Realistic Resolutions - "Read More"
Updated: Feb 8, 2021
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So… it’s the 5th day of the year already! Have you already slumped into despair over those promises you made to yourself? Don’t worry! Imagining you’ll start anything perfectly on day one, and continue effortlessly every day, is pretty unrealistic (unless you New Year’s Resolution was to breathe every day).
I’m going to pepper my blogging year with little cheats that I hope will help you to achieve some of your resolutions for 2021. I write from my experience of planning around depression and anxiety - so you should find these articles considerate of those health conditions.
One thing that I’m always ashamed of is the amount I read. I have no educational problem with my ability to read. It’s the will power and discipline that I struggle with! When I think of all the books that I imagine I SHOULD have read, it feels overwhelming. I could read my whole life only scratch the surface of the millions of books out there. Dreading an insurmountable challenge stops me in my tracks before I begin. I read non-fiction because I feel a duty to educate myself in whatever area I am currently working. But, since it’s a duty, it’s never a fluid and enjoyable experience. I need to mentally re-frame the whole activity!
That being said, at times in my life, I have really enjoyed reading! Usually, this has been when I was distanced from the other pressures, duties and activities of life. Perhaps I was on holiday, isolated while working abroad, or in the cocoon of recovery from a depressive slump. It comes and goes in floods and droughts.
So if you, like me, feel you should read more (dangerous word, is that ‘should’), or wish you could get more pleasure out of reading - your resolution might be to read more.
Firstly, let’s start with the resolution itself - and make it as conducive to success as possible.
(Read more about Realistic Resolutions in my New Year’s Day post here.)
Don’t trap yourself into promising the impossible.
Don’t promise to read XYZ specific books.
Don’t set some unachievable standard or heavy pressure timeline.
If you miss that target, it’s too easy to beat yourself up!
DO make an achievable and flexible resolution such as:
“I will read more than last year”
“I will explore different genres this year”
“I will discover which types of reading I enjoy”
Next, you can give yourself a little warm fuzzy, because you are already reading.
Yes, I think blog posts count!
Thirdly, given that I/we want to keep things easy on myself/ourselves - I know that I will probably only read a small amount. What I want to do is make that small amount count. Now, this is no judgement on anyone’s reading preferences. If you love holiday novels, or erotic fiction - go for it! For me, I don’t want to expend my little stamina in lots of different directions. Plus, I feel there are certain authors and works that everyone ought to experience once in their life. All creative arts have a canon, right? So for the effort and energy I have available to invest, I want to try and hit some of the targets that I know will make me feel better about myself. After all, what else are resolutions for, if not making us feel that we are bettering ourselves?
So, today’s cheat is a list of books from a variety of famed authors, and from the canons of literature - ALL UNDER 300 PAGES! Some of them are less than 150 pages!
I’ve tried to include a variety of genres, eras and voices, and I have read every book on the list. You can take that both as a seal of approval, and as a measure of the ease of completing these books!
I've filed this under 'Blog Life' for the general benefits, and also under MAKE, as it's a good way to get creative input, to fire up your creativity.
In no particular order…
Mary Shelley (1818/1821)
#Horror #Adventure #Philosophical
(Approx. 280 pages)
Available Hard Copy and Kindle at: https://amzn.to/3aJbpP1
The story of Victor Frankenstein, and the animated, increasingly sapient creature, which he creates in an ungodly scientific achievement.
You may find it helpful that there are so many other interpretations of this story in other art forms (Film, Theatre, Dance). It can make it easier to get started when you have some familiarity with a story. Rather than going in cold, you have the story milestones into navigate by. At the same time you can enjoy discovering the extra details that other interpretations may have chosen to gloss over.
I like dual view points of this book. The philosophical debate of morals and ethics in scientific endeavour is made vital by the empathetic treatment of the creature’s experience.
This is a great horror piece for curling up with in the winter! I tend to find horrors are great for getting into a period of reading, as they keep me on tenterhooks. It’s also fun to read in the dark, alone, when insomnia has gotten the best of you, for an extra creepy thrill.
