unthinkably slim
June 18, 2022 10:50 AM   Subscribe

On Twitter, Isle McElroy asks, "can anyone recommend a good slim novel? Looking for something very good--impossible to put down--and unthinkably slim, like zero to zero pages or so."

This seems like a handy list for people who still like reading but are also suffering from current attention deficit issues (me!). It will probably take longer to read through the whole thread than it would take to read some of the slimmest-of-the-slim suggestions here.
posted by taz (37 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
Louise Erdrich's novel The Sentence is set in her actual Minneapolis bookstore, and the main character and a regular customer come up with a list of short, perfect novels:

Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabel
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
Sula by Toni Morrison
The Shadow-Line by Joseph Conrad
The All of It by Jeannette Haine
Winter in the Blood by James Welch
Swimmer in the Secret Sea by William Kotzwinkle
The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
First Love by Ivan Turgenev
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee
Fire on the Mountain by Anita Desai
posted by amarynth at 11:15 AM on June 18 [12 favorites]

FTA: A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

A slim volume that weighs a tonne. No idea why you'd recommend this for light reading.

Multiple Yokos.

Honestly I expected more joke books. Basically zero pages? The Consequences for Attempted Coups by M. Garland.
posted by adept256 at 11:25 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]

Is Alex related to Joseph? That would explain their "daddy issues" with long books.
posted by chavenet at 12:27 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Hm. My recs would probably include:

<50 pages:
Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock

50-100 pages:
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Lorax, and Fox in Sox by Dr. Seuss
Science Made Stupid by Tom Weller
Finna by Nino Cipri
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Flatland by Edwin Abbott
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe

100-150 pages:
Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson
1066 and All That by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Very Far Away from Anywhere Else by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
A Room With a View by E. M. Forster
The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Olivia by Dorothy Strachey
Candide by Voltaire
Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett (no one said they had to all be easy reads)
The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
Goodbye Mr. Chips by James Hilton
Tea With the Black Dragon by R. A. MacAvoy
Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino
The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Beyond that, both the books and my list would start getting considerably longer...
posted by kyrademon at 12:48 PM on June 18 [25 favorites]

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

Nonfic picks: Annie Dillard's Holy the Firm, Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Dorothy Allison's Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, Katherine Dunn's On Cussing, and Henry Frankfurt's On Bullshit.
posted by box at 1:05 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Murderbot Diaries. Any of them. All of them!
posted by cyclopticgaze at 1:28 PM on June 18 [13 favorites]

Incidentally, Unthinkably Slim is my (ironic) pool-shark name.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:49 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]

Sounds like a book that Jorge Luis Borges would write.
posted by clawsoon at 2:02 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson would be my main pick.

I have a soft spot for James Cain's Postman Always Rings Twice.
posted by dobbs at 2:06 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]

The Summer Book by Tove Jansen is only 170 pages and is also somehow both light as a feather and also powerfully affecting and beautiful.
posted by saladin at 2:23 PM on June 18 [6 favorites]

This seems like it straddles a weird line between an Ask and the Blue.

Oddly enough, I recently bought an 8,457-page book. On Kindle. It was the Chicago Tribune's complete collection of Mike Rokyo columns.
posted by MollyRealized at 2:39 PM on June 18

Oddly, I literally just asked a few members of my Proust Reading Group from 20 years ago if they fancied another spin. At 10 pages/day, it's quite manageable....
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:42 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]

10 pages a day? I was in a Finnegans Wake group for a number of years, and we did three pages a week. And that was quite manageable too.
posted by njohnson23 at 2:45 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]

"Piranesi" by Susanna Clarke' was surprisingly spare.
"An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter" by César Aira was compact yet spacious.

If we are collecting non-fiction titles too, we should add "The Living Mountain" by Nan Shepherd.
posted by of strange foe at 3:06 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Hiroko Oyamada--The Hole
posted by thivaia at 3:47 PM on June 18

about 116 pages, 'Mantissa' by John Fowles.

short stories around 101 pages, Slow Learner by Thomas Pynchon
posted by clavdivs at 3:52 PM on June 18

And I swear I'll stop, but both of Sarah Moss recent novels are quite short and rather brutally effective:

Ghost Wall

(I really should have put all of these in the same comment, I realize. Also, I just realized that these variations on a pastoral novel, fairly broadly defined. It must be that it's summer and pretty out).
posted by thivaia at 3:52 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]

Three pages a week? My A Dance to the Music of Time group read it in real time, took us fifty years.

