Book Nerd: A Return to Reading + 11 Short Books to Get You Started

I caught on to the joy of reading at an early age. My parents are both readers, and their passion was contagious. I read books under the covers when I was supposed to be taking a nap. I loved going to the library with my mom and picking out books. I was the kid in class who got in trouble for reading a book in her lap rather than paying attention to the teacher’s lecture. I devoured books.

But I stopped reading in college. Well, I read textbooks and book assignments of course, but I didn’t read recreationally. Like most students, I just didn’t have the time. Graduate school was the same story. I both worked and studied full time.

When I finally finished school and found myself with a surprising amount of free time on my hands, I slowly returned to my passion for reading. I struggled at first to focus, to really let go and lose myself in the stories, but now I consume books like they are sustenance.

It’s easy to fall out of the habit of reading. We get busy, get distracted, get interested in other things. Then it’s hard to get started again, to make the time to sit down and commit to a book. Sometimes it’s easiest to start small, to start with a short book that requires a minimal time commitment and that we can absorb in small doses.

Here are some great short books, less than 200 pages (depending on the edition), capable of reviving one’s passion for reading:

Mice

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – 112 pgs.

Two drifters dream of one day having their own piece of land but in the meantime find work at a California ranch, but difficult situations arrive that force them to face the harshness of reality. It’s a short, simple story but it hit me hard, and it’s written perfectly.

Night

Night by Elie Wiesel – 120 pgs.

This is a memoir of Wiesel’s personal experience in the Nazi concentration camps. It’s candid and dark and insightful as he contemplates the nature of humanity and the existence of God. I read it in junior high, and it was my first experience with such a powerful read.

Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus – 123 pgs.

A man goes on trial for committing murder, but one soon realizes that it’s his lack of social conformity that quietly condemns him. This is a prime example of how a great author can pack and immense amount of commentary and philosophy into a short novel.

GiftFromSea

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh – 144 pgs.

I read this on my honeymoon swinging in a hammock on the beach. It’s a quiet, contemplative read comprised of the author’s thoughts and reflections on her life as a wife, mother, and writer. It’s considered a classic, written in 1955, but is still wholly relevant to modern times.

Tuck

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit – 160 pgs.

A century ago, the Tuck family found and drank from a spring that turned out to be a fountain of immortality. When ten-year old Winnie finds the spring in the woods by her house, the Tuck family kidnaps her to buy time to convince her why drinking from it is a bad idea. Meanwhile, a dark stranger is hunting them.

LivedInCastle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – 160 pgs.

After a gruesome tragedy, a family of three sequesters themselves inside their home, safe from the hateful townspeople. When an estranged cousin arrives one day to help, things begin to change for the worse. This book made me anxious. It’s weird, creepy, and awesome.

Persepolis

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – 160 pgs.

This is a memoir told via graphics (comic book style) about the author’s experience growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. It provides a striking view of daily life during that time and glimpse into history. It’s a simple yet smart read that presents the effects of war and political turmoil through the eyes of a young girl.

F451

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – 174 pgs.

Everyone should read this dystopian novel in which television is life and firemen start fires to destroy illegal contraband, including books. Guy is one of these firemen, and after meeting his strange neighbor Clarisse, he beings to question everything he thinks he understands about his world. Read it!

OceanEndLane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – 178 pgs.

A man returns to his hometown for a funeral, reflecting on memories from childhood only to get swept back up in the world he thought he’d left behind. Keeping true to a Neil Gaiman fantasy, this strange story includes supernatural beings, evil creatures, and a familiar place that may not be what it seems.

Brooklyn

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson – 192 pgs.

August returns home for her father’s funeral and runs into an old friend, bringing back a flood of memories from her childhood in Brooklyn in the 70’s. It’s about loss, family, girlhood, best friends, and the lasting effects of it all. It’s a lovely story, conveyed in bits and pieces that come together in the end.

HitchhikerGuide

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – 193 pgs.

Moments before Earth is destroyed, Arthur is transported to a space ship by Ford, an alien who has been posing as a human. Together they embark on a journey through the galaxy encountering strange and absurd beings along the way. It’s a fun book full of high-jinks, satire, and silliness. A cult classic!

Happy Reading!

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Summer Love + 10 Books with Summer Settings

Summer is the season of adventure. It’s the season love, friendship, travel, and new experiences. The sun shines bright and the heat warms our skin making us feel young and free and happy. Summer is when we aim to spend more time outside.

