New Year’s resolutions are formed with the best of intentions in December, but the urgency to stick with them can fade as the year rolls on. A perennially popular goal is to read more books, which is an increasingly tall order in a world where the prevalence of social media and other online time tests our attention spans (if you’ve made it to the end of this sentence, bravo). Life happens — no judgment here — and, as 2019 approaches, that resolution might still be needling at you. If you want to take a concerted crack at it, perhaps avoiding the deeper end of the pool would be a good idea (i.e. put War and Peace down, for now). The shallow end is less daunting (but no less fantastic) and full of engaging short reads to wet your whistle, like these five recent favorites.
Stephen King has written a short, eerie, and ultimately uplifting parable for our times. When we first meet Scott Carey, he is living in Castle Rock — the iconic, fictional Maine town that serves as the setting for many of King’s works — and involved in an unfriendly dispute with a neighbor whose dog keeps doing its business on his lawn. Much more concerning to Scott is that he has noticed he is losing weight every day, even though he doesn’t look any different than he did a year ago. You read that right: he is losing weight but not losing mass. In the hands of Stephen King, Scott’s slow disappearance may somehow be the thing that pulls the citizens of Castle Rock together. –Chris Schluep
If you like a little quirk and creative plotting in your fiction, Elliot Reed can unlock your reading heart with A Key to Treehouse Living. This moving and wonderfully odd coming-of-age debut follows a young man, literally and figuratively adrift, who tries to make sense of his lonely existence via a glossary that imparts accidental wit and wisdom. A Key to Treehouse Living invites comparisons to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and it does have the same sort of feel/s. But Reed’s work is wholly original. Surrender to the unusual structure and you’re in for a bite-sized treat of a book. –Erin Kodicek
A part-organic, part-mechanical SecUnit self-named “Murderbot” gains control of its own systems after a horrific murder spree, but all it wants to do with its secret freedom is watch entertainment vids in between security gigs. Unfortunately, Murderbot has an eye for trouble, and, also unfortunately, Murderbot might be developing...feelings...about the humans it's protecting. Tense action locks in step with Murderbot's march toward owning its personhood, imbuing the android with more character than other, far larger novels ever manage to do. A tight space adventure with a deep core of humanity, All Systems Red won both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for “Best Novella.” It’s also the first of four novellas in the Murderbot Diaries series, and you’ll race through every single one. –Adrian Liang
David Grann has a knack for unearthing fascinating stories and turning them into extensively researched, readable books. The Lost City of Z was one of our favorites all the way back in 2009, while Killers of the Flower Moon was our pick for the best book of 2017. His just-released The White Darkness tells the tale of Henry Worsley, an Ernest Shackleton acolyte and relation of Frank Worsley, one of the legendary explorer's crew members in the Antarctic. In 2008, Henry determined to measure himself against his hero, aiming to succeed where Shackleton had failed. Though the new book is short (it was previously published in The New York Times), the addition of Worsley’s photographs has turned it into a fascinating (and gift-worthy) record of struggle and determination in the face of terrifying odds. –Jon Foro
Yes, that Zora Neale Hurston. But the author of what would become the classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was just a budding anthropologist when, in 1927, she traveled to Alabama to interview Cudjo Lewis — a former slave who was snatched from his homeland and brought to America on the last “black cargo” ship. Hurston’s record of their conversations, coupled with her keen and compassionate insights, became Barracoon — a book no publisher wanted to touch at the time. Now, over 90 years later, it stands as a uniquely personal, and very powerful, record of one of the most shameful periods of American history. And an important reminder of its reverberating effects. –Erin Kodicek
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