Gentle Next Steps:
Dracula / Bram Stoker (1897) / #Horror #Romance / (Approx. 280 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3tDmcTO
George Orwell (1945)
#BritishClassics #Politics #Tyranny #Allegory
(Approx. 112 pages)
Available Hard Copy and Kindle at: https://amzn.to/3cSxBco
One of those classics that everyone pretends they have read (so did I for a long time!). This is a great starter if you want to get into Orwell. Allegorical animals overthrow the Farmer in order to grasp freedom and equality. Unfortunately, the greed of certain breeds leads to a similarly unfair hierarchy amongst the animals. A satire pointed directly at Stalinism, but which could be mapped over may puppet-show political struggles in modern times.
Orwell is generally very easy readers who prefer short, packed writing. Of all his fictional and non-fictional works, none surpass 400 pages. (I personally also love ‘Coming up for Air’). It’s not to say that it makes light reading. Orwell is heavy on the dread, dystopia, politics and sense of loss. But for a small investment of time and effort, you get a huge payoff in passion, political importance and anti-elitist artistry of the written word.
Gentle Next Steps:
Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel (AKA 1984) / George Orwell (1949) / #BritishClassics #Futurism #Dystopian #Politics #Tyranny / (Approx. 328 pages)
Available Hard Copy and Kindle at: https://amzn.to/36Tskxl
Breakfast at Tiffanys by Truman Capote (1958)
#AmericanClassics #FictionalMemoirs #Comedy #Observation #Romance #Relationships #Society #PersonalReinvention
(Approx. 179 pages)
Available Hard Copy and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/36Smg8o
Another author where I’d really prefer to recommend his other titles, but wanted to keep the page count low. (Check the Gentle Next Steps below for my favourite). Still, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ is a contemporary American Classic in its own right. The anonymous narrator recalls a fictional memories of his relationship with New York neighbour Holly Golightly. The novella is a study of societal pretences, with both the narrator and Holly imagining their own versions of Holly’s past and personality.
Capote always seems to carry with him a theme of the ‘unreliable author’, both in his fiction and in his professional life. Holly Golightly is the very unreliable author of her own life-story. Capote was accused of editing events from his non-fiction work ‘In Cold Blood’ to suit the story. The friendship between Harper Lee (auth. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’) and Capote even lead to speculation that one author was actually responsible for the other’s most acclaimed work (in both directions!). Perhaps this is what makes him such a great modern American writer. Capote reflects the States’ constant discomfort in their lack of history. He is the voice of a nation that is self-aware of it’s propagandist approach to it’s own story.
Gentle Next Steps:
In Cold Blood / Truman Capote (1966) / #Crime #RealityBased #NonFiction #Novel #UnreliableAuthor #AmericanClassics #Observation / (Approx. 345 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3cSW6WD
Harper Lee (1960)
#AmericanClassics #Childhood #Race #Family #Justice #Injustice #SmallTownLife #SouthernGothic
(Approx. 280 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/36QLDXW
Small town, small-minded life is observed through the wide eyes and big heart of a child. This becomes particularly illuminating as the innocent Scout witnesses the process and consequences of her father, Atticus, working in defence of Tom Robinson. The fact of Tom being a black man accused of raping a white woman give rise to prejudices and tensions in the community.
This is a nice book to couple with any work by Capote, given the friendship between the two authors and rumours around how much each contributed to, and perhaps took from, the other’s work.
Franz Kafka (1915)
#Surreal #Philosophical #Psychological #MultipleInterpretations
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3tD0fEg
I don’t know why but it always amazes me that this surreal, slightly nightmarish book was written so long ago. Just goes to show that imagination is not limited by an author’s historical circumstances. Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find he has transformed into a huge insect! Yeah! Straight out into the left field from the get-go! There have been so many interpretations of this work, it becomes hard to know where to start if you are looking for explanation. My preference is to view it as a true work of art, making the POINT of it to make your own interpretation, or several!
Gentle Next Steps:
The Trial / Franz Kafka (1914/1925) / #Surreal #Satire #Bureaucracy #Nightmare
(Approx. 160 pages - Feels longer due to the subject matter and mood!)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3aMiaQa
John Steinbeck (1947)
#American #HumanNature #GoodAndEvil #Tragedy #Greed #Family #Aspiration
(Approx. 90 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3tCf8GT
A lesser-known beauty by the author of ‘Of Mice and Men’. Steinbeck deals in inescapable fate and social strata. Several of his works are set amidst the Great Depression and the Dustbowl (a strange and specific collision of geography, phenomena and time - when an extended period of droughts and dust-storms severely damaged the ecology of the American prairies, and the livelihoods that depended upon them).
