I’m not as good of a reader as I used to be: I used to read voraciously, but after going to college and analyzing text after text for English classes, I kind of lost my appetite. I would get bored or mopey halfway through or else would see the page count of a popular book and get instantly overwhelmed (Game of Thrones, much?) But once I can get into a story, I wonder why I don’t read all the time.
I’ve found that short, quick reads are the perfect solution for the impatient reader. I’m in and out before I can get antsy or lose interest and the quality of the writing is often more stunning than what you’d find in a longer, rambling novel. These are the short books that have blown my mind and have left a lasting impression on me to this day.
1. The Secrets of a Fire King– This was the first short story collection I ever read. The imagery is striking, from a shattered mirror to the glow of a drinking glass filled with liquid radiation. The book perfectly captures the fragility of what it means to be human. It’s been years since I read it; time to pick it up again!
2. Ethan Frome– I am not even sure how many times I have read this book. When I was a teenager, I would start to feel all angsty late at night and wander around the house until I mindlessly took this book off the shelf, drew a bath and read it all the way through before going to bed. A story of romance and loss, Ethan Frome delineates the societal limits we accept without question.
3. Invisible Cities– I am so grateful that one of my college professors had this book on her reading list. The book contains imagined conversations between Marco Polo and Emperor Kublai Khan as the explorer describes the many cities he has passed along his journeys. The language is unlike anything I have read before. This book is magic.
4. Drowned– I hate horror films and I cover my eyes through every jump-scare I can possibly anticipate. The creeping terror of Drowned, however, fascinated me. Set in Sweden, this seeming romance offers thrills and chills and leaves you holding your breath until the very last word.
5. Psyche in a Dress— Truly disturbing and vibrantly perverse, this strange novella recounts the life of a Greek goddess living in modern-day Hollywood. The young woman finds herself torn between a romance with an abusive god of death and a young man who can offer her hope. I saw this book at the airport and was drawn in by its gorgeous cover art.
6. The World’s Wife– I heard poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy speak in Edinburgh in 2013 and got my copy of this book signed after the reading. The poems imagine the perspectives of history’s great men through the sarcastic, biting and loving eyes of their wives. Her poetry is humorous, but powerfully resonant.
7. Fahrenheit 451– I read this book the summer before I started high school and it thrilled me to the core. A world where books are banned? A fire brigade dedicated to starting fires? I was entranced by the implications of this modern society that preferred pills and reality TV over literature and the simple idea that a few words on paper could topple a civilization.
8. The Juggler– Get ready for the bizarre. I actually loved reading this book for a Francophone Women Writer’s class in college. It examines what beauty means as we age and the violently passionate admirations of young men who see the women around them as beautiful, dependent trophies.
9. Ocean at the End of the Lane– I had the honor of hearing Mr. Gaiman read aloud from this book on his last tour when he stopped by our local high school; a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! He confided that he wrote the book for his rockstar wife who was on tour at the time, to get her attention. He wrote the book about two things that she likes: feelings and truth. Gaiman blends fantasy with reality seamlessly around two true events from his childhood.
10. Where Rockets Burn Through– This collection of sci-fi poetry was actually edited by the professor who taught me in Scotland. He was the first person I ever heard say the words “sci-fi poetry” and I was floored. This collection captures both elements of the sci-fi culture we enjoy here on Earth and the haunting magnitude of space.
11. Vampires in the Lemon Grove– I am currently reading this book and it has already leapt to the top of my favorites list. Each story is inventive and bizarre, telling tales of silk-worm women and the afterlives of U.S presidents and a boy who is being stalked by seagulls. The worlds of these short stories are so completely mesmerizing, you won’t be able to put them down.
12. Light Boxes– Yep, I think this might still be it: my favorite quick read of all time. I bought it in London and read it on the underground, thoroughly frustrated when I had to stop reading to get off at my stop. A small town is haunted by a man named February who steals the children and makes hot air balloons, kites and birds fall from the sky. The book is written with richly poetic language which is what made me fall in love with it in the first place. Urgent and impossible, this novella blew my mind on every page.
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