Some books are short but challenging. Take Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It’s one of the shortest books you could ever come across but in winter you want something light and easy, something to warm the heart and make you forget the cold and miserable weather outside. There are plenty of short top quality children’s books but for this piece we really wanted something a bit more grown up. It’s not an extensive list by any means, just a few gems to help you through a cold, drab February.
1. Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquibal
The idea for writing this feature came from picking up an old and treasured copy of Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquibal, a Mexican author. Her books have been described as gimmicky and possibly they are but they are also mesmerising. Water for Chocolate is set in Mexico and is perfectly structured with a recipe for each month and a story to go with each recipe that describes Tita de La Garza’s difficult life as it progresses from birth in January to old age in December. Tita, the youngest daughter of the family, is in love with Pedro but tradition dictates that the youngest daughter must stay at home to look after the mother and Tita’s mother is very traditional. All Tita’s emotion escapes into the recipe she is cooking which has fascinating consequences for any one eating her food. Un-put-down-able and very re-readable.
2. The Law Of Love by Laura Esquibal
The Law of Love, also by Laura Esquibal, is equally unusual. The story takes place in the future when Azucena, an astroanalyst who helps karmically challenged patients to reengage with their past lives using music, meets her twin soul Rodriguez. They are allowed one night of passion but are then separated leaving Azucena to search through galaxies and 14,000 past lives. It sounds complex but is very readable and is accompanied by fabulous illustrations and a CD of Puccini arias and Mexican danzones. Listening to the tracks when prompted gives an extra connection with the characters as you listen to the same music as the characters and see the same images they do within the text.
3. Illusions by Richard Bach
Several of Richard Bach’s books are readable in a day from Jonathon Livingston Seagull to The Bridge Across Forever. A personal favourite is Illusions, a mystical adventure story about two barnstorming pilots who meet in a field in Midwest America, one is the narrator, the other a messiah who has decided to retire. An inspirational and otherworldly book that describes the way we could choose to live our lives.
4. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
On the other hand Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader is firmly rooted in Great Britain but just as unlikely. When the queen takes up reading she becomes so absorbed in her new passion that public duties begin to suffer. It is great fun but does have a serious underlying message that it isn’t just where we live that shapes our thinking but what we read.
5. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad looks at Greek mythology from a different perspective, that of Penelope left at home making sure the kingdom runs smoothly while Odysseus is away fighting in the Trojan wars. Penelope neatly picks apart the strange tales he has to tell her on his return.
6. The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough
Colleen McCullough is probably best known for The Thorn Birds but another great book is The Ladies of Missalonghi set in Byron, Australia. Missy Wright is a 33 year old spinster living with her widowed mother and crippled aunt. They are heartlessly pushed around by the male members of the family who have been lucky enough to inherit all the family riches. Then one day a distant relation arrives from Sydney and everything changes.
7. Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather by Pierre Szalowski
Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather is a heart warming tale of how a street full of strangers come to know and help each other during a power cut that hits their town in the coldest winter on record. More heart warming than hot chocolate with chilli!
8. Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith
“You feel the rocking of the train, you hear the sound of its wheels on the rails; you are in the world rather than suspended somewhere above it. And sometimes there are conversations to be had…” says Alexander McCall Smith of his story Trains and Lovers. There’s something magical about train journeys and something even more magical about the way complete strangers can be brought together in a moving carriage. Taking place on the line between Edinburgh and London, this is the perfect novel to read in a day when you need an escape from the occasional mundanity of every day life. McCall Smith’s writing is always easy to fall into and you might just find yourself booking a spontaneous train-ticket to absolutely anywhere after reading this.
9. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
With books seeming to increase in word count with every year that goes by, often the best option for a quick read is a novella. Not quite a novel but longer than a short story, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s gave birth to one of America’s most famous fictional and cultural icons – Holly Golightly. Set in Manhattan’s Upper East Side in 1943, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a classic work of fiction and has been dubbed as ‘perfect’ by many critics and readers alike. It’s to be read with a cup of coffee before snuggling down to watch the movie adaptation, where Audrey Hepburn forever immortalised herself in the role of Holly Golightly.
10. We Bought A Zoo by Benjamin Mee
You’re probably more familiar with the Hollywood film version of We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, but the origin of the story comes from the memoir of Benjamin Mee, a British writer who, whilst still coming to terms with his wife’s death, rescued a rundown zoo from closure. Mee’s story is certainly inspiring, not simply because he saved a zoo – which is extraordinary in itself – but because it reveals the power of the human spirit and what perseverance and dedication can achieve. Whilst the Hollywood film is based in California, the real story took place in Dartmoor, Devon, and makes for a captivating read. You’ll have to be a reasonably speedy reader to get through it in a day but it’s worth setting aside time to explore Mee’s journey.
11. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone by JK Rowling
We finish with an oldie but a goodie! Sometimes the best books to settle down to on a cold and miserable day are those that are close to our hearts, those with memorable words and familiar characters that comfort and calm us. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is the book that started the ball rolling for J.K Rowling and cemented the world’s love for everything Hogwarts. It’s also the smallest book in the series, making it the perfect length to be read in a single day. Traditionally a children’s book but enjoyed by both youngsters and adults, it’s always nice to come back to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. If no new books take your fancy, there’s really nothing wrong with rereading a favourite.