Are you interested in reading novellas across genres? This is the librarian list for you.
How long should a book be? The answer to that question has changed over time and is highly influenced by publication techniques and the technology of the age. In Victorian England, novels were very long partly because authors were paid by the word. By the first half of the twentieth century publishers began paying by the book, so there was less incentive for writers to spend time writing long novels. At the end of the same century, the prestige of long books—which tend to win more awards—made books grow thicker. And in our current times, the rise of e-books and indie publishing has encouraged authors to write shorter again.
Which means that right now, novellas are flourishing.
What’s a novella? It’s a book that’s longer than a short story but shorter than a traditional novel. Generally, books between 50-199 pages are considered to be novellas. In the past, U.S. publishers have often included novellas within an author’s collection of short stories, but more and more are being published on their own. This summer, T. Kingfisher’s novella What Moves the Dead made it onto USA Today’s bestseller list.
Why read novellas? There’s something satisfying in finishing a novel in only a couple of days—or even in one sitting. More compelling is the reading experience: novellas have a sort of compactness in their world building, the plot tends to move quickly, and the characters are vividly described so we start to know them swiftly.
Wanting to try a novella? Here’s a list to get you started, with books across genres.
A community of lap swimmers explores the nature of memory, habit, movement, and relationships when their pool is closed after a crack forms.
By Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell
A young woman lies dying in a hospital bed, a young boy, not her son, next to her. Their conversation draws out a terrifying tale of illness and misplaced souls. The plot’s trauma draws readers to examine the terror of living on a planet where survival is never ensured.
By Catherynne M. Valente
Tetley Abednego lives on an earth altered by climate change, where most of the world is water and people build communities on floating garbage islands. She’s the most hated girl in Garbagetown, for reasons revealed in the story, but the hatred doesn’t get her down, as she forms a little pocket of happiness (albeit tenuous) in a place of misery.
By Danielle Dutton
This book tells the story of Margaret Cavendish, a 17th-century duchess who became known as “Mad Madge” for her refusal to conform to society’s expectations. Her struggles to express herself creatively—she wrote both poetry and novels—will speak to contemporary readers in surprising ways, illustrating that striving for authenticity isn’t restrained to any century.
By S. L. Huang
Both a retelling and a mash-up of fairy tales, Burning Roses tells a story of what happens after a character’s adventures end. Rosa (aka Red Riding Hood) and Hou Yi (of “The Archer” fame from Chinese folktales) are middle-aged women living at the edge of a wood together, hunting down monsters. When each woman’s nemesis shows up to threaten their lives, they are forced to explore their own prejudice and weaknesses
By Sayaka Murata
Keiko has never felt that she fit in, neither with her family or her contemporary Japanese culture. But when she stumbles into a job at a convenience store at age 18, she finds a niche, a place where she knows the rules and rhythms enough to feel comfortable. Until—18 years later—a new employee named Shiraha sparks her to change.
By Sandra Cisneros
Young Adult Fiction
Esperanza Cordero is a young Latina woman growing up in Chicago. Her exploration of who and what she will become, told in a series of vignettes, creates a classic story of self-discovery contrasted with the assumptions society makes about individuals.
By Jenny Offill
Full of rage, sorrow, desire, and wit, Dept. of Speculation examines how marriage works (and doesn’t) within contemporary society.
By Seanan McGuire
What happens to the children and adolescents who step through a doorway into another world and then return to ours? Every Heart a Doorway is the first book in the Wayward Children series, which answers that question. Eventually these characters find their way to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a boarding school to help them readjust or, if they are lucky, return to the world they left behind.
By Elena Ferrante
When her 15-years-long marriage falls apart, Olga goes through an intense grief, realizing she gave up her own ambitions for a failed relationship.
Written by Amy S. (Outreach)