Top Five Quick Reads

Non-Fiction, Short Fiction, Top Five books

Despite identifying as a bookworm, I often find myself intimidated by big books. Everyone knows how terrible it feels to start a book and fail to finish it (I’ve been doing that a lot lately). The next thing you know, you’ve stopped reading altogether. If you recognise any of this, know that you’re not alone, even in the book community. More importantly, I’ve got you covered. Here are my top five utterly unintimidating quick reads that will wrench you out of your reading rut in no time.

Reunion Fred Uhlman cover

Reunion – By Fred Uhlman

A friend recommended this novella to me and I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be one of the best works I’d read in a long time. The book is written from the future, as Hans Schwarz looks back on his childhood in Stuttgart, Germany in the early 1930s. At the centre of the narrative is his friendship with young aristocrat Konradin von Hohenfels. At first, it’s a great coming of age tale. As the story progresses, though, and the Nazis rise to power, the protagonist’s Jewish heritage – previously insignificant to his life and identity – edges closer to the forefront when it becomes an issue not only at school but in the boys’ friendship. Unlike in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the complexities of a friendship between a Jewish boy and the son of an antisemite are not neatly tied up with a bow. There are no grand, heroic gestures that defy their differences. This is for the better, and what makes this story so special. Make sure to stick it out until the end – I promise you won’t regret it.

Notes on Nationalism – By George OrwellNotes on Nationalism George Orwell cover

This mini essay collection’s hyper-relevant subject matter, acclaimed author, and irresistibly low price (£1!) caught my eye in a bookstore and I had to buy it. Unlike my neglect of the numerous non-fiction books on my bookshelf, I not only picked this one up but finished it too. It contains three essays: Notes on Nationalism, Antisemitism in Britain, and The Sporting Spirit, all centering on nationalism as Orwell broadly defines the word. For him, nationalism isn’t just hostile patriotism; it’s a bigoted frame of mind, and includes ideologies as wide-ranging as communism, pacifism, and political catholicism. The essays not only contain Orwell’s eye-opening theories, but also offer a window into the time they were written: 1945 Britain, when stalinism, trotskyism and especially antisemitism were epidemic. Benefit from the famous writer’s ever-relevant wisdom without having to commit to a hefty book.

The Catbird Seat James Thurber coverThe Catbird Seat – By James Thurber

I had never heard of this short story or author until a week ago, when I attended a local group reading of the story. I loved it. Long before his time, Thurber managed to create a story that is at once comedic, dark and thought-provoking. The story is a social commentary, a window into life – particularly gender relations – in 1940s New York whilst remaining pertinent and surprising. The Catbird Seat follows Erwin Martin – neurotic, weak, resentful – as he seeks revenge against the domineering Ulgine Barrows. I don’t want to give anything else away; every paragraph is new treasure. At just a few pages long, you have nothing to lose by reading this short story, so give it a try! It might just get you back into reading or even introduce you to your new favourite author.

Dark Days – By James BaldwinDark Days James Baldwin cover

Another mini essay collection from the same series as Notes on Nationalism, Dark Days includes three essays by renowned novelist, essayist and activist James Baldwin: The White Man’s Guilt (1965), Dark Days (1980) and The Price of the Ticket (1985). I bought this book for its famed author – I’d been meaning to try his work – but didn’t foresee the impact it would have on me. The essays were moving, magnetic. I read the collection in one sitting, hungrily absorbing his words. His raw anger is woven throughout his memories and reflections on race relations in America:

To be black was to confront, and to be forced to alter, a condition forged in history. To be white was to be forced to digest a delusion called white supremacy.

Dark Days taught me about black history, and inspired me to seek more. Read the collection if, like me, you want to try Baldwin’s writing and learn about the black experience in America.