Seriously though, A Dance to the Music of Time as a whole might be long, but the individual books are short and more-ish.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:58 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]

Poor Isle—they were clearly just trying to get a joke off and RIP their mentions. Twitter can't resist something that's framed like a request for advice even when it's not.
posted by babelfish at 4:18 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]

I'm still fond of "Tea with the Black Dragon". But I'm old.

Tea with the Black Dragon is a 1983 fantasy novel by American writer R. A. MacAvoy. It was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1983, the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1984, and the Locus Award for best first novel in 1984; it also earned MacAvoy the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.[1] It also found a place in David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels (1988).
posted by aleph at 4:25 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]

the bridge at san luis rey.

anthologies and short fiction collections could be your thing. i love recommending "the pugilist at rest" by thom jones.
posted by j_curiouser at 5:54 PM on June 18

This is How You Lose the Time War's a great novelette. My daughter had gotten out of the habit of reading, so I gave it to her. After she read it, she read Gideon and Harrow the nineth, and the Poppy War trilogy.
posted by Spike Glee at 6:34 PM on June 18 [11 favorites]

The collection Anti-Story probably wouldn't be considered especially experimental these days (if it ever had been) but I remember it was divided into sections like "against plot" and "against form" and I don't remember exactly what, except for what's relevant here: Against Size. A section of the book had novels that were well under a page long.

Well, I mean the editor thought they were short stories that were under a page long, but once you accept the existence of zero page novels, I think these have to count too.

(I recall it being a pretty good collection, even the non-short stuff, and doesn't seem too hard to find a copy.)
posted by mark k at 8:03 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]

It better have The Third Policeman
posted by scruss at 8:41 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!
posted by storybored at 9:46 PM on June 18

I Want My Hat Back

Otherwise these look interesting
posted by fallingbadgers at 2:36 AM on June 19

Is there an easy way to see the whole list?
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:06 AM on June 19

fallingbadgers, We Found A Hat is a masterpiece I return to again and again.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 10:31 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

I was not familiar with it till Kyrademon mentioned it, but Science Made Stupid is hysterical.
posted by wittgenstein at 11:22 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

In Watermelon Sugar, Richard Brautigan
the log of the s.s. the mrs unguentine, Stanley Crawford
posted by Ishbadiddle at 12:46 PM on June 19

Here are some off-the-beaten-track choices that haven't been mentioned yet:

Leonard Michaels, SYLVIA
Jean Toomer, CANE
Marcy Dermansky, HURRICANE GIRL (her best novel so far, just released!)
Ishmael Reed, MUMBO JUMBO
Anna Kavan, ICE
David Goodis, NIGHTFALL
W. Somerset Maugham, THE PAINTED VEIL
Helen DeWitt, LIGHTNING RODS (a slight cheat, but definitely a one sitting read; I have to stick up for one of the most criminally underrated talents working today!)
Richard McGuire, HERE

I also recommend the elegant books published by dorothy: a publishing project. One of the best indie presses. They specialize in short novels published by women. Jen George's THE BABYSITTER AT REST and Sabrina Orah Mark's WILD MILK are personal favorites.

And, yes, a huge endorsement for Muriel Spark's THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE. I've read it six times. I could easily read it six more times. Same goes for Jean Rhys's WILD SARGASSO SEA, although GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT is also up there.
posted by ed at 1:17 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]

Oh, and the Richard Stark novels. Lean, mean, and thoroughly enjoyable.
posted by ed at 1:26 PM on June 19

I enjoyed Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata quite a bit.

And entirely second This is How You Lose the Time War. It is the sort of book you want to go back and immediately re-read.
posted by mr_stru at 1:33 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]

I have to say, in general, that this thread is full of wonderful and contains a number of all time favorite books.
posted by thivaia at 3:35 PM on June 19

Late to the party, but I have to mention a favorite of mine (and it is under 100 pages) Canek - which has a very good English translation available.
posted by gudrun at 4:29 PM on June 20

/zero to zero pages

posted by pelvicsorcery at 9:35 PM on June 20

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