The liberating thrill of a slender book

Short books make for sweet reading.
Short books make for sweet reading.
Image: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
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Let’s keep this short. We’re busy. We want to read but don’t have time for deep dives, and that applies to books as well as articles.

Forget Moby Dick, Ulysses, and Infinite Jest. Put aside all the tedious novels laden with decor porn or long descriptions of settings and sentiment. Embrace the opposite of Harry Potter. Make 2019 the year of the slender text, the priceless, tiny, literary gem that you can read from start to end in a single sitting.

Not to fat-shame the big books, but slender is sexier in the literary context. Small books are fantastic and refreshing, not just because they’re easy to carry and fun to look at on a bookshelf. They also offer the thrill of completion, the satisfaction of a task seen through to the end, the pleasure of traveling through a whole world with minimal commitment. And choosing short books over long ones makes it a lot easier to read volumes. They’re not daunting, making it more likely you’ll actually read a book, and then pick up some more.

From the writer’s perspective, the short book is a challenge. To make a few pages great is no mean feat. It demands that an author economize and be wise about words, concentrating all the awesome in a compact space. The slender work offers depth without descending into self-indulgence or veering from the aim of the text.

Short books are like the tiny houses of writing—they have everything a person needs with none of the excess that inevitably turns into a depressing mess. They’re tight, neat, and determined works that respect the reader’s time and space.

Detractors might argue that short books aren’t an economical proposition because they often cost as much as much longer works. But that’s absurd. The point is quality over quantity, pleasure over paper. We read books to explore new ideas and different worlds, for fun and entertainment, to enjoy the beauty of language. All of these things can be derived from a short book.

Plus, tiny works stand out at the bookstore. They are delicious, minimalist literary rarities. When small is your criteria, the offerings are somewhat limited, but the possibility of alighting upon something especially clever, poetic, or insightful is high. And if you really don’t care about the fate of your local bookseller, you can just skip buying the book altogether and find a corner to read it in while you’re there.

Here’s a list of recently released short reads worth your limited time, and minimalist classics to snack on in an afternoon and keep going back to:

  1.  Elevation by Stephen King
  2.  Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman
  3.  The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani
  4.  The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli
  5.  Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
  6.  The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  7.  The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
  8.  The Drought by JG Ballard
  9.  A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  10.  The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
  11.  Cosmopolis by Don Delillo
  12.  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  13.  The Lover by Marguerite Duras
  14.  The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  15.  Against Nature by JK Huysmans
  16.  The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  17.  Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  18.  Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  19.  Conspicuous Consumption by Thorstein Verlen
  20.  Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu