• Laura Sesana

38 Books to Read in Under 2 Hours (Each)

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

Great reads for those short on time

WASHINGTON, February 3, 2016—Thin books don’t necessarily need to be short on substance. Some amazing books can be read in under two hours, and following are our favorites.

Interpreting the word “book” broadly, we included three short stories published individually, two collections of short stories, short novels, novellas, four plays, and several works of nonfiction in our list, so no matter what you’re in the mood for, you are likely to find something that interests you. We included several classics, but also included titles we hope are new to some of our readers.

How we calculated reading time: The average adult reads at a pace of 300 words per minute, and the average novel has 250 to 300 words per page. All of the following works are shorter than 144 pages or 36,000 words and can generally be read in under two hours.

The Man Who Planted Trees, Jean Giono (1953)

18 pages, 15 minutes

Originally published in 1953, The Man Who Planted Trees is a simple but powerful story about a shepherd’s lifelong attempt to re-forest a desolate valley. Profound and touching, it was made into an animated film in 1987 by Frédéric Back, winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.


Cutting Right to the Chase, Stefania Mattana (2013)

24 pages, 20 minutes

Cutting Right to the Chase is a collection of six detective stories, each 1,000 words. The detective: Chase Williams, formerly of Scotland Yard. The setting: Tursenia, Italy, where crime seems to follow Williams wherever he goes. An amazing, completely satisfying read.

Guns, Stephen King (2013)

25 pages, 21 minutes

Stephen King’s essay about guns and gun violence in the U.S. is likely to be as polarizing as the issue it focuses on. To those who are in favor of gun control, it is a straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is description of the problem at hand and one man’s advice on how to reduce it; to those against gun control, it will probably be another liberal rant. Politics aside, however, it is a well-written, insightful, and sometimes personal view of what the problem is and how to fix it.

Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke (1929)

31 pages, 26 minutes

Letters to a Young Poet is a collection of 10 letters from Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke to Franz Xaver Kappus, a 19-year-old cadet and aspiring poet. The letters have long been considered essential reading for writers, poets and literature lovers.

The Art of War, Sun Tzu (520 BC)

46 pages, 38 minutes

An ancient Chinese military treatise written in the 5th century BC, The Art of War is attributed to, Sun Tzu, “Master sun.” Each of its 13 chapters is dedicated to a specific aspect of warfare and is meant to be a guide to conduct war wisely, honorably and victoriously.

Common Sense, Thomas Paine (1776)

48 pages, 40 minutes

Common Sense is a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine, said to inspire the people of the American colonies to declare independence from Great Britain. Published in January 1776 in Philadelphia, it was soon available throughout the colonies and is credited with influencing American colonists to take a stand against British rule.

Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx (1997)

55 pages, 46 minutes

Originally published in the New Yorker in 1997, Annie Proilx’s story of the forbidden relationship between two cowboys is the basis for the 2005 award-winning film.

The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley (1954)

63 pages, 53 minutes

In May 1953, Aldous Huxley participated in an experiment whereby 4/10 of a gram of mescaline was administered to him by British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond at Huxley’s home in West Hollywood. The Doors of perception details Huxley’s experience. Revered by some, hated by others, it is said to have inspired Jim Morrison to name his band The Doors in 1965.

Aura, Carlos Fuentes (1962)

65 pages, 54 minutes

A short novella written entirely in the second person point of view, Aura is one of Mexican author Carlos Fuentes’ most intriguing works. Since its publication, Aura touched a nerve with Mexican and Latin American readers. A creepy ghost story, Aura also examines themes of sexuality, youth and old age, the ghosts of the past, and ties to religion. In 2009, Aura was banned from the curricula of Puerto Rico's public schools for lewd language.

The Birds, Daphne du Maurier (1952)

75 pages, 1 hour, 3 minutes

Daphne du Maurier’s novelette was the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 movie by the same name. Du Maurier’s version is set after the end of World War II in Cornwall, and alludes to the threats faced by Britain in the early years of the Cold War.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde (1895)

76 pages, 1 hour, 4 minutes

Oscar Wilde’s play about mistaken identity is famous for its wit and comedy. “The Importance of Being Earnest” is also known as the climax in Wilde’s career. However, it is less known that its opening night on February 14, 1895 at the St James's Theatre in London was also the beginning of the writer’s downfall as his feud with the Marquess of Queensberry, father of Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas, escalated when the Marquess was refused entry to the theater. The feud ended up in court, Wilde’s homosexuality was exposed and the writer was imprisoned.

