Great Short Books: A Year of Reading--Briefly

Delightfully accessible, Great Short Books: A Year of Reading--Briefly presents 58 fact-filled reviews of short books, a smorgasbord of titles sure to entice readers. Kenneth C. Davis (Strongman), author of the Don't Know Much About series, despairs that "literary sizeism... exists against short fiction." At a book a week--Davis includes six "bonus" books--it's a reasonable expectation, he writes, that one could read these 58 titles, each 100 to 200 pages in length, in the span of a year. Davis, writing during the pandemic lockdown, was inspired by the Italian writer Boccaccio's Decameron, 100 brief tales completed in 1353 during the Black Death.

Davis lists his eclectic top 58 titles alphabetically and, without a chronological or thematic structure, each entry feels like a surprise. (An "arbitrary" choice was the exception of following Mrs. Dalloway with Michael Cunningham's The Hours, inspired by the Virginia Woolf novel.) Each review follows a pattern: first lines, plot summary ("NO SPOILERS!" Davis promises), an insightful author bio, a "why you should read it" critical analysis and "what to read next" by the same author. He includes men and women writers equally, "established classics" (Ethan Frome; The Great Gatsby) as well as "works that reflect the current atmosphere of politics and society" (Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy, for example). A passionate reader, Davis appends to his 58 reviews a short essay on titles he left out and his favorite 15 short books. Great Short Books, a satisfying read itself, is a useful addition to any collection, well beyond the suggested "year of reading." –Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

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