The 20 Best Novellas Ever Published In The History Of Humankind


I love me some novels and short stories. But I am particularly attracted to novellas. (Here’s mine! Buy them!) I was reminded of this after re-reading one that blew me away (see #20). So I thought I’d revisit my own list.

Again, this is not intended to be a definitive list and it’s in no particular order, save for #1, which you should read (or-read) immediately. Okay, novellas. Here goes:

1. Death of Ivan Illyich, Leo Tolstoy
The best novella ever, if not the high point of world literature.

2. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
When reading “The Trial” to his buddy Max Brod, Kafka laughed his ass off. Read “The Metamorphosis” again and think of Kafka laughing.

3. What Kind of Day Did You Have, Saul Bellow
Immensely rewarding and bristling with life. A portrait of an aging “intellectual captain” and his clumsy, appealing mistress.

4. Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville
Weird, brilliant, prescient and also surprisingly funny.

5. Death in Venice, Thomas Mann
Sublime creepiness.

6. Animal Farm, George Orwell
Many people will disagree about this one because they associate it with high school. Read it again.

7. The Gambler, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Ah, Fedya. If only you always wrote this short.

8. Notes from the Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
See #7.

9. Daisy Miller, Henry James
Ah, Henry. If only you always wrote this short.

10. War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
Wonderfully imaginative and a fast read.

11. The Dead, James Joyce
I read this so long ago that I can’t remember a thing about it, but it’s James Joyce, so it has to be here.

12. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
If you haven’t read this, shame on you.

13. No One Writes to the Colonel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Simultaneously fascinating and frightening.

14. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
This one made a strong impression on me in high school.

15. Billy Budd, Herman Melville
Fills the reader with a kind of epic futility.

16. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
Ludicrous dialogue: “I fear both the Tigers of Detroit and the Indians of Cleveland.” But a great story nevertheless.

17. The Aspern Papers, Henry James
Astonishing to say this about anything by him, but: it’s fun.

18. Goodbye Columbus, Philip Roth
Dissecting the foibles and petty snobbery of suburban Jews. It pissed off almost everyone in my parents’ generation, so I was almost obliged to love it.

19. Him With His Foot in His Mouth, Saul Bellow
Actually the collection of that name is my favorite book.

20. A Love Child, Doris Lessing
I find this story absolutely brilliant and truly frightening. In fact, I’m going to read it again as soon as I am done with this post.

Bonus: Three Famous Ones That I Have Mixed Feelings About

1. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
The first time I read this (in my lonely apartment in Warsaw) I thought it was genius. The second time I picked it up, I couldn’t get past page 8.

2. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
I have tried and failed to read this story more times than I can remember.

3. Seize the Day, Saul Bellow
Marvelous writing, but not nearly as affecting as it thinks it is.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments section.