great for me because I don't really have the patience for bad books but I get sucked into good books and can't put them down. I go to read one more chapter and pretty soon it's 5am and I have to get up for work in three hours. Consequently, I simply don't read much these days - I can't afford to lose the sleep. So a list of short, worthwhile books is very helpful for me.
posted by maryr at 7:46 AM on May 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

I just timed myself at 200 words per minute reading at a moderate, typical pace. I would be interested in the mileage of others.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, unless abridged, has 25,497 words (via Renaissance Learning). At 53 minutes, that's 481 words per minute.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:46 AM on May 25, 2015

"Inside every fat book there is a thin book trying to get out."
posted by LeLiLo at 8:06 AM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I could say a lot about short v. long works, their inherently different structures, and how my favorite literary form is the short story.

But it'd become clear that the only reason I'm commenting is so I can point out Book-A-Minute, the internet's best source of ultra-condensed books. So I figured I'd just leave that link and move on.
posted by cardioid at 8:07 AM on May 25, 2015

I don't get why anyone would prefer short books.

Because a lot of people want to read but there are multiple forces aligned against reading books as an activity. Reading a short book helps at least partly fight against that. Some of the best books I've read have been short books -- the one that leaps to mind right now is J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace.
posted by blucevalo at 8:17 AM on May 25, 2015 [9 favorites]

I'm not sure why we continue to focus exclusively on books when we discuss reading. I am a lifelong, voracious reader and I haven't read a whole book from beginning to end in a year or two, at least. We are in a golden age of longreads. There is so much excellent writing out there that isn't in book form at all and at this point I'm so into them because not only can I read them in one or two sittings, but there is also an overabundance of material out there; that I read them almost exclusively.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:48 AM on May 25, 2015

I am not sure why people are maligning folks who love the idea of these short reads and countering with "Eh, just read a longer book, you losers!" I read voraciously--I have kept a list of all the books I read during the year since 2010 just to see if I could discern a pattern, and then I just kept doing it because I like lists--every day, but then I realize everyone's reading habits are different. I mean, does it actively harm you if someone is delighted by being able to find some lovely short books instead of tackling a massive tome that it may daunt them to finish?
posted by Kitteh at 8:59 AM on May 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

My two favorite short books (I don't know their word-counts, but they are each pretty thin and I've read them each at one sitting):

The Magic Christian by Terry Southern, which is hilarious,


Team Rodent : How Disney Devours the World by Carl Hiaasen, which I think is his only non-fiction.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:24 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am not sure why people are maligning folks who love the idea of these short reads and countering with "Eh, just read a longer book, you losers!"

I guess I just regard the conclusion as insufficiently drawn from the premise. You are short on time. So you need short things to read? That's one possible answer. But you could also just read small sections of a long thing. I prefer the latter. Well, I prefer both. But why not linger in a fictional world for a long long time, especially if its one worth the short amount of attention you can devote to it?

Or don't. Read short things, or long things, I don't care. Read what you want. But the argument: short on time, so must read short books, is a non sequitur.
posted by dis_integration at 10:35 AM on May 25, 2015

But the argument: short on time, so must read short books, is a non sequitur.

I actually published three of the books on this list (the Hornby, Kaye, and Palahniuk). The goal was to give readers a start-to-finish experience that could be enjoyed in an hour or so, so that they had that lovely little moment of *completeness* that comes from finishing a book. That’s a very different experience than reading an hour-long slice of a larger book. We published about ninety of these e-short books, fiction and nonfiction, all written specifically to be read in a single sitting. They were simply another option on a person’s reading menu, slotted between full-sized books and magazine features.
posted by Scoop at 10:57 AM on May 25, 2015 [14 favorites]

I suspect that those who have a distinct preference for longer books appreciate the slower pace and the immersive qualities, whereas those who regularly think books are too long are more in it for the progression of the narrative, that is, the story itself.

I really only notice this because I fall pretty decidedly on the immersive side. I like media (books and movies) that artfully capture a distinct perspective or mood. I sometimes even forget or conflate events in stories, while remembering the wording or a scene in great detail. And it's something I noticed because, when I'd recommend something I loved, people would regularly tell me it was boring and too long or too slow, or they couldn't tell what was happening or something like that, and when people would recommend things to me, I'd often find the stories too linear and perfunct to really do much for me. Understanding that preference makes it a little easier for me to guess what people I know will like and what they won't, and it's also really helpful when deciding whose recommendations I can safely ignore.

