12 Powerful Novellas That Moved Me When I First Read Them

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“But at sunset the clouds gathered again, bringing an earlier night, and the snow began to fall straight and steadily from a sky without wind, in a soft universal diffusion more confusing than the gusts and eddies of the morning. It seemed to be a part of the thickening darkness, to be the winter night itself descending on us layer by layer.” — Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome

* * * *

It’s interesting how when you reach a certain age you really don’t want more things. Yet, one can never have enough books.

C.S. Lewis once said, “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”

If you’re looking for something shorter before escaping into your next massive volume, here are a dozen older books from my personal shelves into which you may temporarily divert yourself…

A Dozen Favorite Novellas

1. The Tenth Man, by Graham Greene

“When you reach a certain age you don’t care about the future: it is success enough to be alive: every morning you wake with triumph.” An attorney escapes death by discarding his dignity. Fate orchestrates an opportunity for him to find his better self.

2. Of Mice and Men, by Steinbeck

“At about 10 o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars.” A tragic story about friendship and dreams. Read it in high school like I did? Worth reading it again with fresh eyes.

3. Barabbas, by Par Lagerkvist

Swedish winner of the 1951 Nobel Prize whose work was introduced to the larger world by French literary giant Andre Gide. Barabbas, the story of a believer who doesn’t really understand the way of faith, was his first international success.

4. Theseus, by Andre Gide

I became captivated by Gide’s journals after discovering him in the early 90’s. 1947 Nobel Prize Winner and author of 80 books, Gide stood at the center of the French literary scene from the turn of the century till his death in 1951.

5. A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean

I’ve read this book five times (including audio version) and have enjoyed the film based on this story another four or five times. “Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it.”

6. Isabelle, by Andre Gide

“Everything’s already been said, but since nobody was listening, we have to start again.” Gide is one reason for the expression belles letrtes, the crafting and transformation of words into fine art. Was reminded of this story again while watching Grey Gardens, the tragic story of a great family’s decline.

7. Seize the Day, by Saul Bellow

“A person can become tired of looking himself over and trying to fix himself up. You can spend the entire second half of your life recovering from the mistakes of the first half.” It’s painful learning that we ourselves are the ones thwarting our own hopes and dreams.

8. Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann

“Nothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between people who know each other only by sight, who meet and observe each other daily — no hourly — and are nevertheless compelled to keep up the pose of an indifferent stranger, neither greeting nor addressing each other, whether out of etiquette or their own whim.”

9. The Sibyl, by Par Lagerkvist

“Nothing is more foreign than the world of one’s childhood when one has truly left it.” A strange parable of sorts that addresses the tragic sense of life.

10. The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis

A response to the moral relativism in Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Lewis takes readers on a tour of the Afterlife by means of a bus that leaves England on a dreary afternoon. A creative, insightful read.

11. Mr. Majestyk, by Elmore Leonard

I was introduced to Elmore Leonard by Joe Soucheray at a 1985 writer’s conference in Mankato. Joe was trying to write his first novel and lamented at how impressive Leonard was and his own efforts so inferior. “It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to sound like it does.” A real story about good people, bad people, and life.

12. Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

“He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of it’s frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing nothing unfriendly in his silence. I simply felt that he lived in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access, and I had the sense that his loneliness was not merely the result of his personal plight, tragic as I guessed that to be, but had in it, as Harmon Gow had hinted, the profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters.”

If you’ve not read some of these authors, they’re all worth getting to know better.

Originally published at

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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