The House on Mango Street Sandra Cisneros coverThe House on Mango Street – By Sandra Cisneros

Unlike the other works in this list, The House on Mango Street is neither an essay collection nor a novella, but a short bildungsroman. Structured in a series of vignettes from protagonist Esperanza Cordera’s early adolescence, this book illustrates life in a Chicano and Puerto Rican neighbourhood of Chicago. Each vignette has a theme: the first is about the houses Esperanza’s family have lived in, and the house she dreams of living in. Others centre on the family members’ different hair, friendships with neighbours,    and even the privilege of bringing a packed lunch to school. They all contribute to a greater picture of Esperanza’s life growing up and navigating the world. 

A friend gifted this book to me (the same friend who recommended Reunion) and wrote a note on the first page. Her words say it all, so I wanted to share an excerpt:

I wanted to give you this book for two reasons: 1) It’s small enough that you can take it to college without exceeding the baggage weight limit and  2) It’s the first book I really read

 

When was the last time you really read a book? Don’t waste any more time; rediscover the magic of reading with these quick reads.

Top Five Books from Around the World

Top Five books

I thought I would share some of my favourite books from around the world. I have reviewed some of them already, so if you’d like to check out the full reviews, click the links below.

Uganda: Crossroads – By Christopher Conte

Crossroads is a collection of autobiographical essays writte5185Z3FSyqL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_n by Ugandan women. They describe their lives and the difficulties they have encountered, discussing a broad selection of topics relating to both ‘Ugandan’ issues and universal ones – from sex, sexuality and gender roles to NGOs, torture and corporal punishment. The women, living in modern Uganda, insightfully describe Western influences versus traditional customs, exploring their benefits and drawbacks. A largely unknown book, Crossroads is perfect if you are interested in Ugandan life and stories about women’s coming-of-age.

Pakistan: Malala, The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Changed the World – By Malala Yousafzai

It’s likely that you already know her story – the girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for going to school. Malala’s memoir offers valuable context to her experience: her father ran the local girls’ school, so growing u51ttkd0i1xlp, she had always been an eager student. As the Taliban gained influence in the Swat Valley and Pakistan as a whole, she increasingly became an international spokeswoman for girls’ rights to learn. Unlike many men in Pakistan, her father encouraged her wholeheartedly, despite fearing her safety all the time. This book is inspiring; I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Malala’s story and what’s happening with the Taliban in Pakistan now.

Germany: The Book Thief – By Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is a book (and celebrated film) about Liesel Meminger, a young girl living in WW2 Germany. After her brother’s death, she goes to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Whilst Hans becomes a father-figure, teaching her to read and encouraging her passion for writi51a99tea6il-_sy344_bo1204203200_ng, Rosa takes a sterner approach, but is nonetheless caring and protective over her foster daughter. Liesel becomes great friends with a local boy, Rudy, who falls in love with her. The girl gradually learns more about the war, realizing that the Nazis persecuted her parents for being Communists. Her devastating and sometimes extraordinary experiences shape her as a strong-minded, somewhat rebellious young woman. Like many people I know, I loved reading this book, and would recommend it for people looking for readable, relatable historical fiction.

United States: The Help – By Kathryn Stockett

The Help, set in the early 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi, recounts the lives of three women: Skeeter Phelan, an aspiring writer, Aibileen, a caring, loving maid w220px-thehelpbookcoverho is raising her 17th white child, and Minny, an angry, outspoken maid who is fired for giving her employer a piece of her mind. Skeeter decides to write a highly controversial book that accounts the lives of maids in Jackson, describing their female bosses, for better or for worse. Aibileen is the first of the maids to agree to tell her story to Skeeter, and helps her in the making of the book; she is the driving force in encouraging the other maids to write about their lives. Read The Help if you are interested in segregation in the South, but want to learn about it in an easy and accessible way.

China: Snow Flower and The Secret Fan – By Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is set in a remote area in Hunan province in nineteenth-century China. At seven years of age, a “so-so” girl named Lily is paired with a well-educated girl as a laotong, or “old same”, to be emotionally matched and friends for life. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a token of her hopes snow_flower_and_the_secret_fanfor their relationship in the future in the form of a silk fan. On the fan she writes a poetic greeting in nu shu, an exclusive, ancient language that Chinese women created to communicate in secret, away from the domination of men. Most girls at her age are part of sworn sisterhoods until marriage, but Lily and Snow Flower maintain a relationship for many years, sharing their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments through sending messages on the fan and composing stories on handkerchiefs. Both heart-warming and educational, this book is a must for people who like coming-of-age novels or historical fiction.