‘The Pearl’ tells the story of Kino, who finds a huge pearl. Kino’s attempts to realise the value of this discovery, and therefore create a better future for his family, ultimately end in tragedy. Human capacity for prejudice, greed and envy factor heavily into the family’s heartbreaking downfall. You won’t be dancing for joy, but you will be transported, and immersed into Kino’s world until you can taste the heat in the air he breathes. You will not escape without being moved.
Gentle Next Steps:
Of Mice and Men / John Steinbeck (1937) / #AmericanClassics #Tragedy #HumanNature #Observation #DepressionEra #LostDreams #Relationships #Loneliness #Powerlessness #Fate / (Approx. 107 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3twoXpI
Anthony Burgess (1962)
#BritishClassics #ModernClassics #Dark #Comedy #Satire #Dystopian #Futurism #Youth #SubCulture #Violence #Crime #Punishment #Reform #Behaviour #Slang #Language #Immersive
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/36RVTPZ
“Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?” - Burgess
Alex is a teen gang-leader in an imagined future, where there’s nothing better for 15 year-old than a night out on the Moloko-Plus (milk and drug cocktails), all set for rape and unprovoked violence (to an ecstasy inducing soundtrack of opera and classical). When Alex is arrested and imprisoned for his exploits, he is subjected to questionable experiments in behavioural reform. Upon release, Alex crosses paths with a former victim (who is unaware of his attacker’s identity), who promotes Alex as poster-boy for the argument against the reform techniques he suffered. After his crimes against his supporter are revealed and avenged, Alex eventually submits to working with the authorities who have emotionally castrated him.
This book has two possible endings - one where Alex recovers to his previous violent form, and one in a 21st chapter (edited out to suit audience markets) where Alex looses his predilections for crime and violence, and aspires to a straighter, more orthodox future.
Another immersive experience, from the slang created specifically for the novel, to the disturbingly casual manner in which our ‘humble narrator’ presents his deeds. You’ll be glad it’s short, but like any good rollercoaster - feeling your stomach turn is part of the thrill.
Gentle Next Steps:
Trainspotting / Irvine Welsh (1993) / #Scottish #ModernClassics #Slang #Language #SubCultures #Youth #Drugs / (Approx. 345 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3oZxxKm
Paulo Coelho (2000)
#Philosophical #GoodAndEvil #BucolicLife
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3rBQnZp
A palate cleanser, especially after a book like ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Coelho’s novel is set in a remote peaceful village. However, one theme straddle s the two disparate works - namely the choice between Good and Evil. This was the first and only book I ever read in French (though that is not the author’s original language), so you can tell it must be short! Ha! The wording is simple and calm, which obscures a darker under-current. Some people accuse Coelho of being too moralistic, but when you’re looking for a port in an emotional storm - this book is very comforting without being vacuous.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:
A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
Hunter S Thompson (1971)
#AmericanClassics #ModernClassics #Gonzo #Journalism #SubCulture #Drugs #Politics #AmericanDream #AmericanNightmare #RealityBased #1960s
(Approx. 205 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3tCNjhH
One of my all time favourite writers. Anarchic, risk-taking and satirical - all the things I don’t have the courage for. Hunter S Thompson birthed the Gonzo Journalism style - rejecting objectivity and journalistic distance. Instead Thompson’s articles fire on a biting personal and emotional trajectory. The greatest joy is that in spite of this, Thompson’s journalistic misses still mostly struck with piquant accuracy at the jugular of American society and state apparatus. Prepare to be blind-sided by flowing, high-speed descriptions that fragment and divert, leaving you dizzy and delighted.
Gentle Next Steps:
The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs
Hunter S Thompson (1967) / #America #SubCulture #Motorcycle #Gangs #Gonzo #RealityBased #Journalism / (Approx. 280 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3cZDK6m
Chuck Palahniuk (1996)
#Modern #America #Capitalism #Revolt #Masculinity #Identity #MentalIllness
(Approx. 210 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/2YVnT0D
I’m becoming concerned that all the novels I read are because I saw a film first. Maybe that’s just the way with classics - they’re so good they almost always end up being replicated in some other art-form. This is another modern cult classic. The fast pace, punchy phrasing and explosive action makes it a riveting read that flies by. If you’re proper naffed-off with modern capitalism, it’s a shot in the arm. The book also features a disturbingly vivid depiction of mental ill health spun out of control.
