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Five short books that I love
Because who has time to read great tomes?
Not so long ago, I was in a reading rut. Nothing I was picking up was particularly inspiring me, and I didn’t even know what it was that was craving to read next. Thriller? Not sure. Something on a prize shortlist? Probably not.
I also had a few busy weeks ahead, so whatever it was would only get a couple of pages’ worth of my attention at a time - most likely through sleepy eyes just before going to bed. I needed something easy; something unintimidating.
So, I chose a book purely because it was short. Et voilà. Less than a week later, I had finished it in what felt like one, deliciously satisfying reading gulp - and I’ve been out of that rut ever since.
It got me thinking: my God, do I love a short book. Light to carry around, gratifying to read and not a bit overwhelming - what’s not to love? Here are five of my favourites…
Five brilliant books under 250 pages
~NB: number of pages may vary depending on the edition~
Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin
W&N Essentials; 224 pages.
This was the book that I picked up recently. A romantic comedy of sorts, the novel follows New York based cousins Guido and Vincent and their search for love. Guido meets Holly, the best kind of woman-who-knows-what-she-wants, while Vincent falls for Misty - a hilariously sharp-tongued misanthrope who’s completely resistant to a relationship, and who you can’t help but adore.
First published in 1978 but re-issued this year with an introduction from Katherine Heiny, this book is literary sunshine. It also includes my new favourite line from a novel: ‘she felt as well placed in the world as a fresh loaf of bread.’
Read it if you like: books by Jami Attenberg, Nick Hornby or Nora Ephron.
Lullaby by Leïla Slimani
Faber & Faber; 224 pages.
An international bestseller, Lullaby is a chilling thriller that’s the epitome of a one-sitting read. When a couple hire the eerily perfect Louise to help look after their two children, they think - at first - that they’ve lucked out with the dream nanny. But the truth is far more twisted.
With a disturbing opening and an unnerving plot to follow, this is the kind of story that gets under your skin. (I prescribe a copy of Happy All the Time, above, as an antidote.)
Read it if you like: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng or The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
Penguin Viking; 160 pages.
Both a will they/won’t they love story between a photographer and a dancer and an account of what it means to be a young Black British man today, Open Water is a stunning book.
It’s written in the second person, and if you, like me, tend to steer clear from novels with anything remotely ‘experimental’ about them, don’t let that put you off. You get used to it after a few pages, and it makes this tender story even more immersive.
Read it if you like: Ordinary People by Diana Evans or Normal People by Sally Rooney.
West by Carys Davies
Granta; 160 pages.
It’s 1815 in Pennsylvania, and Cy Bellman, a widower, sets off on a 1000-mile journey to find out if the rumours of giant monsters roaming in the west are true. He leaves behind his 10-year-old daughter, Bess, in the care of her aunt Julie, promising to return in a year or two.
Flitting between his epic adventure and Bess’s emotional journey of her own at home, this is a page-turning, mini masterpiece with a great ending.
Read it if you like: The Road by Cormac McCarthy or Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Atlantic Books; 240 pages.
Ayoola has a habit of killing her boyfriends. Her ever-loyal sister Korede, our narrator, helps her clean up the mess each time. That is, until her murderous family member starts showing an interest in the man she’s secretly in love with.
This is the longest book in this roundup but My Sister has another of my favourite things - short chapters (are you sensing a theme?). It’s also darkly comic, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself laughing despite the blood and gore.
Read it if you like: the TV show Killing Eve (or, of course, Luke Jennings’ books that inspired the on-screen version.)
One long book that I love is Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls (512 pages), which is a gloriously fun tale about friendship, love, sex, and the showgirls of New York in 1940. Gilbert said she wanted the novel to ‘go down like a champagne cocktail’, and it absolutely does.