It’s going to get pretty listy around here for a bit with our book logs coming out soon, but a comment on a recent post made me want to write a list of great light reads.
As you may know, my work is pretty serious right now and so I’ve been trying to keep the mammoth tomes and grim death marches to a minimum when doing my recreational reading (yes, I read 2666 for fun; we can fight about it if you want). But something I think too many people do is assume that because something is light, it can’t be good. When I’m talking about light, I’m not necessarily talking about terribly formulaic genre fluff that isn’t much different from watching TV. I still want to think, I just want stuff moving at a nice clip and I certainly don’t mind laughing every now and again.
So, without further ado, here are my ten favorite light reads that are also really good (and by ten favorite, I mean the ten I came up with while my ass was firmly planted on the couch and I poked through my old reading records):
1. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson - I could put a number of Bryson books here, but I think this is his best. He portrays characters and tells a story in a way that surpasses what he’s done in his other books. It’s hilarious, but you also feel the author change as he moves through the book.
2. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris - This is my favorite Sedaris volume. As with all of his memoir (I’m less thrilled with his fiction), it is side-splittingly funny, but there is also a humanity here that surpasses anything else he’s done. I’m think especially of “Heijira,” which tells the story of his father kicking him out because he (Sedaris) was gay.
3. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon – Chabon’s first novel is also his fastest. It moves by in a blink. It’s certainly not perfect, but it is very good and highly entertaining. There’s a reason it got his career off to such a rousing start.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - This is certainly not a cheery book. There’s more than enough murder and attempted murder to turn your stomach. But it definitively is not hard to read, which is why it’s been used to introduce high literature to high school students for decades. And, of course, there is Scout’s voice. I can’t imagine a more perfect narrator.
5. As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem - Time to add a little weird to the mix. This book is short and brisk. And it tells the story of a man whose girlfriend has fallen in love with the physical embodiment of nothingness. Good times.
6. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Certainly we ought to have a little children’s literature here. The Hobbit, of course, is wonderful and easy, but interesting enough to keep a grown-up reading. And speaking of kids books…
7. The House At Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne - I re-read this several years ago when we were preparing to welcome Simone into the world. It is delightful. Milne packs an enormous amount of thought and weight into a vocabulary that a six-year-old could understand.
8. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris – Sedaris has to have two entries on the list. This is nearly as good as Dress Your Family in Corudroy and Denim.
9. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris - This is probably the least perfect book on the list, but it works on many different levels. Think of it as the novel version of The Office told mostly from the collective perspective of the office hive-mind. Yeah. It’s really good.
10. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – Perhaps this choice is a bit extra brave, but the book is such an easy read. It might be the quickest read on the list thanks to Hemingway’s spare and brisk prose. And goodness, it packs a punch. Especially at the end.