Gentle Next Steps
Choke / Chuck Palahniuk (2001) / #Modern #America #Sex #Addiction #SelfLoathing #Redemption #MentalIllness / (Approx. 305 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/36S7fU1
Sylvia Plath (1963/1967)
#SemiAutobiographical #MentalIllness #Society #Isolation #ComingOfAge #FemalePerspective #Identity #SocialPressure #Patriarchy
(Approx. 245 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3aCSw04
Not the cheeriest book, but incredibly important. This recommendation comes with a warning. If you are suffering low mood or M.E.H problems, please think carefully before reading. The portrayal of depression, attempted suicide and mental health treatments (electro-convulsive therapy) may be upsetting, particularly when coupled with Plath’s death by suicide shortly after the book’s UK release. However, the work feels ground-breaking, with the female voice depicting mental-ill health, and critiquing the pressures upon women’s identity, by patriarchal society.
Gentle Next Steps
Consider exploring Plath’s poetry, her collected letters, or even her children’s books.
‘The Bell Jar’ was Plath’s only novel.
Available Hard Copy and Kindle at: https://amzn.to/3rDWcG5
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
#AmericanClassics #AmericanDream #Class #TragicRomance #InventedPersona #RoaringTwenties #1920s #Society #LongingForThePast
(Approx. 220 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/2MNQO46
Tick another classic text off your cultural-capital list. Take a trip to the palatial homes of the 20s Nouveau Riche (and old money) in America. Watch from a distance through narrator Nick’s eyes as Gatsby attempts to re-connect with a lot love, through barriers of time, class and social relationships. The relationship can be read as an analogy for the impossibility of recapturing a simpler time, while the technological boom of the 20s appears to destroy that ideal existence.
Gentle Next Steps
Tales of the Jazz Age / F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922) / #JazzEra #1920s #ShortStories #Society
(Approx. 335 pages, split into Short Stories)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/2N0SF5v
William Golding (1954)
#BritishClassic #TheGroupVersusTheIndividual #Morality #MaleIdentity #MaleHierarchy #HumanNature #PowerStruggle #Survival
(Approx. 225 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3tCXtyL
This book features in several readers polls and institutions edits of best reads. A group of boys are stranded on an island, and attempt to self-organise. The meat of the story is the play of power relationships and factions within the group as a whole. It’s a meditation on human nature and the potential for morality and immorality in any given community. Beyond that, I thought it might be refreshing to read yourself deep into a jungle after being lockdown in your locale for so long!
William Shakespeare (1623)
#BritishClassics #Theatre #Tragedy #Murder #Fate #Supernatural #Greed #Power #Royalty #Ambition #Horror #Supernatural
(Approx. 110 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3p0L1Wa
Take a little detour into another form of reading - stage play scripts.
Most any of Shakespeare’s works would be worth a crack, but I chose Macbeth because it’s just so JUICY! All of the baser human emotions and behaviours are on show here, along with plenty of gore, ghosts and witches!
Gentle Next Steps
A Midsummer Night’s Dream / William Shakespeare (1596) / #BritishClassics #Theatre #Comedy #Romance #Confusion #Magic / (Approx. 110 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3cTjDH8
Charles Dickens (1843)
#BritishClassics #Victorian #Christmas #Greed #PersonalRevelation #Ghosts
(Approx. 110 pages)
Available Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible Audiobook at: https://amzn.to/3cY54SR
Keep this in your back pocket for December. The classic Christmas read - and so short you could get through it while the Turkey’s cooking! Or better still read on Christmas Eve, when the story takes place. Nearly everyone knows the basic plot of this one, which makes it all the easier to enjoy. A good dose of Christian spirit, holly and hauntings.
If you like the idea of carrying round a hefty tome, but secretly enjoying the ease of manageable chunks, then compendium books are a great idea. Collections of letters, a writer’s collected work for a particular magazine, or poetry all work well.
Another great way to make longer books easier on you is to LISTEN to them. Audible run a 30 DAY FREE TRIAL at: https://amzn.to/3q4kUic .
Wow - this was supposed to be an easy little list article to start me off gently in 2021!
Hope you take a punt at some of these titles. Please comment below and let me know what you thought. I'm also eager to take your short read suggestions! The only rule is 300 pages or less, and that you've read it!
If I get some good suggestions, perhaps we'll make a new list later in the year, and I'll read them with you all!