Short stories can, of course, go either way. There are definitely short media that are immersive and that capture a mood very well, but I'm thinking that if you regularly think that books you otherwise enjoy are too long and could be shortened without losing anything, it just means you lean toward the story side of the spectrum.

But that aside, I kind of find it disconcerting, when I'm chronically pressed for time, to be dipping in and out of a longer story in little fits and starts. I used to read on the bus during my commute, and I definitely preferred shorter novels that I could finish over a couple or few days of bus rides. With more immersive stories, I find them much more satisfying if I can block off the time I'd need to read it in two or three bigger chunks. Like, maybe I prefer to be able to finish a story in no more than three or four discrete readings for maximum enjoyment.

A couple of unrelated complaints I would like to register about that first article include:

1. Why is that an infographic? Stop making everything into infographics! It bothers me!

2. As pointed out, those are short stories, not books, but I guess if you call them books, Amazon gets to charge more than they would if they admitted that.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:38 PM on May 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just to clarify (and too lazy to look for the recent thread) it is my own problem in reference to no one else that I feel a sense of success when I finish reading a book. My day is filled with a mosaic of tasks (that's just how I have to roll; not a choice per se). So...finish a book? Yay and faceplant.

tl;dr Personal reading preferences are not meant to be an indictment of anybody else's reading preferences.

Now excuse me, I'm going to go continue reading The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege (197 pages). I should be finished by 2017.
posted by datawrangler at 3:21 PM on May 25, 2015

Needs more A Colder War.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:25 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Martin Amis's Night Train is a ridiculously readable police procedural/quotation of police procedurals and is 149 pages. Don't miss it because you don't like Martin Amis!
posted by batfish at 5:29 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I do love an immersive world, but I wouldn't be against a series of unrelated shorts set in the same world.

That way everyone can be happy and mummy and daddy can stop fighting?
posted by trif at 1:02 AM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm on the side of "gee, these are novellas, or long short stories" crowd. But I've got to say, too, that just because something has a short page count doesn't mean it's a short *read*. A fun tight zippy narrative at 250 pages is infinitely faster to read than, say, "The Dead" or a short piece by Stein.
posted by jrochest at 2:35 AM on May 26, 2015

I love short stories as well as novels, but a part of my raises a fairly skeptical eyebrow to see short stories being marketed as ebooks and priced individually.

The first one on the link's list, Philip K Dick's "Second Variety," is -- along with over a dozen other great Dick short stories -- part of his Selected Stories at $7.99, which is considerably cheaper per story, and it's hard to see the ebook "single" movement as a whole lot more than Amazon (or publisher) trying another angle to milk a bit more profit out of the same product. (I know, not that that isn't the way of the world.)

I'd also be curious how the rights / royalties work for authors, for all these generic-looking singles and "megapacks" you can't help tripping over when browsing Amazon's Kindle store. Are they works whose copyright has expired or where the author's original deal with their publisher has lapsed so they're now fair game somehow for cheapo new editions?
posted by aught at 5:57 AM on May 26, 2015

Anthem by Ayn Rand is a great short read. It's the book every wise kid tries to get for a book report in high school because it's so short.
posted by Renoroc at 9:47 AM on May 26, 2015

This is very relevant to me right now. I have a tendency to read long books, but my work schedule and other responsibilities have made it so that I generally have about 20 minutes a day to read before going to bed, and maybe an hour over the weekend. At that rate, an 800-900 page book seems to take me 3-4 months to complete. And no matter how good a book in, I'm ready for something new after about two months.

This comes in a year where I have failed to finish three long books in a row: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (because it was thoroughly uninteresting), Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson (for which my minor enjoyment of the book didn't warrant the time commitment of reading the entire damned trilogy), and Dhalgren by Samuel Delany (which I'm enjoying but decided to put down after 200 pages to read something else for a change). So I've decided that I need some shorter books so I can at least finish a book every now and then for a change. I'm not sure I need something quite as short as these, but I'm definitely looking at shorter books.

I read voraciously--I have kept a list of all the books I read during the year since 2010 just to see if I could discern a pattern, and then I just kept doing it because I like lists--every day, but then I realize everyone's reading habits are different.

I have kept a "book book" since 1999 - it's a tremendously rewarding experience, and so much fun to look through what you read 10-15 years ago.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:54 AM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Edit ruthlessly, said Strunk & White's. Logorhea sucks. A well constructed sentence is better than 1,000 pages.
posted by rankfreudlite at 3:27 PM on May 26, 2015

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