Quick Reads for Your Fast Paced Life

Lots of people start the summer with impressive reading plans. But as we know, life is busy, and finding time to read can often be a challenge. If you think it’s hard to find something of quality to read that’s under 200 pages, you’re not alone, but guess what? There are a lot of quick reads at CPL that are also good books. You could read any of these in a weekend, keep a few on hand to read when you get a few minutes of downtime. Summer Reading for the win!

  1. The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (63 pages). No time for Gone Girl? This Edgar Award winning short story by the same author is creepy goodness, compacted.
  2. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (116 pages). Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West, this book captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.
  3. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (129 pages). Follows the stories of six Japanese mail-order brides whose new lives in early twentieth-century San Francisco.
  4. Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner (138 pages.) The story of a collision course between a dangerous young man and a privileged couple who compete for their daughter’s attention.
  5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (146 pages). A deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate. A classic.
  6. Sisters by Lily Tuck (156 pages). A new wife struggles with her unrelenting obsession with her husband’s first wife.
  7. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (163 pages). A Japanese woman who has been working at a convenience store for eighteen years finds friendship with an alienated, cynical, and bitter young man who becomes her coworker.
  8. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (179 pages). A bittersweet yet inspiring story of a man and a woman who, in advanced age, come together to wrestle with the events of their lives and their hopes for the imminent future.
  9. The Vegetarian by Han Kang (188 pages). A darkly allegorical tale of a woman who decides to stop eating meat, is denounced a subversive, and becomes estranged from those closest to her.
  10. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong (196 pages). Newly dumped by her fiance, Ruth moves back in with her parents, whose decline is both comical and poignant.

Short Stuff

I’d like to read more, but I don’t have time to read a long, involved story.

There’s a solution for that. It’s called a short story.

 Short stories are those that can be read in under an hour – often not more than 5,000 words (beyond 7,500 is called a novella, and they are often published alone in little books, like Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption,  J.A. Jance’s The Old Blue Line, or Shirley Goodness and Mercy by Debbie Macomber) and they are often grouped together in anthology volumes, anthology meaning, literally, a collection of stories, the same way a CD album is a collection of individual songs.

Short stories are an art form of their own, still carrying the same structures of their longer novel cousins (plot, themes, metaphors, etc) but in a very short package. Some are complete stories (think of Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day, or Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery) while others might just give you a slice of life, a few hours in the life of an individual with no clear beginning and no clear end, leaving you to wonder what might come next (some stories by Anton Chekhov, or Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants). They can be happy or sad, comic or dramatic, or full of irony (The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant). Sometimes an anthology might consist of short stories on a single theme (love, loss, westerns, adventure), or they could be a mix of anything. And the beauty of an anthology is you can read one or two stories, or the whole thing, depending on your time and interest.

But short stories don’t carry the same weight as novels.

Of course they do! Many writers are known more for their short stories than for their novels – Alice Munro is considered one of the premier short story writers, having won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature in part for her short stories. Ray Bradbury is another prolific short-story writer, not quite horror, not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy, just imaginative. His philosophy was to write one short story a week, because out of 52 short stories, you were bound to have three or four that were really good. Short stories are easier to sell, if not to anthologies then to magazines – many a writer got their start in The New Yorker, Collier’s, or Atlantic, let alone Good Housekeeping and Readers’ Digest. Some of the most popular authors – Isaac Asimov, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler – carved their name writing for pulp fiction magazines.

Short stories don’t always stay short, either. Many popular films started out as short stories – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (published in The New Yorker) (Did you realize this one takes place in Waterbury, Connecticut?), All About Eve, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 3:10 to Yuma, Shawshank Redemption, Minority Report, Brokeback Mountain, Rear Window, Total Recall, and many, many others.

A little story can go a long way. If you’re pressed for time, check out the stories in these collections, and more!

Best Short Stories of Jack London

Ray Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales

Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour, Vol. 4

Children of the Night: Best Short Stories by Black Writers

Dancing Through Life in a Pair of Broken Heels

No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

Beautiful Days

Amish Front Porch Stories

Bring Out the Dog: Stories

Complete Stories of Edgar Allen Poe

Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers

20th Century Ghosts

When Art Imitates Life

Anne Perry is an accomplished mystery writer with more than forty novels to her name, including the Thomas Pitt series, the Daniel Pitt series, the William Monk series, and more. Many of her novels take place around World War I. 

