Books you can read in the time it takes to watch the Super Bowl

Books for the win.
Books for the win.
Photo illustration by MPR News; book photo by Noah Dibley | Creative Commons via Flickr; background by Tate Nations | Public Domain via Flickr

This Sunday is the Super Bowl. Some teams are playing. Maybe one of the bird teams? (Confirmed. I had to look it up: The Patriots are playing the Falcons.)

If books are more your speed than football, clear your Sunday evening plans: These short books will take you about the length of the Super Bowl to finish — depending on whether or not you like to watch the halftime show.

No commercial breaks. No bad calls. Just try not to get bean dip on the pages.

Reading times are approximate, courtesy of How Long to Read This.

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Brush up on the classics during football
Brush up on the classics while everyone is crowded around the TV.
Courtesy of publishers

"We Have Always Lived in the Castle" by Shirley Jackson — 2 hours and 16 minutes

Jackson's final novel is a dark, looming storm cloud of a book. The last surviving members of the Blackwood family have locked themselves away, after the rest of their family was murdered by arsenic poisoning.

"The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon — 2 hours and 43 minutes

Pynchon's conspiratorial lark of a book imagines a centuries-old war between two rival postal systems.

"Sula" by Toni Morrison — 2 hours and 43 minutes

"Sula" tells the story of two young girls whose friendship is forged in a poor black neighborhood of Medallion, Ohio. They share everything — including a brutal secret — but their connection grows more complicated as they grow older.

"Territorial Rights" by Muriel Spark — 3 hours and 24 minutes

Spark's wicked and clever novel toys with blackmail, murder, love affairs and secret identities, all wrapped up in the beauty of Venice.

"A Void" by Georges Perec — 4 hours

This book is a marvel on a purely linguistic level: It does not contain a single instance of the letter "e." Originally written in French, the translator managed to keep all "e's" out of the English edition, as well. The book traces the disappearance of Anton Vowl, a mysterious figure who has a predilection for word games.

Modern lit

You can always check the score later.
You can always check the score later.
Courtesy of publishers

"The Book of Duels" by Michael Garriga — 2 hours and 43 minutes

A bizarre and darkly comic collection of super short stories that bring to life historical duels — duels you know, and duels you don't. There's Alexander Hamilton versus Aaron Burr and David versus Goliath, but also a wild series of lesser-known spats sparking Garriga's stories.

"Glaciers" by Alexis Smith — 2 hours and 27 minutes

A contemplative stroll through one day in the life of Isabel, a library worker who repairs damaged books, and who has a crush on the man who fixes her computer. Think: Modern "Mrs. Dalloway," with more tangents about Alaska.

"Fever Dream" by Samanta Schweblin — 2 hours and 43 minutes

What's happening here? It's not exactly clear, but it's happening fast: A woman lies dying in a hospital room. She's trying to understand the actions that landed her here. And a young boy, sitting at the foot of her bed, is urging her on with the story. Read it with the lights on.

"Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" by ZZ Packer — 4 hours and 4 minutes

Packer's stories are made to be gulped down, whether they're about a plotting group of Girl Scouts or drifters in Japan.

Sci-fi and speculative fiction

Maybe your team is winning in an alternate universe?
Maybe your team is winning in an alternate universe?
Courtesy of publishers

"The Lathe of Heaven" by Ursula Le Guin — 2 hours and 43 minutes

What if your dreams could change reality? Le Guin tosses readers into an alternate history where a machine enables a man to do just that. But dreams aren't always better.

"Annihilation" by Jeff VanderMeer — 2 hours and 56 minutes

VanderMeer's eerie and unsettling book is only the first in a trilogy: Dive in if you dare. A research team is dispatched to Area X, a large swath of land evacuated years before. Their assignment is to observe, but unexplained phenomena pull them deeper into the land's secrets.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams — 3 hours and 10 minutes

This is the beginning of Adams' madcap classic sci-fi series, which has strains of "Monty Python" — in space.

"Stories of Your Life and Others" by Ted Chiang — 4 hours and 18 minutes

Chiang's title story, "Story of Your Life," inspired the Academy Award-nominated film "Arrival," about a linguist who is tasked with deciphering an alien language.


You can still watch the half-time show.
You can still watch the half-time show.
Courtesy of publishers

"What If?: Series Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions" by Randall Munroe — 4 hours and 32 minutes

If every person on Earth aimed a laser pointer at the moon at the same time, would it change color? These are questions you never knew you wanted answered.

"The Hidden Life of Trees" by Peter Wohlleben — 4 hours and 4 minutes

The forest is a social network, and trees are social beings — that's Wohlleben's argument. His deep dive into the science of the woods will have you telling everyone you know random tree facts.

"The Fire This Time" by Jesmyn Ward — 3 hours and 24 minutes

In 1963, James Baldwin published "The Fire Next Time," two essays on the role of race in American history and society. Jesmyn Ward's companion collection is a series of essays and poetry that speak to and engage with modern issues of race — what has changed, and what glaringly has not.

"Brain on Fire" by Susannah Cahalan — 4 hours and 4 minutes

Cahalan's book is a memoir of her own medical mystery: At 24, the aspiring journalist woke up in a hospital bed, unable to move or speak. A last-minute diagnosis gave her her life back.