Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Twelve Perfect Little Novels

So you’re off for a long weekend and need something to read. Something that you can enjoy on the plane, on the beach or in a hammock. Something that’s going to sweep you away into another world, but with little effort and little more than 300 pages. Something that won’t take you all summer to read. Below is a (Gatsby free!) list of some favorite shorter novels.

1. Remains of the Day by Kasuo Ishiguro –
Who can forget the incredible performances in the film by Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins? But the book is even better. A complex relationship between a housekeeper, a butler and his duties in an formal English estate.

2. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya – New Mexican family and folklore as the traditional and modern worlds interact.

3. Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons – a Southern midwife and holistic healer passes her wisdom on to her grandaughter.

4. The Grass Harp by Truman Capote –
a quirky book about the outsider sensibility – a boy living with his eccentric aunts in the South.

5. Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells - forget the Ya Ya Sisterhood and read this instead. A sometimes-funny but dysfunctional and inebriated Louisiana family.

6. My Antonia by Willa Cather
– a gorgeous classic about a young woman and her immigrant family on the Nebraskan prairie.

7. Bee Season by Myla Goldberg – what happens to the already charged Jewish family dynamic during stressful spelling bee studying.

8. Waiting by Ha Jin – Love and politics in communist China.

9. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver –
Kentucky girl moves to Arizona and unexpectedly becomes a mother.

That Night by Alice McDermott
- detailed snapshot of teenage love and coming of age in the suburbs in the 60s.

11. Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama – complex lessons learned by a young man recovering from tuberculosis in pre WWII Japan.

12. Secret Letters from 0 to 10 by Susie Morgenstern – a boy who lives a colorless life learns to love and find joy savoring life’s simple experiences. Good to share with the kids.

Since I’m always looking for them, I’d love to hear what some of your favorite perfect little novels are!


Anonymous said...

Since you have Bean Trees you can also add Kingsolver's more recent sequel to it - Pigs in Heaven. It has a little broader focus but I enjoyed it just as much.

For truly mindless, fun reading there is always the Evanovich series (Stephanie Plum books). They are like cotton candy - no real value, but lots of fun.

Your list is great though - - I may borrow it for my book club, we need ideas.

Joanne said...

An intriguing list, if I had to pick one, I'd go with That Night. Love reading about that era. One to add to your list, how about We Are All Welcome Here, Elizabeth Berg. Have the kleenex ready.

tina said...

A long weekend with a book sounds great right about now.

JGH said...

W- I loved Pigs in Heaven, too!!!Hard to choose between the two but I thought I'd choose the first one. Never tried Evanovich, but I know she's really popular, so maybe this will be the year!

Thanks for the Berg, recommendation, Joanne. I love tearjerkers.

Tina, I'm not on vacation until the end of August, but I planning my reading material in advance.

Pam J. said...

Oh what a great little list! Excellent idea. I've only read three of these books, but I own a couple of the others and I hope to read everything on the list soon. I think I'll give myself a deadline: 12/31/09. In fact, I'll probably run out to the library (for the 2nd time today) and try to get a copy of The Grass Harp by Truman C. I can't believe I've missed one of his books. Later today I'll give you back a list. Thanks!

tut-tut said...

Kate CHristensen's The Great Man is a good read. Reading Nana, by Emile Zola at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Oh--let me rush out and get, Charms of the Easy Life!! That sounds right up my alley.

Nancy said...

Metamorphosis is short and flows sort of like Gatsby for me at least!

Mighty Queens of Freeville is fun and heart-warming for a recently released memoir.

Jennifer Government is an amusing satire, lighter but like Vonnegut.

Help is great although a little long -- fiction about a writer coming of age and changing in the South in the 1960s.

N.B.: I liked Stirring it Up!


JGH said...

Forgot to mention that a few bloggers have gotten together to start an blog book group and we're looking for new members. Our current selections is Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. Link is here: http://laeticiaknollys.blogspot.com/
Open to anyone!!!

Pam, looking forward to your list!

Tut, I will put both of those on my list. Let me know how you like Nana.

Anna, Ellen Foster is another good one by Kaye Gibbons, about an abandoned girl who finds herself a foster family. Another favorite - they made a movie of "Charms" with one of my favorite actresses --Gena Rowlands.

Nancy, thanks for the great list. Some new titles to go after
!! In college I was stage manager for a theater production of Metamorphosis (if it's the one about Gregor the cockroach).

Karen said...

Thanks for the recs, it's a neat list and I've only read a few of those! I'm not too good with beach reads in general but my top two funniest books ever (and who doesn't need to laug?) are both set in academia - "Straight Man" by Richard Russo, and "Lucky Jim" by Kingsley Amis.

mayberry said...

What a great idea for a list! Water for Elephants is 350 pages but is so worth it.

Pam J. said...

Hi again,
Here's my list of 10 novels I liked. I'm pretty sure these are all on the short side, although I didn't double-check the page counts:
1. Desert Rose, Larry McMurtry
2. A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter
3. Raney, Clyde Edgerton
4. Tuck Everlasting (a children's book but wonderful for all ages I think), Natalie Babbitt
5. The Music Room, Dennis McFarland
6. Loving Roger, Tim Parks
7. 84, Charing Cross, Helene Hanff
8. The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett
9. The British Museum is Falling Down, David Lodge
10. Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton

PS: I just remembered that it's the 15th of the month. Tchotchke tomorrow (I hope).

Gail said...

Excellent list and lists from commenters...I love to curl up with books all winter long. A stacation this summer meant no beach reading. gail

JGH said...

Karen - definitely need to laugh and those are two authors I haven't read, so thanks!

Thanks, Mayberry. 350 pages is great - it's the 600 page, 6 lb. books that I don't have time for.

Pam, you have a few of my faves on your list! I LOVED Raney - a very special book. Tuck Everlasting - a real classic. We read it with our mother/daughter book group recently. As good as ever! and 84 Charing Cross Rd. Read it years ago - will have to dig it out again. The others are all new to me, so I'll be on the lookout for them.

Tchotchke comin' up!!

Gee Gail, what could you possibly be doing all summer ??!! (kidding)

Anonymous said...

Yep, it was Gregor. How was the play? Quite a topic!

I don't know if you saw -- I replied to your post on my blog with ideas about free training (one starts next week - online).


Squirrel said...

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is a fave.

I just finished enjoying Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, re-reading The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame.

Squirrel said...

I also loved Tuck Everlasting.