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The List: 8 of my favorite short reads
I'm irrevocably drawn to big books. Right now, in fact, I’m knee-deep into volume one of William Manchester’s famous trilogy on Winston Churchill. Massive biographies like this and huge fiction series line my shelves.
And yet, sometimes the most potent messages come in the smallest packages. A short book is, in many ways, harder to write than a long book. Being succinct is tough. Below you’ll find some of my favorite short reads. All of them come in at under 120 pages or so and have long been deeply ingrained in my memory. Give 'em a shot.
The Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. A classic American narrative of a man escaping from slavery and also of self-education. As inspiring as anything you'll ever read.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Another classic American autobiography and manifesto of self-improvement. It includes his famous 13-week "plan" as well as ideas for morning and evening reflections.
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. Over the course of only about 70 pages, Keller writes on the joys of literature, education, deep thinking, communicating with other people in her own language (sign language), and much more. Her ideas and thoughts could just as well appear in self-help books about motivation and stoic fortitude, but her humor and superior writing make it far better than your usual self-help fare.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.An all-time favorite of mine. Not only whimsical and plain delightful to read, but also chock-full of lessons on joy.
The History of Rasselas by Samuel Johnson. I doubt you’ve heard of this book, but it’s one that I think about a lot. Dr. Johnson was one of the most famous men in history up until about 50 years. He didn’t write much fiction, but this philosophical tale will have you questioning the value of thinking too hard about the meaning of life.
Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly. As a 22-year-old woman, Bly voluntarily decided to masquerade as an insane woman, get committed to an asylum, and report on her findings about the conditions inside. When she was released (an interesting piece of the story on its own), her reporting caused a sensation. A short but remarkable tale written by an incredibly courageous woman. (Read up on Nellie; she’s one of the most interesting people you’ll ever come across.)
The Bridges at Toko-Ri by James Michener. Michener is best known for his lengthy epics, but this short novel might be his best. Early in his career, Michener served as an embedded reporter in the Korean War. His experience covering the battles in the air led to this short but visceral and impactful novel that follows a group of young Navy pilots.
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. This is probably my favorite of Cather’s novels. She offers superb reflections on the essence of nature (and particularly our human connection to it), as well as family and community relationships in a harsh and unforgiving landscape. I loved it from the first page and Alexandra Bergson instantly became one of my favorite characters in classic literature.
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