Jungle Tales, Horacio Quiroga (1905)

82 pages, 1 hour, 8 minutes

Uruguayan playwright, poet and writer Horacio Quiroga is known throughout Latin America as one of the masters of short story writing. His stories, generally set in the jungle, are bizarre and incredibly disturbing. Quiroga’s stories are short, but stay with the reader a long time.

The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka (1915)

87 pages, 1 hour, 13 minutes

Published in 1915, The Metamorphosis is considered Franz Kafka’s masterpiece and read by students around the world. The Metamorphsis details Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a giant insect creature that repels Samsa’s family.

Silk, Alessandro Baricco (1996)

91 pages, 1 hour, 16 minutes

The story of a young French silk merchant who travels to Japan in the 1860s, Silk is a love story that does not sacrifice plot for brevity. A beautifully told tale of how love blossoms and a clandestine love affair unfolds.

Candide, Voltaire (1759)

94 pages, 1 hour, 18 minutes

Candide is a fast-paced, sarcastic picaresque novel about the life of young, sheltered Candide and the change in fortunes that propels him on a trip full of adventure and misadventure. Charming and witty, Candide is quickly read but not easily forgotten.

Death and the Maiden, Ariel Dorfman (1991)

96 pages, 1 hour, 20 minutes

Written by Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman, “Death and the Maiden” is a play about Paulina Salas, a former political prisoner in an unnamed Latin American country that has recently reestablished democratic rule. When a man’s car breaks down near her house, Paulina believes she recognizes him as one of her jailers.

The Pearl, John Steinbeck (1947)

96 pages, 1 hour, 20 minutes

John Steinbeck’s novella is one of his best known works. The story of Kino, a poor peal diver who finds a giant pearl is sometimes considered a parable of the consequences of greed as well as an examination of human nature, evil and love.

The House of Bernarda Alba, Federico García Lorca (1945)

96 pages, 1 hour, 20 minutes

In one of Federico García Lorca’s most beloved plays, Bernarda Alba plays a domineering mother in a house full of women in a rural Spanish village. Even though no males appear on stage, sexual tension is high throughout the play. García Lorca finished writing “The House of Bernarda Alba” two months before his murder.

Office Yoga: Simple Stretches for Busy People, Darrin Zeer (2000)

96 pages, 1 hour, 20 minutes

This fully-illustrated guide offers 75 fun and accessible stretches suitable for both beginners and experts.

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943)

98 pages, 1 hour, 22 minutes

The most translated book in the French language, The Little Prince is unforgettable, charming, delightful and endearing. A book that will stay with you forever and is a joy to read and reread.

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1899)

100 pages, 1 hour, 23 minutes

Joseph Conrad’s enduring masterpiece is a dark story of a man’s journey up the Congo. Heart of Darkness introduces the world to Kurtz, and the world will never be the same.

Animal Farm, Geprge Orwell (1945)

102 pages, 1 hour, 25 minutes

One of the great dystopian novels of all time, Animal Farm is George Orwell’s allegory for the events that lead up to the 1917 Russian Revolution and subsequent Stalinist era.

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck (1947)

103 pages, 1 hour, 26 minutes

Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men tells the story of George and Lenny, two migrant ranch workers trapped in a difficult, ruthless world. The title comes form “To a Mouse,” a poem by Robert Burns that reads "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley," (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry).

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (1843)

104 pages, 1 hour, 27 minutes

The actual name of Charles Dickens’ novella is A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas, but it is widely known as A Christmas Carol. The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his change of heart after visits from a trio of ghosts (and that of his dead partner) remains one of the most popular Christmas stories of all time.

No One Writes to the Colonel, Gabriel García Márquez (1962)

104 pages, 1 hour, 27 minutes

García Márquez allegedly claimed that No One Writes to the Colonel was his best book, and that he wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude so that people would read it. Even though it is set in the fictional town of Macondo, the setting of several other García Márquez books, this book does not fall within the genre of magic realism. Instead it portrays the very real struggles of Colombia’s poor and forgotten, as well as the stark contrast between the haves and the nave-nots. The “slap-in-the-face” ending is also pretty cool, too.