She’s also a convicted murderer.

A friend from college – who is also a librarian – told me this while I was reading Death with a Double Edge, the fourth of her Daniel Pitt series. And thereby hangs a tale.

Perry (whose birth name was Juliet Hulme) was born in England but spent much of her childhood in the Bahamas, South Africa, and New Zealand. As a teen in New Zealand, she became fast friends with a girl named Pauline Parker. Their friendship was so tight it bordered on obsessive, with the girls creating rich fantasy worlds they pretended to live in, and throwing tantrums if they couldn’t be together.

When Perry was 15, her mother was caught in an affair, and her parents decided to divorce. Perry was going to be sent to South Africa to stay with relatives for a while. This sent the friends into a panic. They asked Pauline’s mother if Pauline could go with Anne/Juliet, and her mother said no. Pauline then, in the short-sighted way children have, decided to kill her mother, freeing Pauline to travel with Anne/Juliet. When Anne hesitated, Pauline threatened to kill herself if Anne didn’t help. Just three days later, while walking with Pauline’s mother, the girls beat her to death with a brick – a deed that took twenty savage blows.

Perry and Hulme were caught quickly. They were too young for the death penalty, and both wound up serving five years in prison. They didn’t speak to each other again. Perry eventually settled in the United Kingdom, where she lived a quiet, penitent life and took up writing mysteries that often had a theme of redemption. It wasn’t until 1994, when no one less than Peter Jackson made a movie about the crime (Heavenly Creatures), that a New Zealand journalist outed her as Juliet Hulme – three days before the release of the film. No one had spoken to her to get any actual facts about the crime, and the film remains highly fictionalized.

Is Perry the only author who has done hard time? Of course not. Mystery writer Dashiell Hammett did six months in jail for contempt of court. Nelson Algren, who wrote Man With the Golden Arm, spent five months in jail for stealing a typewriter. William S. Burroughs, author of The Naked Lunch, first spent time for forging a prescription, but later killed his common-law wife after a drunken argument while in Mexico. He escaped prosecution by fleeing back to the United States. Chester Himes was sent to jail for eight years at the age of 19 for armed robbery, where he began to write such novels as A Rage in Harlem and Cotton Comes to Harlem. In all cases, incarceration, even for a little while, made a huge impact on the writer and their view of the world.

Anne Perry’s latest book, Three Debts Paid, a fifth volume of the Daniel Pitt series, was released in April.

Graphic Novel Adaptations: Old Stories with a New Twist

Graphic novel adaptations are not new, comic books based on classic literature could be found as early as the 1940’s and 50’s. Lately, however, there’s been a new crop of adaptations in graphic novel format that deserve some attention. While an adaptation of a book can never take the place of the original, it has value as a companion piece to the original, offering a fresh perspective on a well-established tale. This is particularly true of graphic novel adaptations, where illustrations and a change in pace can breathe new life into an older book. Even when a book isn’t all that old, a graphic novel interpretation allows us to see the story from a different angle.

We have a whole bunch of graphic novel adaptations on our shelves, for all ages. Here are some of our favorites.

FOR ADULTS:

The Handmaid’s Tale, original story by Margaret Atwood ; art & adaptation by Renée Nault.

Animal Farm, original story by George Orwell ; adapted and illustrated by Odyr.

The Great Gatsby, original story by F. Scott Fitzgerald ; illustrated by Aya Morton ; text adapted by Fred Fordham

Small Gods : a Discworld graphic novel, original story by Terry Pratchett ; adaptation by Ray Friesen

City of Glass, original story by Paul Auster ; adaptation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli

American Gods 1: Shadows, story and words by Neil Gaiman ; art by Scott Hampton 

A Game of Thrones, original story by George R.R. Martin ; adapted by Daniel Abraham ; art by Tommy Patterson

FOR TEENS (and adults, too!):

The Hobbit, original story by J.R.R. Tolkien ; adapted by Charles Dixon with Sean Deming : illustrated by David Wenzel

To Kill a Mockingbird, original story by Harper Lee ; adapted and illustrated by Fred Fordham

Jane (based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë), written by Aline Brosh McKenna ; illustrated by Ramón K. Pérez 

Poe : Stories and Poems, original content by Edgar Allan Poe ; adapted by Gareth Hinds

