Saturday, July 19, 2014

Packing Light: 9 lightweight novels that pack a punch

All weighing in at under 300 pages, these slender novels are no less powerful for their diminutive size and they fit perfectly in your carry-on luggage while keeping you pinned to the very edge of your airplane seat. Put up your tray table and put down Capital, Summer's "least read" monster, then grab a handful of these little guys hot off the new books shelf. 

Your Fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? by Dave Eggers

Mr. Eggers brought us the pretty darn long The Circle last year (which was great and you should read it too). This year I guess he just decided to go with a pretty darn long title.  Your Fathers, [etc.], written entirely in dialogue, is the humorous and suspenseful story of a man kidnapping people and holding them hostage on a decommissioned Naval base because he just wants to ask them some questions.  I read it on a weekend hiking trip so I can confidently recommend it as vacation-friendly.

The Scent of Pine by Lara Vapnyar

A Russian woman now living in the United States remembers  the Soviet summer camp of her youth as she embarks on a sudden and unexpected affair, and discovers how unreliable memory can be.
The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

I had to read this in one sitting, pausing only to recommend it to a friend 2/3 of the way through. Lena, a lone transcriptionist with a large and reputable New York City newspaper, becomes obsessed with a story of a blind woman who apparently committed suicide by climbing into a lion's cage at the zoo. In her quest for the truth about this peculiar story she uncovers much more.

Chop Chop by Simon Wroe

Sharp, mordantly funny, and sometimes horrifying and gross, this witty story of one man's brief career in restaurants might make you think twice about going out to eat while on vacation.

The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

I am going to get around to reading you, Snow Queen, I swear! Michael Cunningham, who brought us The Hours,
now brings us this gorgeous story that follows the divergent paths of the Meeks brothers as they each seek their own meaning in life. Highly recommended by a trusted source, and Goodreads, who seldom steers me wrong, described it as "beautiful and heartbreaking, comic and tragic". Sounds pretty good to me.

Next Life Might be Kinder by Howard Norman

In Next Life Might be Kinder, Sam Lattimore is a widower recalling his brief marriage to his wife, and her tragic murder and its aftermath, as he visits with her spirit on the beach in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You might want to grab the tissues for this tender and melancholy little romance.

Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove, is out with a new novella that promises to be every bit as unsettling and entertaining as those were. Sleep Donation is another novel about sleep deprivation--the other being the terrific Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun--so maybe this is a trend forming. There are about a billion zombie stories out there so the literary market can probably handle a few more insomnia themed tales. This one is on my "to read soon" list, which never seems to get any shorter.

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

This one is also on my "to read soon" list. Cole's unnamed narrator returns to visit Lagos after 15 years abroad and rediscovers his hometown, and himself. Originally published in Nigeria in 2007, this novella is now available in the United States and just sounds really lovely.

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

For once I beat the New York Times review of books and read this before they reviewed it. All the Birds, Singing was originally published in the UK in 2013 and finally released in the US in 2014. Told in reverse, this book is riveting and eerie with a complicated central character. Jake Whyte lives an isolated life as a sheep herder and grapples daily with scars from her difficult past while a threatening predator attacks her flock at night.

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