Contemporary Short Novels for Your Summer Reading Pleasure

Now that the balmy days of summer are upon us, it’s time to pack your bag with books (or your e-reader of choice) for some beach reading. You could get bold and try to tackle the likes of Ulysses, Anna Karenina, or Infinite Jest, but maybe you’d be better off polishing off shorter but still substantial fare. Short novels (defined as being about 120 to 200 pages long) aren’t low on quality content just because they’re low on pages — they are, in fact, part of a great tradition that includes classics like The Turn of the Screw, Candide, Death in Venice, and The Call of the Wild. If you’re on the lookout for more contemporary shorties, though, we’ve got you covered. Along with books published in the past few years, we’ve also included some first-time English translations that have come out recently.

Just to keep things interesting, we’ve chosen a wide variety of stories and styles, including many entries from small, indie presses. The list below features a book-length paragraph, a novel composed entirely of dialog, and a tale that’s half-told by a virus. We’ve also got a unique batch of authors including a Nazi resistor and two Muslim anti-fundamentalists, as well as four women writers (take that, V.S. Naipaul! ). If that weren’t enough, this batch of authors and books is by no means centered here in the States — you’ll travel to South Africa, the Netherlands, Egypt, and Bangladesh. Oh, and there’s a pit stop into the future too. Best of all, since these are all short novels, you’ll be able to peel through a bunch of them fairly quickly and have a fine sense of accomplishment at the end.

Genesis by Bernard Beckett

In this futuristic story, a smart, brave young student named Anaximander (“Anax” for short) undergoes a trial by fire, trying to join a mysterious academy that is modeled and named after Plato’s Republic. Beckett takes us through her grueling ordeal as she internally reasons out her level-headed answers to all the curveball questions thrown at her. Anax uses holograms and her own narrative to relate the tale of a young individualist hero named Adam Forde, whose sometimes questionable actions left an indelible mark on the closed society. Imprisoned for valuing compassion over the society’s safety measures and forced to “train” a simian-faced robot named Art about being “human,” Forde’s story becomes the major theme of the book. At the end, Beckett serves up a deliciously twisted irony that’s worthy of The Twilight Zone. To his credit, the sad final scenes make perfect sense, and you don’t leave Genesis feeling cheated after having the rug pulled from under you.