For book lovers, the Kenyon academic year is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, many of us get take English courses where we spend hours tearing through Hamlet for the fifteenth time or dissecting the final paragraph of Ulysses for an entire class period. We also get to fangirl over the tons of incredible authors that grace the stage of Rosse (Junot Diaz!!!) and attend annual events like Lit Fest. Despite all of this, the burden of the academic year can also keep us from our one true joy: reading for pleasure. Each visit to the bookstore is a painful look at all the novels we would love to read, but with all of our classes, jobs and other responsibilities, it’s near impossible to find the time to curl up in bed with the newest Jennifer Egan book. But fear not! There are plenty of books to read for pleasure during the school year that don’t involve a huge time investment, and, since I know how pressed for time all you busy college students are, I’ve compiled them here in a quick, easy-to-read list. Without further ado, here are eight books you can definitely squeeze into your crazy semester:
1. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (160 pages)
It seems that everyone and their punk, feminist grandmother has read this book. It’s an absolutely sensational reflection on philosophy, parenthood, gender identity, sexuality, love and art, and I believe it’s essential for understanding our modern moment. Maggie Nelson sees the world with absolute clarity, and she manages to come off as profound without being pretentious. Plus, this book doesn’t really have a plot, so it’s easy to jump in and out of.
2. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon (131 pages)
The Final Solution is Chabon’s own interpretation of a classic, 19th century mystery, and it’s delightful from beginning to end. The story follows an old detective who comes out of retirement when he comes across a mute boy who has escaped from Nazi Germany whose parrot companion recites a mysterious string of numbers in German.
3. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (304 pages)
Now you might be thinking, “but Vahni, I thought you said these would be short, easy books I could read between my AT and Billy Shakes rehearsal.” That is not what I said, dear reader. I said I would give you books that would be easy to read during the semester, and this is. Even though it’s 300 pages, most chapters in the book are only one or two pages long and it’s very easy to read even just a few pages each day. The book is full of hilarious characters and the fast-paced, eccentric plot makes this a lightning read.
4. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (176 pages)
I just finished this book a week or two ago after starting it at the beginning of the semester, and I was floored by every page. Every sentence is perfectly constructed to produce the maximal amount of emotional punch in each paragraph, and it’s a joy to read. The plot is very simple, too, so it was easy for me to leave the book during a busy week before coming back to it.
5. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (232 pages)
One of my favorite things about graphic novels is that you can either rip through them quickly or spend time savoring each illustration, and either way you will get a lot out of the book. This makes Fun Home, a tragicomic about cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s childhood, a perfect school year read. It’s funny, heartbreaking and chockful of literary references so you almost feel like you’re reading all the classics in one great book about sexuality and growing up.
6. The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing (144 pages)
I read this novella for class last year, and it haunts me to this day. It’s an unnerving and fascinating look into what happens when a perfect family is rocked by a sinister force coming from within their walls. It’s a great pick for people who like eerie and disturbing stories.
7. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (160 pages)
I’ve talked about this book in one of my previous articles, but it’s so genius and short that I had to put it in this list as well. Rankine is an insightful and emotionally honest writer who discusses the modern, African American experience in a way that I’ve never seen done before. It’s an especially important read for allies, like myself, who want a personal perspective on one writer’s black identity in America.
8. The Best American Short Stories Collection
A new edition of The Best American Short Stories is released every year, and they include writing from some of the best authors of our time. While these collections don’t encompass every piece of incredible writing produced each year, they’re a great place to start and they can introduce you to new writers whose work you can invest more time in over the summer.
Finding time for anything during the school year is definitely difficult, but hopefully these quick reads can let you read for pleasure without taking up too much time. Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these and if you have any other recommendations for busy bibliophiles!