I don’t know about you, but I entered 2020 with some very lofty reading goals, and then the world as we know it came to an end and we embraced a new way of life. And with that, my TBR list kept growing and my reading goals seemed to slip farther and farther away. Luckily, not every good book needs to be a 600-plus-paged doorstop in order to take my breath away. If you’re like me, and still clinging to the hope that maybe you will read as many books this year as you said you would, then you are going to love these short yet powerful books.
7 Bite-Size Books That Pack a Powerful Punch
THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR is one of my favorite books from the past few years. Not only does the poetic writing leap off the page, but the story itself is so compelling. It’s structured as a series of letters left throughout history between two rival time-traveling soldiers, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like this. I constantly find myself coming back to it. As the Earth dies around them, the two agents battle against each other, planting seeds in history in order to secure the best future for each of the warring factions. Somehow, over their unlikely correspondence, this rivalry morphs, transforming into something that has the power to change the past and the future. But if their bond is discovered, it could mean their death.
“[An] exquisitely crafted tale...Part epistolary romance, part mind-blowing science fiction adventure, this dazzling story unfolds bit by bit, revealing layers of meaning as it plays with cause and effect, wildly imaginative technologies, and increasingly intricate wordplay...This short novel warrants multiple readings to fully unlock its complexities.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review).
From award-winning authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone comes an enthralling, romantic novel spanning time and space about two time-traveling rivals who fall in love and must change the past to ensure their future.
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandment finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, becomes something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean the death of each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win. That’s how war works, right?
Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.
THE APPOINTMENT is a successful blend of darkness and humor, written as a 100-page monologue of a young woman who unburdens herself at an appointment with one Dr. Seligman. She describes how she has spent the past few years living in London and attempting to break free from her family’s shame; that her grandfather died and left her an unexpected inheritance; and her own revelations that she might not be able to outrun everything. This book is so well written and in just a few pages dives into sexuality, overbearing mothers, historical reparations, and more. It will stick with you well after you’ve finished this story.
“A darkly funny untangling of national and sexual identity.” —The Guardian * “Transgressive...Incendiary.” —The New Yorker * “A furious comic monologue...with a disregard for propriety worthy of Alexander Portnoy.” —The New York Times Book Review * “Sexy, hilarious, and subversive.” —The Paris Review
For readers of Ottessa Moshfegh and Han Kang, a whip-smart debut novel in which a woman on the verge of major change addresses her doctor in a stream of consciousness narrative.
In a well-appointed examination in London, a young woman unburdens herself to a certain Dr. Seligman. Though she can barely see above his head, she holds forth about her life and desires, her struggles with her sexuality and identity. Born and raised in Germany, she has been living in London for several years, determined to break free from her family origins and her haunted homeland. But the recent death of her grandfather, and an unexpected inheritance, make it clear that you cannot easily outrun your own shame, whether it be physical, familial, historical, national, or all of the above.
Or can you? With Dr. Seligman’s help, our narrator will find out.
In a monologue that is both deliciously dark and subversively funny, she takes us on a wide-ranging journey from Hitler-centered sexual fantasies and overbearing mothers to the medicinal properties of squirrel tails and the notion that anatomical changes can serve as historical reparation. The Appointment is an audacious debut novel by an explosive new international literary voice, challenging all of our notions of what is fluid and what is fixed, and the myriad ways we seek to make peace with others and ourselves in the 21st century.
Don DeLillo has written several fantastic short novels that showcase his unique voice. At only 128 pages, this book blew me away and touches on some very different—and yet real potential—fears about the years to come. Set during a dinner party in 2022, a professor, her husband, and a former student wait for a couple on a flight back from Paris, when the unthinkable happens: The digital connections and communication means that they’ve come to rely on are severed. The conversation that follows is a deep dive into what it means to be human and how we connect with those around us.
From one of the most dazzling and essential voices in American fiction, a timely and compelling novel set in the near future about five people gathered together in a Manhattan apartment, in the midst of a catastrophic event.
Don DeLillo completed this novel just weeks before the advent of Covid-19. The Silence is the story of a different catastrophic event. Its resonances offer a mysterious solace.
It is Super Bowl Sunday in the year 2022. Five people, dinner, an apartment on the east side of Manhattan. The retired physics professor and her husband and her former student waiting for the couple who will join them from what becomes a dramatic flight from Paris. The conversation ranges from a survey telescope in North-central Chile to a favorite brand of bourbon to Einstein’s 1912 Manuscript on the Special Theory of Relativity.
