Six Recommendations: Short Stories and Quick Reads

Whenever the dreaded reading slump hits or I’m finding it difficult to stay focused on a book, the first thing I reach for is a short story collection or, more recently, a quick read.

During the first six months of this year, I discovered a new love of short story collections – particularly if they’re spooky, dark or a little bit twisted. As I begun filling my bookshelves up with more and more short stories, it also helped me to rekindle my interest in longer form novels.

As I continued playing with my interest in different written formats, I also learned that I am a big poetry fan. You can read about some of my recent favourites here. But, as one love poked its head through the door, another one waved goodbye and I hit another reading slump.

Inspired by two recent charity bookshop purchases, The Vegetarian by Han Kang and Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, I decided to pick up some quick read books to see if that could help to kick me out of my reading rut. After a weekend flying through some new purchases, I’m feeling ready to tackle some of the sizeable books on my shelf.

If you’re struggling to commit to a book right now, or need something to get you back into the swing of reading, here are some of my favourite short stories and recent quick reads. Personally, I think anything around 200 words, in a choppy format or compulsively readable is on my ‘quick reads’ list so hopefully there’s a good mixture to pick from below. I hope you find something that will inspire you or make you fall in love with reading again.

Pew by Catherine Lacey

I devoured this book in two sittings.

Not only is the hardback absolutely stunning, but it’s a book that will make you fall in love (over and over again) with great writing. It is packed full of gorgeous descriptions. The hyper focus of the story, following just one week in the life of our main character, opens up much wider and important questions about our obsession with identity and what it really means to ‘be human’ and navigate life in a human body.

Lacey perfectly marries a gentle ambiguity with an airless, oppressive atmosphere that lingers on the pages, the silent promise of threat weaved throughout the chapters. This book is an absolute treat and one that you won’t want to put down.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The premise of The Vegetarian immediately caught my attention. It tells the story of a woman who, after having a strange dream, decides to become vegetarian. What follows is an intense breakdown of everything that made her previous life what it was, as she increasingly rejects societal pressures and moves towards a plant-like existence.

Split into three parts, we hear the story only from three people in her family and the ripple effect that her metamorphosis has on their lives. It is a strange, dark tale that raises challenging ideas about bodies, expectations, family, women and choice.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

Despite the fact that the I found the ending of the Netflix movie adaptation of this book very disappointing, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is still one of my favourite reads of this year so far.

When I say I couldn’t put this book down, it was the read-in-bed-until-my-eyes-hurt-and-I-fall-asleep-then-wake-up-early-to-finish-it-before-work kind of ‘couldn’t put it down’. I’m pretty sure I screamed at the end and couldn’t stop talking about it all day.

The story follows a man and his girlfriend on a road trip to visit his parents for the first time. I recommend going in without reading too much about this book (if anything at all) and definitely read it before watching the film. Full of short sentences and a weird, ominous story that you just have to get to the end of, this is a guaranteed quick read.

Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

A stunning book of powerful, deeply honest essays that will break your heart. I chose to add Notes to Self to this list because I found the essay-style format incredibly readable, with a clear voice that I could immediately connect to.

Pine candidly discusses alcoholism, family, growing up, sexual assault, burn out, trying to conceive, loneliness, disordered eating, blood and existing in a body marked female. She offers not only an incredibly personal look at her own life, but a wider discussion on some of the experiences of women in how they come to know themselves and own their autonomy, or rather the struggle to do so.

The topics are heavy and it’s not an easy read. However, Pine’s beautiful, direct and open writing welcomes you into her world, making Notes to Self an important, compelling and moving read.

The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun

Another wonderfully weird story that I just had to read. The Disaster Tourist explores the world of dark tourism as we follow Yona, a coordinator for a travel company specialising in vacation packages to destinations devastated by disaster and climate change.

Whilst a quick, fun read, The Disaster Tourist also asks challenging questions about our fascination with disaster and the plight of others, why we ignore the harm that we do and what responsibilities we have in our work lives.

Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch

Verge is an absolutely phenomenal, breath-taking piece of writing that is reminiscent of poetry. Displaying a masterful use of language, this incredible collection of short stories takes a peek into the weird and gritty lives of those on the margins of society.

It’s visceral. It’s bizarre. It’s beautiful. I cannot recommend this collection enough.

What’s your next read?

Have you read any of these books or are you planning to read them? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s chat in the comments.

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