A Wrinkle in Time, original story by Madeleine L’Engle ; adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson

The Giver, original story by Lois Lowry ; adapted by P. Craig Russell ; illustrated by P. Craig Russell, Galen Showman, Scott Hampton

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson ; artwork by Emily Carroll

FOR MIDDLE GRADE READERS:

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy (based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott) ; adapted by Rey Terciero ; pencils by Bre Indigo

Anne Frank’s Diary ; adapted by Ari Folman ; illustrations by David Polonsky

The Graveyard Book, original story by Neil Gaiman ; adapted by: P. Craig Russell ; illustrated by: Kevin Nowlan, P. Craig Russell, Tony Harris, Scott Hampton, Galen Showman, Jill Thompson, Stephen B. Scott

Anne of Green Gables, original story by L. M. Montgomery ; adapted by Mariah Marsden & Brenna Thummler

The Secret Garden on 81st Street (based on The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett) ; adapted by Ivy Noelle Weir ; illustrated by Amber Padilla

The Witches, original story by Roald Dahl ; adapted and illustrated by Pénélope Bagieu

Oz : the manga, original story by L. Frank Baum ; adapted by David Hutchison

Re-Covery

They tell you not to judge a book by its cover, but a book cover can make or break a book’s success. While browsing a used bookstore decades ago, I fell utterly in love with the covers of a book series I’d never heard of before – DragonLance, by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. I had to buy them, even just to look at the covers. The cover paintings were done by Larry Elmore, one of the premiere fantasy artists of the time. I’d never gotten too much into sword and sorcery books, but I devoured these. The second trilogy was still being written, and it was agony waiting for the next book in the series. I love those books to this day; they influence my own writing and imagination, and all because I had to have that book cover.

And nothing, of course, is more infuriating than when they change that book cover you know and love, and not usually for the better. Have you read this book? The title looks familiar, but not the cover … and then you start to read and find out yes, you’ve read it before, they changed the cover on you. Why?

There are many reasons a book gets a new cover. It may have changed publishers. It may be the paperback edition of a hardcover, or a school edition, or an audiobook – and audiobook companies, who often have a middleman, don’t always get permission to use the same cover. It may be a new printing – if a book contract agrees to a run of 5,000 copies, and 6,000 are ordered, the book may get a new distribution run, resulting in a new cover. The book may have been sold to a new publisher – such as Bantam Books being sold to Random House. Random House will then reissue a strong seller with their own brand of cover. If a movie or TV series is made from the book, a new edition will be released with a cover that reflects the new media, as happened with Lord of the Rings and Ready Player One. Sometimes the publisher gets flack because the cover has absolutely nothing to do with the story, and they rework it.

Sometimes, it’s hard to keep up, and sometimes, the cover art makes you scratch your head. Take, for example, the book Alas, Babylon, a 1959 novel of nuclear apocalypse that, if it’s not still my absolute favorite novel, it’s in my top three. First below is the cover I read it with – sensible, with the red/orange color of disaster and warning and nuclear fire, and people walking out of it. Compare that with the many covers it’s had since 1959:

The current one, number two above, a fourth edition by Harper Collins, to me, is puzzling – small font, an empty boardwalk, and a hand? This is not a cover that invites me to read, tells me a single thing about the story. Perhaps, after so many editions, they run out of ideas. Another fact: it’s very rare an author gets to choose the cover of their book – or have any input at all. You may submit your perfect dream cover along with your manuscript, and the publisher will toss it and give the work to one of their contracted artists. This is how you wind up with a blonde, blue-eyed heroine on the cover when the main character has short black hair.

Book covers also reflect what seems to be popular – a few years ago it seemed every book had a girl rolling around on the ground. If one sells, then everyone wants to copy that success. The bottom half of a face? Those are popular. Romance novel covers were almost interchangeable – how many were based on the model Fabio?  This year, pink is supposed to be “in” for covers again, as well as layered graphics and bold lettering.

Don’t like a book cover? Let the publisher know! Editors read the books, not the artists, or the publisher. If they’ve missed the mark, tell them. Authors depend on good covers to grab readers; if the cover isn’t intriguing, it’s wasting money.

What book covers have hit the mark, reached out and grabbed you so you had to read it?

What types of covers make you walk away?

Has a book cover ever made you angry?

Let us know!