Short classics that are worth a read

short classicsDo you want to start reading classics, but don’t know where to start?

A while ago I read 3 classics: Candide by Voltaire, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and Night by Elie Wiesel. I remember vaguely the stories of each of the three books, but not enough to be able to write a review on it, at least not a review that would do either of these books justice. So instead I decided to highlight these three books as options if you’re looking into starting to read classics, but don’t know which books to pick.  They are all under 150 pages which makes them quick and easy reads. I have rated them all 4 stars and I enjoyed Night, a non-fiction read the most.

CANDIDE BY VOLTAIRE

A hilarious satire by Voltaire about optimism. With dark humor, Voltaire gives us the character Candide who falls in love, gets kicked out of the castle he lived and worked in. While travelling the world searching for his beloved he experiences bad luck after bad luck, yet remains optimistic against all odds.

Goodreads blurb:

“One of the finest satires ever written, Voltaire’s Candide savagely skewers this very “optimistic” approach to life as a shamefully inadequate response to human suffering. The swift and lively tale follows the absurdly melodramatic adventures of the youthful Candide, who is forced into the army, flogged, shipwrecked, betrayed, robbed, separated from his beloved Cunégonde, and tortured by the Inquisition. As Candide experiences and witnesses calamity upon calamity, he begins to discover that—contrary to the teachings of his tutor, Dr. Pangloss—all is not always for the best. After many trials, travails, and incredible reversals of fortune, Candide and his friends finally retire together to a small farm, where they discover that the secret of happiness is simply “to cultivate one’s garden,” a philosophy that rejects excessive optimism and metaphysical speculation in favor of the most basic pragmatism.
Filled with wit, intelligence, and an abundance of dark humor, Candide is relentless and unsparing in its attacks upon corruption and hypocrisy—in religion, government, philosophy, science, and even romance. Ultimately, this celebrated work teaches us that it is possible to challenge blind optimism without losing the will to live and pursue a happy life”

OF MICE AND MEN BY JOHN STEINBECK

Two gentlemen travelling together looking for work and dreaming of owning their own farm one day.  A simple, yet powerful story.

Goodreads blurb:

“The tragic story of the complex bond between two migrant laborers in Central California. They are George Milton and Lennie Small, itinerant ranch hands who dream of one day owning a small farm. George acts as a father figure to Lennie, who is a very large, simple-minded man, calming him and helping to rein in his immense physical strength.”

NIGHT BY ELIE WIESEL

This is a non-fiction read and in it Elie Wiesel, a WWII Holocaust survivor, tells his story about his time in the concentration camps. His desolation, him questioning God and religion and the suffering that he had to endure was heartbreaking to read. It is a short novel and not easy to read and it definitely makes you want to know more. The edition I read was rather short and I believe there are various versions of this book, because even though this was a good read, I wish it was longer. If it was, I am sure it would have a more powerful impact on the reader.

Goodreads blurb:

“Night is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War. In just over 100 pages of sparse and fragmented narrative, Wiesel writes about the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the father–child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful teenage caregiver”

Penetrating and powerful, as personal as The Diary Of Anne FrankNightawakens the shocking memory of evil at its absolute and carries with it the unforgettable message that this horror must never be allowed to happen again

Some other reviews of classic short stories and novellas:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s | Summer | Xingu | The Great Gatsby | Bunner SistersMadame de Treymes

  • I’m interested to see Candide on this list. I had always assumed all Voltaire would be far to heavy and long for me to pick up right now. I’ll have to look for this one and Night as well. Thanks for sharing!

    • You’re welcome, Katherine.

      It’s a short read – one day and you’re done. You’ll probably also enjoy it!

  • Isi

    Ohhh Jennine and you are making me want to read “Of mice and men” soon.
    I didn’t know “Night”, but sounds good too.

    • Mice and Men is such a nice and short classic. The ending is sad though.

      Regarding Night – very sad, as you can imagine. Even though it was too short to have a huge impact, it definitely made me sad. I understood all his feelings – about God, about doubting humanity. So sad :'(

  • Great recommendations! From your list I only read Night, which was back in high school and a very tough/emotional read. Oh, and from your other list, yay for Summer, Xingu, Bunner Sisters & The Great Gatsby–all excellent reads 🙂 I have yet to read anything by Voltaire outside snippets of his philosophy, so I’ll have to check out Candide 🙂

    • Edith Wharton wrote some good novellas – and they are perfect for readathons and Dec when you’re trying to meet your challenge 😉

      Night is indeed a very emotional read! I think you will like Candide, it’s a humorous story!

  • Jennine G.

    I have not read Candide, but I can’t imagine I’d like it better than Of Mice and Men. I love that book! I’ve read it numerous times and teach it in my American Lit class. Of the whole year, it usually ends up the favorite of the majority of my students too…and surprisingly, not because it’s short!

    • I like Of Mice and Men more than Candide as well! The ending is… touching and yes, you’re right – I love the book, not because it’s short. But it helps that it’s short and enjoyable for those who want to get into reading classics.

  • Oh I love Candide! Jennine you totally have to read Candide! It’s obviously completely different from Of Mice and Men which I read in highschool and am fairly confident will never read again – it’s so SAD. Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde is also SUPER short. I think the version I have is less than 100 pages.

  • Lisa Sheppard

    Definitely good choices to ease into classics. People all too often think that all classics are chunksters and shy away entirely.

    • Exactly! There are so many shorter stories and novellas that can be read to ease your way into the classics.

      • Lisa Sheppard

        Just realized that the classic on my nightstand right now, A Room With A View, is only slightly over 200 pages so it’s right in that same wheelhouse.

  • Bookheathen

    I came to ‘Of Mice and Men’ by way of a radio play when I was a teenager. It’s a beautiful handling of a sensitive issue. ‘Candide’ I discovered via the operetta.

  • Another great on is Ethan Frome! Great list.

  • Nishita

    Good choices. I have yet to read Candide, based on your description, I think I”ll like it very much. Other short but good classics I read recently are The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and To Have and Have Not by Hemingway.

  • The Book Haven

    Of Mice and Men is awesome. I have the the penguin classics edition that also includes Cannery Row.