Reading lists

Life-affirming novellas from Penguin Classics

At this unsettling time, people are turning to books for assurance. Book lists and aspirations are appearing everywhere across print and social media. Perhaps now I will finally read Proust! Or, yes — now I have time to read Ulysses, or Middlemarch, or War and Peace or any of the other books I hadn’t found time to tackle before the lockdown.

The trouble is that reading is hard at the moment. Just when we would love to sink into a book and find ourselves swept to happier, healthier places, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain concentration amidst distracting headlines, tweets and necessary care for loved ones.

Sales of epidemic literature are on the rise — titles such as Boccaccio’s Decameron and Camus’s The Plague — but many people are also turning to books for comfort. We are getting plenty of dystopia on the news; we don’t necessarily want to read about a fictional apocalypse.

My recommendation, in these extraordinary times, is to seek out books that are life-affirming, enjoyable and, above all, short — books that won’t tax your frazzled attention span. Here are ten classic novellas, all of which have fewer than 200 pages, and all of which will transport you around the world and remind you what is best about being alive.


Henry Eliot is the Creative Editor of Penguin Classics and the author of The Penguin Classics Book.

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