Terrific Short Reads

These titles are thought-provoking, engrossing, powerful, as well as compact; coming in around 200 pages. We recommend these for book groups, weekend jaunts, jury duty or when you're looking for a good read.

Mrs. Dalloway

By Virginia Woolf

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"Mrs. Dalloway chronicles a June day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway–-a day that is taken up with running minor errands in preparation for a party and that is punctuated, toward the end, by the suicide of a young man she has never met. In giving an apparently ordinary day such immense resonance and significance–-infusing it with the elemental conflict between death and life–-Virginia Woolf triumphantly discovers her distinctive style as a novelist. Originally published in 1925, Mrs. Dalloway is Woolf’s first complete rendering of what she described as the 'luminous envelope' of consciousness: a dazzling display of the mind’s inside as it plays over the brilliant surface and darker depths of reality."

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Memento Mori

By Muriel Spark

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When members of a group of London seniors start getting anonymous phone calls saying, "Remember you must die," they find that things they have done in the past have come back to haunt them.
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Last Night at the Lobster

By Stewart O'Nan

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"Perched in the far corner of a run-down New England mall, The Red Lobster hasn't been making its numbers and headquarters has pulled the plug. But manager Manny DeLeon still needs to navigate a tricky last shift. With only four shopping days left until Christmas, Manny must convince his near-mutinous staff to hunker down and serve the final onslaught of hungry retirees, lunatics, and holiday office parties. All the while, he's wondering how to handle the waitress he's still in love with, his pregnant girlfriend at home, and the perfect present he still needs to buy. 'Last Night at the Lobster' is a poignant yet redemptive look at what a man does when he discovers that his best might not be good enough."
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Giovanni's Room

By James Baldwin

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"Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin's now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart."
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By a Slow River

By Philippe Claudel

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"As the First World War rages on, the daily life of a small town near the front is hardly disturbed by the report of artillery fire and the parade of wounded in its streets. But within the space of a year, this illusion of ordinary days is shattered by the deaths of three innocents—-a charming schoolmistress from “the north,” who captured every male heart only to take her own life without apparent reason; an angelic eight-year-old girl, who is strangled, her body abandoned by the canal; and the cherished wife of the local policeman, who dies in labor while her husband is hunting the little girl’s murderer.

"Twenty years on, the policeman still struggles to make sense of these mysteries that both torment and sustain him. In the pages of his notebooks he continually—-desperately, obsessively—-summons up the past and its ghosts. But excavating the town’s secret history will bring neither peace to him nor justice to the wicked. And as his solitary detective work continues on these long-closed cases, we come to see that his efforts can lead only to an unimaginable widening of the tragedy. In the policeman’s simple, plangent voice--full of unflinching scrutiny and the compassion of weary experience--Philippe Claudel gives us a tale of galvanizing suspense and an indelible meditation on morality."

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Gilead

By Marilynne Robinson

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"In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowa preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He 'preached men into the Civil War,' then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle. Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father - an ardent pacifist--and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the union as a slave state. And he tells a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend's wayward son.

"This is also the tale of another remarkable vision--not a corporeal vision of God but the vision of life as a wondrously strange creation. It tells how wisdom was forged in Ames's soul during his solitary life, and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten."

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The Turn of the Screw

By Henry James

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A governess battles to save the souls of her two young charges from evil spirits.

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The Final Solution: A Story of Detection

By Michael Chabon

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"In deep retirement in the English country-side, an eighty-nine-year-old man, vaguely recollected by locals as a once-famous detective, is more concerned with his beekeeping than with his fellow man. Into his life wanders Linus Steinman, nine years old and mute, who has escaped from Nazi Germany with his sole companion: an African gray parrot. What is the meaning of the mysterious strings of German numbers the bird spews out--a top-secret SS code? The keys to a series of Swiss bank accounts perhaps? Or something more sinister? Is the solution to this last case -- the real explanation of the mysterious boy and his parrot--beyond even the reach of the once-famed sleuth?"

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