I have an abundance of amazing memories from my summers past – going out dancing, traveling through Europe, flying across country to see friends, marrying my favorite person in the world, lounging by the pool and reading for hours on end.

Summer is the season of reading. We seem to have extra time to devote to our books whether we find ourselves needing something to do on a flight or relaxing on the beach after a dip in the ocean. Books become our summer companions, and we turn to them for some of our adventures.

Here are some great reads to accompany your summer fun. They all start or take place during the summer season as well!

FrogMusic

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

This story takes place in San Francisco during the summer heat wave of 1876. Blanche is a burlesque dancer distraught by the sudden murder of her friend Jenny. Blanche will stop at nothing to figure out the culprit and bring him to justice. Despite the plot line, this is not a fast-paced thriller. It’s a mystery that slowly unravels amidst vivid and through details that bring the setting and the characters of the story to life. The author even incorporates songs from the time into the book, which is quite cool and impressive in my opinion.

 

 

Bittersweet

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Mabel feels average compared to her wild, beautiful, college roommate Ev. When Ev invites her to spend the summer together at her family’s estate, Mabel is ecstatic. She falls fast in love with the place and lifestyle, feeling like she finally belongs and is living the life she has always wanted. But there are dark secrets buried within this family, and Mabel is faced with a dilemma as she begins to uncover them. The novel is much darker than I anticipated but made me wish I summered in Vermont even more.

 

 

SummerBeforeWarThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

After the death of her father, Beatrice takes a job as a Latin teacher in a small Sussex town. The story starts in the summer when Beatrice arrives and unfolds as she forms friendships with Agatha, the patron the supported her hiring, and her charismatic nephews. This book has a slow and steady pace that makes it easy to form attachments to the characters. It explores small town gossip, nontraditional relationship, social class, and gender roles during the time. When WWI begins, the lives of those in the small town will never be the same. I cried hard at the end.

 

 

TheGirlsThe Girls by Emma Cline

It’s summer in the late 1960’s, and a lonely 14-year old girl becomes mesmerized by an older girl and her free lifestyle that turns out to be a dangerous path in disguise. The cult and thriller aspects of this book are captivating, but what makes this book worth reading is the author’s exploration of the complex web of both female and male relationships and early interactions that shape who we are and who we become. It is dark and candid interpretation of the female coming-of-age experience that I found insightful.

 

 

EarthThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

After tragedy strikes, a boy moves with his mom over the summer to live with his grandfather in the Kentucky Appalachians. The boy finds solace in his relationship with his wise and rugged grandfather and with his new best friend as they explore the woods. When the town becomes divided over mountain blasting, a camping trip into to the wilderness becomes a fight for survival. It’s gritty and poignant. It’s also the author’s debut, and I can’t wait to read his next book!

 

 

LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A group of four friends spend carefree summers together on a family island until one of them has an accident and loses part of her memory. She returns the following summer to piece together the puzzle of what happened. This is a story about friendship, loss, and facing your demons. The negative ratings on Goodreads describe the book as tedious and pretentious, but I found something honest and beautiful in this coming-of-age story. I did listen to the audiobook and loved the narrator, so that likely improved my experience. I cried twice.

 

 

WhistlingGraveyardWhistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

It’s summertime in Mississippi 1963. When 9-year old Starla gets in trouble for attending the July 4th festival against her grandmother’s wishes, Starla runs away, aiming for Nashville, the city where her music star mother lives. On her way, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman suspiciously traveling with a white baby. Together they find themselves facing a series of incredible dangers. This is another book that took a darker and more violent turn than I anticipated, but the resolution brings it all full circle for a satisfying read.

 

 

ChaperoneThe Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Before becoming silent film star, Louise Brooks traveled from her home in Kansas to set to NY to attend prestigious dance school. She was 15 at the time and thus forced to travel with chaperone, Cora Carlisle, who had personal reasons of her own for taking the job and making the 5-week trip. This work of historical fiction is an insightful reflection of the changing culture and values of the time. It was an intriguing read and left me wishing I could experience 1920s New York for myself. I think there is a plan for a feature film in the works!

