A quick read is usually a mystery thriller I cannot put down, but I recently found a few books not in that genre but just as intense, and under two hundred pages. I wished they had gone on for more. They are so small and compact, I thought of saving them for my next long flight, but like chocolate, I couldn’t resist.
Have you read anything short and sweet lately?
My Twenty-Five Years in Provence by Peter Mayle
At only 179 pages, Mayle’s book was long enough to remind me of one of favorite vacations in Provence a few years ago. I still have some thyme weighed out for me at the farmer’s market, but I am running out – time to go back for more. Mayle’s travel musings have his usual rambling flair in this posthumous “reflections of then and now.” A joy to read and reread, this 25-year retrospective includes the amazing croissants and wines in cozy cafes (you can almost taste them), and the wonder of the beautiful landscape in the Luberon region. He includes some bumps along the way to tranquility, but I agree with Mayle’s philosophy; ““Memory is at its best when it’s selective, when we have edited out the dull, the disappointing and the disagreeable until we are left with rose-colored perfection.”
Harbor Me by Jacquelyn Woodson
Honored with many awards, including the National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson’s new book for middle school age children – Harbor Me – has a message for adults in its 176 pages.
When the teacher assigns four boys and two girls to meet every Friday in the old art room they rename the ARTT (A Room To Talk room), with no adults to listen in, they share their problems and discover together they have the strength to face them. The issues are timely: Esteban’s father’s deportation after being taken from work at a local factory to Haley’s father’s incarceration and her struggle with her own bi-racial identity, and Amari’s fears of racial profiling. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they hide from the rest of the world and find a safe harbor.
His Favorites by Kate Walbert
Kate Walbert’s 149 pages in His Favorites build into the #MeToo story of a vulnerable fifteen year old girl at a prestigious private boarding school. The story starts with the death of a teenage girl from a drunken joyride in a golf cart. As the driver, Jo’s guilt drives her to acquiesce to her thirty-four year old Advanced Lit class teacher’s sexual advances, until she finally decides to go to the headmaster for help. The administrator’s reaction is predictable. Walbert clearly points to all the adults who have abandoned Jo, including her parents, as she navigates a painful journey that never ends:
“From here there is never … a day without Master’s shadow across my life — a solid bar, a locked turnstile that brings me up short, trapped on the other side of where I thought I was going, the place I once imagined I would be.”
A story with a short but powerful and painful statement…
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors
Dorthe Nors 192 pages had me remembering when I learned to drive; I was sixteen and taught by my patient father, but Nors’ heroine, Sonja, is over forty trying to learn how to drive a stick shift in a driving school with an impatient young instructor. Written as a stream of consciousness dialogue with herself, the story allows the reader into Sonja’s anxiety-driven “monkey mind” as she jumps into tangent topics, often daydreaming while she is having a driving lesson.
Nors’ book is translated from Danish with obscure references to the landscape; coincidentally, Sonja is a translator of gory Swedish crime novels. It took awhile to get into the rhythm of the story, maybe because of the translation, but when Sonya drops out in the middle of a hike with a group of women to find a bakery with “thick slices of cake,” I suddenly liked her.
The book may be short but it is packed with dark humor and introspective notes, and double entendre on living life alone, as Sonja watches out for her blind spots:
“I’m a woman past forty. Alone… Barefoot and besides, I can’t shift gears.”
More Short Books to Look For:
- Coming later in September – Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
In 48 pages in a letter from father to son. the author of The Kite Runner commemorates the second anniversary of the death of the three-year-old Syrian refugee boy who drowned while attempting to reach Greece.
- In January, 2019 – Ghost Wall by Kate Moss – 144 pages
“…A gothic tale of bullying and bog people…”