I power through books week in week out without really coming up for air, or sleep. Yet, even with my worrying obsession with consuming all of the literature I do have days when I just can’t get started. Thus begins the dreaded reading slump that has been known to last for weeks (sometimes years!) If you’re suffering this dreaded fate there is hope. Here are a few of my favourite short books that will challenge your reading appetite and take you to places you never thought you’d go.
1. 20 Fragments of Ravenous Youth – Xiaolu Guo
This book is stylistically beautiful, it is cut into 20 short fragments which tell the story of Fenfang. Fenfang runs away from the sweet potato farm she calls home to embrace life in urban Bejing. The book documents her experience, working terrible jobs, meeting men and surviving on UFO noodles. It’s easy to read and easy to love, both for its refreshing take on fiction and its modern heroines wit.
2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson
An appalling assault on the imagination, this book has a special place on my bookshelf. From start to finish this 204 pages of madness. The story follows Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr Gonzo. They’re supposed to chasing a story, but actually just consume a plethora of chemicals and roam the streets of Las Vegas getting into bizarre and traumatizing situations. It’s witty, strange and violent. Nothing in this book can be taken as real, yet it quite possibly is all true. This story allows you to experience what it’s like to go on a drug fueled rampage, from the comfort of your own home. Wonderful.
3. Personal Days – Ed Park
This book is one that I might not ordinarily have chosen but for a recommendation. It’s a satirical take on office life and the unlikely relationships that form in this environment. It feels very real and is masterful in its portrayal of the mundane. It explores what it’s like to be under the threat of firing and how this gradually morphs into bizarre paranoia. Despite the bleak subject matter, it is funny and incredibly hopeful. A brilliant take on modern life and the meaninglessness of a lot of the work we do. It is a little slow in the beginning, but it is so worth it in the end.
4. The Fan Man – Willian Kotzwinkle
I keep making people read this, it’s one of those, I’m not sure if I need to have some form of check up. Or if it’s genuinely a masterpiece. It is told from the perspective of Horse, a weed smoking drifter type psychedelic flat squatting hippy. It’s vile but also hilarious and I really felt for Horse who lives a strange and simple existence but really loves the world. Some might struggle with the style which is stream of consciousness, Horse refers to himself constantly in the third person and ends every sentence with ‘man’, you dig? The narrative voice is brilliant and the story is so absurd that it will charm the most serious reader.
5. Where I’m Calling From – Raymond Carver
Now, short stories might not ordinarily be your thing. I urge you to make an exception. Raymond Carver’s collection Where I’m Calling From takes a snapshot look into the lives of all kinds of ordinary Americans. It explores everything, love, hope, expectation. All the things that create the human existence. There’s a story in here for everyone and because they’re short, you can read one or two in a sitting, and still have plenty to come back to. I’ve read and re-read this volume countless times, I particularly love ‘What we talk about, when we talk about love.’ Incredibly beautiful, honest and thoughtful it’ll inspire readers to read more and writers to create smarter work.
I hope these recommendations help you to get back on the reading horse. (Not the Horse from Fan Man, that would really be too traumatic.) I’d love to hear your go to novels when you’re stuck in a rut.
Give me suggestions for my slump shelf in the comments below!