In our fantasy world, the holiday season means long, uninterrupted stretches of lounge time on our parents' comfy couches, lost in long novels. In reality, though, there are turkeys to stuff, naps to be had and a lot of eggnog to drink. Add to this the occasional dysfunctional family crisis to solve, and there can be little time left for reading.
In celebration of the season, we picked some of our favorite short reads to engage, distract and help transport you this holiday season. These books are perfect when you need a quick getaway — but are too stuffed to leave the living room.
Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
Jenny Offill’s raw, poetic prose grabs you immediately and races you straight through to the end of this shimmering book, which is hard to not finish in one sitting. Dept. of Speculation tells the story of a marriage through fragmented, powerful sentences that compel you to keep reading. Her book is full of vulnerable, stunning lines like, "There is still so much crookedness in my heart. I had thought loving two people so much would straighten it." With prose like this, you may find yourself underlining the entire book as you fall in love with writing unlike anything you’ve read before.
Our Secret Life in the Movies, Michael McGriff and J. M. Tyree
The latest book from badass Austin-based press A Strange Object, Our Secret Life in the Movies is the product of co-authors Michael McGriff and J. M. Tyree's ambitious year spent watching the entire Criterion Collection of classic films. A collection of 78 very short stories form a dual-narrative about two boys coming of age in the 1980s. Funny, super smart and totally unconventional, Our Secret Life makes for strange (in the best way) and lovely reading at any time of year. But there’s something about revisiting the theme of growing up that feels particular poignant over the holidays.
Thunderstruck & Other Stories, Elizabeth McCracken
Austin’s own Elizabeth McCracken was a finalist for the National Book Award for Thunderstruck, her latest — and quite possibly best — collection yet. Each of the nine short stories is arresting and distinctive, laced with both dark humor and softness, filled with rich imagery and electric energy. In one story, a scholar grieves the death of his wife. In another, a grocery store manager is fixated on a missing woman. McCracken deals powerfully with grief and the human heart in a wholly magnetic way.
Women, Chloe Caldwell
Chloe Caldwell proved her ability to write honestly, powerfully and often hilariously about being a floundering artistic twentysomething with her first collection, Legs Get Led Astray. Her latest novella only expands on those abilities, as it describes a crisis of identity, of sexuality, and of major heartache. It’s a story about an explosive lesbian affair, a narrative anyone who has fallen into mismatched, consuming love will recognize. (Even Lena Dunham gave a shout out to this raw, beautiful indie novella.) Full of almost exclusive female characters and told through a distinctly female voice, Women is an important and totally engrossing read.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel García Márquez
Celebrate Gabriel García Márquez’s archives coming to town (UT's Harry Ransom Center recently snagged this major collection) by reading some of the celebrated author's shorter works. Best known for novels like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, Márquez was also a skilled short story writer. One of our favorites, Light is Like Water, is tiny and magical and can be read online here. Another fantastic short read of his is the harrowing Chronicle of a Death Foretold. A crime fiction-esque investigation into the events that led to the ancient murder of Santiago Nasar puts an entire rural community on trial. It's a small, masterful work of art.