5 Books to pull you out of your reading slump

Anna Galbraith 2 December 2021

As the saying goes: good things come in small packages. Here are five books under 250 pages that are certainly worth your attention…

If you’ve found yourself in something of a reading slump lately, you can rest assured that you are not alone. The extraordinary events of the last couple of years have left many of us reeling, as we try and find our way back into some semblance of a normal routine.

Studies have found that many formerly voracious readers have had trouble finding their old motivation to even pick up a new book—let alone giving it their sustained attention once they get started.

Thankfully, one tried and tested technique for beating those reading rut blues is to reach for a smaller volume when you next have five minutes to spare. A shorter book will feel less of an overwhelming undertaking for the out-of-practice reader; and if you’ve set yourself a personal reading target by the end of 2021, these punchy, pocket-sized companions can help see you over the finish line in record time.

Intimations by Zadie Smith

There are few writers who could excite us with the concept of an essay collection focusing on the experience of living in the COVID lockdown—but an exception must always be made for Zadie Smith. Written before 2020 was even half-way through, Intimations is a window into the authors’ of-the-moment musings on the extraordinarily turbulent time we have each lived through.

It is both a deeply personal and collective account—read it and feel less alone. 

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

Sometimes, all it takes to snap out of a stagnant reading period is to pick up a writer you just know you can rely on for razor sharp wit and economy of language. The Wife is Meg Wolitzer at her brilliant best, chronicling the decades-long marriage of Joan and Joe Castleman.

We meet the couple on a flight to Helsinki, where Joe is due to collect a prestigious prize that will confirm his place as one of the world’s literary giants. In the seat next to him, Joan is considering the secret that they have kept for all these years—and silently plotting to leave him.

Assembly by Natasha Brown

Do not be fooled into thinking that this remarkably slim volume couldn’t pack enough of a punch to satisfy your literary appetite. In just 100 pages, Natasha Brown’s debut manages to cover more fertile ground than many of the celebrated tomes six times its size.

With her unique narrative voice and minimalist prose, Brown covers everything from microaggressions in the workplace, to the legacy of British colonialism. Our narrator is a Black British woman preparing to attend an extravagant garden party at her boyfriend's family estate. At the same time, she is considering the carefully assembled pieces of herself. As the minutes tick down and the future beckons, she can't escape the question: is it time to take it all apart?

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth by Henry Gee

OK, OK, if we are going to be pedantic this book technically comes in over the 250 page cut-off—but only if we are counting all the academic notes, references and exhaustive index, so we are choosing to look past that.

Subtitled “4.6 Billion Years in 12 Chapters”, Henry Gee takes a Ronseal approach to the theoretically impossible task of  guiding us through the history of the planet we call home. Do not be put off, however, if this sounds a little too academic for your tastes. Gee’s prose is so infectiously enthusiastic, and his tone so accessible, that you’ll find yourself racing through as if you were reading a novel—and you’ll never find yourself scrambling for a good fact to wheel out at an awkward pause in conversation again.

The Poetry Pharmacy by William Sieghart

Poetry collections regularly come under fire for feeling inaccessible, but there is truly no better feeling for a reader than discovering a poem that speaks to your situation and makes you feel less alone. If you’re unsure about where to start, then allow us to recommend The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-And-True Prescriptions For The Heart, Mind and Soul.

Offering a cure for any and all spiritual ailments, these poetic prescriptions and wise words of advice offer comfort, delight and inspiration for all. From everyday worries to finding the strength to tackle life's greater hurdles, this is the perfect volume to have by your side. Happily, there is now also a sequel available, if you find yourself bitten by the poetry bug and hungry for more!

Read more: William Sieghart on the joys of poetry

Read more: The definitive guide to the Costa Book Awards 2021

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