What are your favourite books from around the world?

Top Five ‘Coming of Age’ books

Top Five books

This is a little different to what I usually do, but as we’re coming to the end of the academic year, I thought it was appropriate – we can all get a little sentimental. Here are my favourite coming-of-age books, spanning from beloved classics to iconic YA’s.

to_kill_a_mockingbirdInspiring classic: To Kill a Mockingbird – By Harper Lee 

I have this book to thank for inspiring my sense of justice and love for books. I read it for the first time when I was around ten, and have since re-read it, regarding it from a completely different perspective; I’m sure I will go on to read it many more times. Scout Finch, the protagonist, lives in Alabama with her brother Jem and doting father Atticus. The book accounts parts of her childhood, including a devastating trial that Atticus, an esteemed lawyer, was involved in. A tale of life in the South, justice and morality, it’s one for the ages.


Humorous and thought-provoking: Holes – By Louis Sachar

515ml3nzwxl-_sy344_bo1204203200_This is another book that was a big part of my reading ‘career’ – I’ve read every one of Sachar’s books at least once. There’s something fantastic about a well-written tale of misfortune, and this one’s no exception. The Yelnats’ curse was passed on to Stanley, who was unjustly sent to a juvenile detention centre because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. At Camp Green Lake, where he’s sent, there’s no lake – only countless holes, where boys have dug holes to ‘build character’. Soon, Stanley and his newfound friends realize that the holes aren’t just for character improvement – the warden is looking for something, and the boys embark on a mission to find out what. A funny, creative story of punishment and redemption, Holes is the quintessential light read for all ages.

61t67xhl2cl-_sx321_bo1204203200_
Eye-opening and reflective: Perks of Being a Wallflower – By Stephen Chbosky

Part of the reason that I’m so crazy about this book, and film, is that I really relate to it; I could see myself in Charlie, the protagonist – and I know that a lot of people feel the same way. An awkward, introspective freshman (in high school – equivalent to a year 10), Charlie is a wallflower attempting to find his way around the unchartered realms of new friends, parties, dating and mixtapes. But his story is deeper than that, as the reader quickly deduces, because he has deep-rooted, previously unaddressed issues that have a had a huge effect on his life. You’ll love, laugh and cry reading this moving book.

Entertaining: The Manifesto on How to be Interesting – By Holly Bourne

I owe much of my perspective and knowledge on popularity and ‘being interesting’ to this book, which I have read so many times I’ve lost count (that seems to be a recurring fact in this list – take it a22533460s a good sign). The protagonist, Bree, takes it upon herself to become more interesting to write better books – she’s an aspiring – in her words ‘failed’ – author whose books have been rejected by every publisher in the country. She’s also a cynical teenager who’s considered a nobody at school. Determined to leave behind her insipidity in search of popularity (for book success), Bree resolves to become someone worth reading about, infiltrating the popular set and becoming a new, more confident – and bitchier – version of herself.


Haunting and enlightening: The Bell Jar – By Sylvia Plath

‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.’

The Bell Jar is an iconic, semi-autobiographical account of Esther Greenwood’s slide into plath04depression and her consequent rehabilitation. Famed for its wry humour and intense, credible descriptions of mental illness, Plath’s only novel questions the roles of women in society and the meaning of life. This book is deeply haunting – I’m not sure I truly understood everything that was going on, or picked up on every metaphor, but the story and the characters ‘spoke to me’ in a direct way; I felt guided by the book. Famed as a rite of passage, t
his book is a must-read for those looking to branch out into the world of ‘readable’ classics about being young.

 

What are your favourite ‘coming of age’ books? Comment down below 🙂