Here’s a speedy blog for some speedy reads. I’ve selected some favourites from my recently-read short fiction, poetry, natural history and young adult titles – all of which can be read in one sitting. Because sometimes you just need a quick fix.
Radish by Mo Yan
What can I say about about this strange novella, other than that I love it? During China’s collectivist period, a little boy called Hei-Hai is immune to all but the beauty of nature. One day, his awe overwhelms him when he sees a humble radish, which encompasses the beauty to which only he is beholden. As he tries to rediscover the glory of this mysterious vegetable, the workers around him descend into strife and violence. There’s some pleasant little surprises in Radish – other than the transcendent radish itself, of course – including sassy ducks and a love affair. But what will stay with you is Hei-Hai’s quiet purpose, and the persistence of those who are determined to misunderstand him.
Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera
I recommend that you read Festival of Insignificance in one sitting, with a glass of wine in hand. For me, it’s a fun and quintessentially French novella, packed with little philosophies about life; the food, drink and company that make it worthwhile, and the histories and anxieties that make us who we are. It won’t change your life, but it’s a pleasant-enough way to spend a couple of hours reading.
A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
A Whole Life is the story of Andreas, a quiet and unassuming man who spends his life enshrined in the Austrian Alps. Like any life, there is joy and tragedy, and the tale is told with a simple, soft prose that pinpoints the nuances of universal human experience quite nicely. (And if you enjoy A Whole Life and want something similar but more substantial, I would read Chatwin’s On the Black Hill. It’s an exceptional novel that spans birth to death and everything in-between. Chatwin’s subtlety, evocation and poignancy are inimitable, and Seethaler’s book almost pales in comparison. This comment isn’t intended to diminish Seethaler’s book, which is hugely enjoyable; it’s just that, for me, Chatwin’s story outdoes not just A Whole Life, but almost all other novels as well.)
The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd
This is my all-time favourite natural history book. Shepherd is unassuming and humble in her reflections on Scotland’s Cairngorms, and is constantly in awe of its uncompromising wildness. Her writing verges on poetry, while still being practical; you’ll learn heaps about the wildlife, flora, lochs, weather and people of the Cairngorms. Don’t bother with the introduction by MacFarlane though, it dampens the loveliness of Shepherd’s book.
Bee Journal by Sean Borodale
I don’t consider myself an expert on poetry, but there’s something about Bee Journal that is reassuringly clear and beautiful. You get a real sense of the bees’ life cycle, and of the chores and joys of keeping them. Sometimes the poems read more like practical excerpts, sometimes like wandering daydreams. A lovely, quiet read that evokes the British countryside marvellously.
Booked by Kwame Alexander
This is probably the book that’s surprised me more than any other this year, and it is amazing. Booked is marketed as a novel-in-verse, but don’t be put off by the fact that it’s one long prose poem. It reads like a dream and somehow seems to capture the exact crux of what it means to be a teenager: the longing, heartbreak, anger, friendship and joy. It may be about football, but trust me, you don’t have to like football (I certainly don’t) to love this book.
Let me know if you also think these books are the bees’ knees, and please, please fill me in on any other quick reads you love – I’m always in need of more!