 

 

InterestingsThe Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

This novel explores the complexity of friendship over time as lives shift and change, often leading people in directions they question or even regret. Six friends forge deep bonds when they first meet at art camp over the summer. While they are all clearly talented, some of them pursue successful artistic careers while others follow different paths. While the main character Jules is unlikable in my opinion, she provides a candid representation of envy, a prominent concept in this character-driven book, to which most of us can relate.

 

 

RainLighteningThe Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

It’s summertime in small town Kansas when Jody learns that the man convicted of killing her father on the same night her mom disappeared, is getting out of prison and is getting a new trial, presided over by the convict’s son. New details come to light about the events of the horrible night that Jody lost both of her parents and her family will never be the same. This is a quick-paced suspenseful novel that was a fun and easy read. This is a great one to take with you on a road trip or flight!

 

 

Happy summer and happy reading!

For the Love of Books

Books are a uniquely portable magic.
-Stephen King

I am a voracious consumer of books, both fiction and nonfiction. My parents taught me to read at an early age, before I even started school. I was the kid in fourth grade that got in trouble for reading a book in her lap instead of listening to the teacher’s lecture.

Many readers indulge as a form of escapism, but the primary reason for my indulgence is different. Reading broadens my horizon in regards to lives of other people, varying perspectives, and worlds different from my own. I think about them in comparison to my own reality, and it helps me to make sense out of the chaos of life. Books lead me to think about my own story and the story of those around me.

There have been phases of my life where I have been less of a reader than others, but since finishing graduate school last year, I have revived reading as a regular indulgence. This left me with an overwhelming thirst for a connection with others who share in the love of books, and thus, I joined a local book club.

It was terrifying showing up at the house of a complete stranger to converse with other complete strangers, but it was the book that fueled me forward. I knew the small talk would end once the book discussion began, and that’s when my nervousness disappeared. The conversation was stimulating and thought provoking, and I was hooked. It feels so satisfying to connect with people over this common interest, and now I am beginning to connect with them on a level that extends beyond our readership.

Not only has this love of books brought me together with new people with different ideas and perspectives, it has expanded my exposure to literature. Each month we read a book in a different genre, which is opening to me different reading experiences and thus different way of seeing the world and harnessing my imagination. It also recently introduced me to Book Riot, which is a source of all things bookish including news of the publishing world, new releases, and book reviews and recommendations. I anxiously await every new podcast episode.

In celebration of my revived love of books and reading, here are some of my favorite reads so far this year:

Earth
The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
– After tragedy strikes, a boy moves with his mom to live with his grandfather in the Kentucky Appalachians. The boy finds solace in his relationship with his wise and rugged grandfather and with his new best friend as they explore the woods. When the town becomes divided over mountain blasting, a camping trip into to the wilderness becomes a fight for survival. It’s gritty and poignant. It’s also the author’s debut, and I can’t wait to read his next book!

 

Lucky
Luckiest Girl Alive – A young woman determined to have it all and close to making it happen is forced to take a hard look at her life when she agrees to participate in a documentary about tragic events that took place when she was in high school. I agree with comparisons to the eerie, dark tone of Gone Girl. It is very well written and kept me deeply engaged to the end.

 

Mice
Of Mice and Men (Classic) – Two drifters find work at a California ranch with dreams of one day having their own piece of land, but difficult situations arrive that force them to face the harshness of reality. It’s a short, simple story but it hit me hard. I had to take some time to absorb the ending before I could start another book. It’s not a fun-filled happy book, but it’s an important one and is an example of one that is perfectly written.

 

War
Girl at War – A young girl and her family in Croatia are struck by tragedy at the start of the Yugoslavian civil war in the early 90s. Ten years later the girl decides to return to her homeland and face her past. This book taught me a lot about the war of which I was very unfamiliar. It’s a smart book that shows you it’s possible to bridge the gap between all the lives we have lived to remind us of who we are.

 

Single
All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (Nonfiction) – A well written and researched book that explores gender roles of women in America and how they have shifted through the decades to now. She incorporates everything from census and statistical data to interviews of every-day women. It’s a thorough and interesting commentary.

 

Liars
We Were Liars (Young Adult) – A group of four friends spend carefree summers together on a family island until one of them has an accident and loses part of her memory. This is a story about friendship, loss, and facing your demons. The bad ratings on Goodreads describe the book as tedious and pretentious, but I found something honest and beautiful in this coming-of-age story. I did listen to the audiobook and loved the narrator, so that likely improved my experience. I cried twice.

 

What are your favorite books so far this year? What are you reading next?