48 quick reads to impress university admissions tutors


  1. Seize the Day – Saul Bellow (a big book in a few pages)
  2. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch – Alexsander Solzhenitsyn (a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down)
  3. The Outsider – Albert Camus (the ultimate re the emptiness and meaninglessness of life)
  4. The Golden Gate – Vikram Seth (a prose poem – how strange)
  5. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad (tackling a whole lot for a slim volume)
  6. For Esme with Love and Squalor – J D Salinger (the short stories of the famous author of Catcher in the Rye)
  7. Dubliners – James Joyce (the best in Irish Fiction)
  8. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald (you’ve got to love Gatsby)
  9. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe (they write books in Africa too)
  10. The Life and Times of Michael K – J M Coetzee (another book out of Africa – 1983 Booker Winner – and might be voted the Booker of Bookers this year)
  11. The Spire – William Golding (he did write more than Lord of The Flies)
  12. Enduring Love – Ian McEwan
  13. On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan (and a whole raft of other slim volumes with which he made his name)
  14. Slaughter House 5 – Kurt Vonnegut (who destroyed Dresden?)
  15. The Remains of the Day – Kasho Ishiguro
  16. Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka (we all know that feeling)
  17. The Essential tales of Chekhov – Anton Chekhov (Edited by Richard Ford)
  18. The Road – Cormac McCarthy (will scare the bejesus out of you)
  19. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller – Italo Calvino (pretentious as hell – but a good read)
  20. Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth (his first, his shortest and his most infamous)
  21. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov (and speaking of infamous)
  22. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks (and wishing to be infamous)
  23. The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
  24. Will Self – The Quantity Theory of Insanity (the big man in today’s literary world cutting his teeth)
  25. At Swim Two Birds – Flann O’Brien
  26. Candide – Voltaire
  27. The Turn of The Screw – Henry James
  28. A Universal History of Insanity – Jorge Luis Borges (and anything else by him – pretty insane stuff, but thoroughly enjoyable)
  29. An Artist of the Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro (much lauded author of today – a short and beautiful book)
  30. Less Than Zero – Bret Easton Ellis
  31. The Man Who Was Thursday – G K Chesterton (terrific fun)
  32. Chronicle of a Death Foretold – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (the master of magical realism just got shorter)
  33. Pastoralia – George Saunders – (at least it’s new)
  34. The Sorrows of Young Werther – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  35. Fear and Trembling – Amelie Nothomb

…and a more girly selection (as per repeated requests)…


  1. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
  2. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  3. Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
  4. The Hours – Michael Cunningham (winner of the Pulitzer Prize)
  5. To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
  6. Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
  7. Notes on a Scandal – Zoe Heller
  8. The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
  9. The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
  10. The Bell – Iris Murdoch (not so short – in fact it’s not short at all, being very long – but a really good book with a great central female character)
  11. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (of course – every girl’s favourite depression tract)
  12. Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson
  13. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson























































  1. Ernest Darnell
    March 11, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea. Not a word too long.

  2. Hala
    April 8, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    You forgot Animal Farm by George Orwell.

  3. Charlotte
    February 21, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    The Driving Bell and the Butterfly.

    • aggslanguage
      February 24, 2011 at 7:42 am

      Apart from the fact that the guy writing it had to blink every single letter into existence, i struggle to see how this book represents any kind of achievement. it is a mess – as a whole – and looked at in pieces there is little of any merit. in my humble opinion. almost as bad as such books as the alchemist which aren’t really lit – they’re whatever a weak mind wants them to be.

    • MARIA
      May 15, 2011 at 7:51 am

      I think this is a typo… It is the DIVING Bell and the Butterfly

  4. Carlos
    February 27, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    The Virgin Suicides (for the girly section)

  5. Maria
    March 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. It’s basically Anna Karenina, but in 130 pages instead of 800. Plus, it’s brilliant. Full of imagery, symbolism and all of that good literature business.

  6. Maria
    March 13, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    And The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder.

  7. Molly
    March 14, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    It’s Kazuo Ishiguro for Remains of the Day, not Kasho. It’s spelled correctly for An Artist of the Floating World. 🙂 I read his novel Never Let Me Go, and it was absolutely fantastic.

    • aggslanguage
      March 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm

      remains of the day is considered his best – so worth a try. it is a really beautiful book

  8. Megan
    April 7, 2011 at 1:11 am

    Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales need to be added to this list. Very old-school, but even if you read only part of them, it will certainly impress the admissions staff.

  9. me
    April 27, 2011 at 12:20 am

    Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand

  10. George Rawlings
    May 19, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    28. Should be A Universal History of INFAMY not Insanity!! Deliberate mistake of course. Even so, as a University Tutor I’m not impressed.

  11. Luke
    August 10, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    A little bit on the sexist side with regards to the ‘girly’ section…

  12. Luke
    August 10, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    …but otherwise, great job compiling this list.

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