10 Must-Read Short Books

We’ve said this time and time again: We believe in short books! So today, we’ve decided to celebrate them by rounding up what we think are the top 10 best. Is your favourite amongst them?

In no particular order…

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

by Robert Louis Stevenson

One that proves the length of a book is in no way indicative of the size of the thoughts within; Stevenson’s novella changed the way we think about personality.

We have just issued Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as a Dyslexia-Friendly Classic (a series that was kicked off by John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men). Keep your eyes peeled for next week when we release its latest edition: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol!

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

by Shirley Jackson

A superlative exercise in creep; we are very glad it isn’t longer as our hearts aren’t up to it. Famous for its fabulous opening; we won’t spoil it for you by quoting it here.

The Owl Service

by Alan Garner

The story of a Mabinogi legend possessing a Welsh valley, Garner’s seriously unnerving short is a YA novel published before YA. Frank Cottrell Boyce told us recently that Garner once served him tea on the actual owl service; we had to ask if any walls fell down as they drank, revealing ancient paintings of women who wish to be flowers, but are made owls instead…

Sexing the Cherry

by Jeanette Winterson

The story of Jordan, an orphan found floating on the River Thames, and his keeper, The Dog Woman, this story is hard to categorise so best just revel in it instead. Contains the best description of a wizened countenance ever written.

Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear

by Andy Stanton

Clocking in at around 15,000 words, Stanton’s Mr Gum books are among the smartest things published in the last ten years. Ostensibly for children, there are delights aplenty for grown-ups too. ‘There is no Chapter 7!’

1066 and All That

by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman

Everything you ever forgot about history in one handy – and slim – volume, with added test papers. Dive on in among the Venomous Bede, Hengist and Horsa, his wife (or horse) and – a personal favourite – how to apply to Warwick the Kingmaker. ‘Mother? [if nun, write none].’

On Chesil Beach

by Ian McEwan

A marriage is barely begun before it implodes. Short but far from comforting. PS we know a lady who was actually pulled over by the police for nicking stones from Chesil Beach. Don’t do it, folks!

A Calendar of Love

by George MacKay Brown

A slim collection of short stories by a master of the genre. The standouts are ‘Witch’ in which the good citizens of Orkney try one Marion Isbister, and ‘Stone Poems’, in which Viking sailors take shelter in the great stone-age burial mound of Maes Howe, leaving their marks behind.

The Weight of Water

by Sarah Crossan

Kasienka and her mother travel from Poland to the UK in search of Kasienka’s father in this gorgeous novel in verse that proves that language doesn’t have to be dense to be deeply evocative.


by Liz Lochhead

Drama scripts offer a punchy read and among the treats in this rich translation by Scotland’s former Makar is an extremely sassy chorus: ‘Well done, Jason/your arguments are clever/we understand you did your wife a favour/by dumping her/we beg to differ.’*

* * *

Have we missed any? The Reading Agency’s David Kendall has blogged for us on the power of short stories compared to the bigger, bulkier books and their “unnecessary scaffolding”. What are your favourite small-but-perfectly-formed reads?

*from memory; hope we got it right…


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