Then something happens and the digital connections that have transformed our lives are severed.
What follows is a dazzling and profoundly moving conversation about what makes us human. Never has the art of fiction been such an immediate guide to our navigation of a bewildering world. Never have DeLillo’s prescience, imagination, and language been more illuminating and essential.
“Mysterious...Unexpectedly touching...[DeLillo offers] consolation simply by enacting so well the mystery and awe of the real world.” —Joshua Ferris, The New York Times Book Review
“DeLillo [has] almost Dayglo powers as a writer.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Brilliant and astonishing…a masterpiece…manages to renew DeLillo’s longstanding obsessions while also striking deeply and swiftly at the reader’s emotions…The effect is transcendent.” —Charles Finch, Chicago Tribune
“Daring... provocative... exquisite...captures the swelling fears of our age.”
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
This book is a feeling. An overwhelming sense of atmospheric concepts that propel the reader both inward and outward to examine the power of memory, and inspired by the clipping. song by the same name. Yetu is the Historian. It’s her job to remember all of the memories and history that is too painful and traumatic for the rest of her people to know. Yetu and her people are the water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slaveholders. But when the memories become too much for Yetu, she runs away, seeking a life free from the burdens of her people above the surface. If Yetu and her people are to survive, they must reclaim their memories and their identities.
Octavia E. Butler meets Marvel’s Black Panther in The Deep, a story rich with Afrofuturism, folklore, and the power of memory, inspired by the Hugo Award–nominated song “The Deep” from Daveed Diggs’s rap group Clipping.
Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.
Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.
Yetu will learn more than she ever expected about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.
The Deep is “a tour de force reorientation of the storytelling gaze…a superb, multilayered work,” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) and a vividly original and uniquely affecting story inspired by a song produced by the rap group Clipping.
I have never read a book like THE NEED, and I don’t know if I ever will find a book like this again. I can honestly tell you that this book is bizarre—in a good way. Molly is a mother of two young children, and an archeologist, who makes a unique discovery in the dig site she works at—a discovery that becomes weird, and then impossible. Things only get worse from there. Home alone with her children, she begins to hear footsteps in the living room. At first, she thinks it’s the sleep deprivation, but she finds herself face-to-face with the intruder. Molly is forced to confront her own fragility and the dualities of motherhood in this short speculative thriller.
***LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN FICTION***
“An extraordinary and dazzlingly original work from one of our most gifted and interesting writers” (Emily St. John Mandel, author of The Glass Hotel). The Need, which finds a mother of two young children grappling with the dualities of motherhood after confronting a masked intruder in her home, is “like nothing you’ve ever read before…in a good way” (People).
When Molly, home alone with her two young children, hears footsteps in the living room, she tries to convince herself it’s the sleep deprivation. She’s been hearing things these days. Startling at loud noises. Imagining the worst-case scenario. It’s what mothers do, she knows.
But then the footsteps come again, and she catches a glimpse of movement.
Suddenly Molly finds herself face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. As she attempts to protect those she loves most, Molly must also acknowledge her own frailty. Molly slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood: the ecstasy and the dread; the languor and the ferocity; the banality and the transcendence as the book hurtles toward a mind-bending conclusion.
In The Need, Helen Phillips has created a subversive, speculative thriller that comes to life through blazing, arresting prose and gorgeous, haunting imagery. “Brilliant” (Entertainment Weekly), “grotesque and lovely” (The New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice), and “wildly captivating” (O, The Oprah Magazine), The Need is a glorious celebration of the bizarre and beautiful nature of our everyday lives and “showcases an extraordinary writer at her electrifying best” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
Thirty-six-year-old Keiko has never been normal, and while she’s okay with that, her friends and family aren’t. Keiko works at the Hiromachi branch of “Smile Mart” in Japan, and honestly, she loves her life and her job. She also loves that everything she needs to wear, say, and do are spelled out line by line in the store’s manual. But as she nears 40 the growing pressure for her to find a husband and start a “proper” career forces her to take desperate action. This is a short, quirky, and occasionally sad read, with a unique character and a very entertaining plot.
This book is short, sweet, moving, and incredibly funny. It’s a quick read that definitely packs a big emotional punch as 30-year-old Ruth and her mother struggle to find anything to help with her father’s worsening Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Ruth finds herself at a crossroads after her relationship ends and her father gets sick, so she moves back in with her parents. And over the course of a year, Ruth reminisces about her childhood, helps her struggling parents, attempts to get her career back on track, and tries to forge a new relationship with her dad.
Photo credit: Off the Shelf