The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr., E.B. White (1918, 1999)

105 pages, 1 hour, 28 minutes

Originally published in 1918, there have been a number of subsequent editions to this essential style manual. Central to the book is the emphasis on communicating ideas plainly and clearly.

The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)

110 pages, 1 hour, 32 minutes

The beloved coming-of-age novel written by Mexican-American Sandra Cisneros tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a Latino girl growing up in Chicago. Joyful and heartbreaking, The House on Mango Street is the story of a young girl’s hopes and dreams.

Night, Elie Wiesel (1958)

115 pages, 1 hour, 36 minutes

Night is a touching, horrifying, heartbreaking description of Elie Wiesel’s experiences in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald between 1944 and 1945. Weisel was 16 years old when the U.S. army liberated Buchenwald in April 1945. Night is the first book in a trilogy (Night, Dawn, Day), portraying Wiesel’s voyage from darkness into light.

The 9/11 Report, Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colón (2006)

117 pages, 1 hour, 37 minutes

The 9/11 report is a graphic adaptation of the report the 9/11 Commission issued in 2005. Well-known in the comic-book industry, Colón and Jacobson have put together what many call “the most accessible version of the 9/11 Report,” condensing 568 pages of the original report into 117.

The Time Machine, H. G. Wells (1895)

118 pages, 1 hour, 38 minutes

First published in 1895, H.G. Wells’ science fiction novella is usually credited with popularizing the idea of time travel via a machine created for that purpose. Wells coined the term “time machine,” and his book has been adapted into countless movies, TV shows, comic books and radio shows.

Pedro Páramo, Juan Rulfo (1955)

128 pages, 1 hour, 47 minutes

Juan Rulfo’s masterful Mexican ghost story about a young man’s search for his father after the death of his mother has been translated into over 30 languages. Pedro Páramo has been cited as a source of inspiration by other Latin American writers including Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez, who said the novel highly influenced his writing of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The Jane Austen Cookbook, Maggie Black (1995)

128 pages, 1 hour, 47 minutes

Martha Lloyd, a friend of the Austen family who lived with them for several years, recorded over 100 of the family’s recipes in her “household book.” The book contains a selection of these recipes, modernized for today’s cooks. The introduction details Austen’s interest in food and provides a description of entertaining, eating and shopping of the time in England.

The Old Man and The Sea, Ernest Hemingway, (1951)

132 pages, 1 hour, 50 minutes

Published in 1952, The Old Man and the Sea was the last major work of fiction by Hemingway published while he was alive. The short novel details the struggle between the aging Santiago, a Cuban fisherman, and his nemesis, a large marlin.

Santaland Diaries David Sedaris (1998)

138 pages, 1 hour 55 minutes

Santaland Diaries is a collection of six of David Sedaris’ Chirstmas stories. With classics like “Dinah, the Christmas Whore” and “Season's Greetings to our Friends and Family” it is always a good season for a laugh.

Food Rules, Michael Pollan (2008)

140 pages, 1 hour, 57 minutes

If you have ever found yourself in a mega supermarket an asked “what should I eat?” Michael Pollan has the answer. The bestselling author of The Omnivore’s Dilema, Pollan explains a set of rules for eating wisely. The book states a simple rule per page, followed by an explanation. Pollan pulls knowledge from a large number of traditions and cultures (modern and ancient), all of which appear to point to the same principles of eating cleanly and sustainably.

The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli (1532)

140 pages, 1 hour, 57 minutes

The Prince was written in the 16th century by Italian diplomat and theorist Niccolò Machiavelli. Considered one of the first works of modern political philosophy, The Prince centers on the idea that the ends justifiy the means.

The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, Luis Sepulveda (1989)

143 pages, 1 hour, 59 minutes

Set in the Ecuadorian Amazon, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories is dedicated to the memory of ecological and human rights activist Chico Mendes, murdered by a rancher in 1988. At its heart, the novel is a story about the ravages of the white man on the Amazon jungle and its native people.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

144 pages, 2 hours

The classic tale of good and evil that inspired so many more addresses the Victorian concern over the chasm between the public and private, good and evil.

The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka (2011)

144 pages, 2 hours

Told in the first person plural, Julie Otsuka’s 2011 novel tells the story of Japanese picture brides immigrating to the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century. The story does not center on an individual character, but is told from the point of view of many Japanese girls and women, creating an unusual but unforgettable narrative of the lives of Japanese immigrants to the US.

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