Back to School: How To Be Smarter in 12 Short Books

The sad thing in today’s multi-gadgetted, rat-race world is that a lot of people consider their phone apps a better use of their time than a book. But if you are one of those who still values a good book but doesn’t seem to have the time to actually read one; if you’ve been planning to get back on that wagon, get drunk in the ecstasy of a good story, so to speak, but never could decide on a book, then this list is for you. The task may seem daunting and the choices too confounding, which is why we are here to help!

Presenting to you, from varied genres and times, our something-for-everybody book list. Start slow, reading 10 – 20 pages in the beginning, and as you get comfortable with the book, you can increase your pace. Let’s get started; eager readers, assemble!

1. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka  

This book by the German writer is a paltry 100 words long, but a short story that speaks volumes of the times we live in. Gregor Samsa, the protagonist wakes up one morning transformed into a giant insect. The premise is set. Do we really need say more?

Psst! Try reading the book keeping in mind the literal as well as metaphorical transformation of the protagonist. Though the plot is absurd, Kafka means to tell us something urgent and important. We had better keep our ears and eyes wide open.

2. The Old Man and The Sea by Earnest Hemingway

If you have read this far, then surely you’re here to challenge yourself and not looking to read Twilightesque books? Hemingway’s novella, one that gained him a Nobel Prize for Literature, is a story about a man’s harrowing struggle against Nature’s cruel elements. Read this book for no other reason than the fact that Hemingway has featured in almost all ‘books to read before you die’ lists.

3. Any Sherlock Holmes Novel by Arthur Conan Doyle

With the advent of a new found interest in the most famous detective of all times, what with BBC’s own modern day adaptation of the same (called, quite originally, Sherlock), it is time the original master-sleuth be given a chance to blow you away. Go with the first, called Study in Scarlet where Holmes is introduced, or the second, The Sign Of Four, that will take you deeper into the workings of the genius PI.  

4. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Anything by George Orwell is fine by us! But if you are hesitant or even confused as to where to start, you cannot go wrong with this dystopian satirical novella that was so censorious of totalitarian regimes per se and the Soviet Union, specifically that it was banned in many countries! Now that is reason enough to take a look at this book.

Psst! If this book gets you riveted, you can try Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, all novels of great value to the dystopian fiction buff.

5. Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Want to look smarter and actually be it too? One Dostoevsky is a must, in that case.  This short 150 pages book is seen as now as the precursor to existentialism, a philosophy made more popular by French thinkers such as Sartre and Camus, which brings us to the next item.

Psst. Read up on existentialism and Dostoevsky to get more in-depth understanding of the same.

6. The Stranger by Albert Camus

“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” The famous opening line of this novella has for many years fascinated critics and casual readers alike. The protagonist, left nameless except for his last name, Meursault is charged with murder of a man, that he did commit. It is difficult for readers to identify with such a reticent protagonist as it is, not to mention that he committed a murder in cold blood. But the genius of Camus is conveyed through this same namelessness; Meursault can be anyone, and is thus identifiable as much in others as in ourselves.

7. Short stories by miscellaneous writers

Short stories are a great way to negotiate through literature the easy way around. Some of the greatest insight into the human condition can be found in these short stories; writers ranging from Russian greats such as Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy to French writers of great esteem such as Balzac and Guy de Maupassant, or our very own Indian expatriate Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies.

8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This great American classical, that came to define the 1920s as the Jazz Age, was recently adapted into a motion picture starring Leonardo Di Caprio and our very own Amitabh Bachchan. This one book is a mere 120 pages long, but speaks volumes of what ambition can do to a man, and a country.

9. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

A book that epitomized teenage angst and the popularized the phrase ‘horsing around’ was found so corrupting of the youth that it was banned when it was first published. Now however, it is considered a modern classic in whose pages teenagers from all countries and all times can recognize their own voice.

10. Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

This short novel, written a few years after the abominable Partition of India, is a poignant look inside a village on the border of Punjab, plunged into the web of murder, suspicion, bureaucracy, and above all, love.

Now that you have read through this tiny list, create a book challenge for yourself! Resolve to read at least 1 book every month for 12 months. What better time to start, after all than at the beginning of the year? Come on; Take the plunge!


I love writing and making up stories where none exists. So don't make a fuss when I tell you I'm a college student who solves crimes in her free time. I consider myself a jiu-jitsu expert so be scared if you meet me in a dark alley. Be very scared.

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