With one month left of the summer vacation many minds will be turning, with some suppressed horror, to the large reading lists that have recently been emailed. To quell the rising panic, here are some short (under 300 pages!) books to ease your mind back into reading. During your last month of freedom – perhaps while lounging by a pool, climbing a mountain, or just lying about at home – try these so that at the very least you’ll have something intellectual to say in freshers week.
First Love, Last Rites – Ian MacEwan (1975)
Reading Ian MacEwan’s First Love, Last Rites, a collection of eight short stories, is like watching a true crime documentary – grim but fascinating. With cautionary tales of murder, lust and loneliness it is clear to see in McEwan’s first collection of short stories his boyish instinct to shock. Nevertheless, great sophistication is shown in these tales, with the beautiful but sparse language creating a dark atmosphere which ensures that at no point do these awful stories become unbelievable. The deserving recepient of the 1976 Somerset Maugham Award, these eight stories will have you gripped until the end. However, be warned that these tales of love gone wrong will lurk in your mind during the rest your holiday – McEwan’s voice is sure to haunt you even whilst floating in the Aegean Sea or marching up Machu Picchu.
Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton (2018)
The first thing I learnt in Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love is that Exeter University in 2009 and Cambridge University a decade later are not that dissimilar – shocking, I know. However, with a possibly lighter workload, Alderton had many more adventures than the average student as part of the feminist ‘Ladette’ revolution, binge drinking her way through an English degree. Although her stories are, at times, ridiculous – such as being proposed to by a man she met on Tinder the day before – Alderton writes with such warmth and maturity that the stories are definitely more funny than annoying. The most beautiful sentiment to come out of this book is an appreciation for the value of female friendship, shown to be more powerful and long-lasting than any of her romantic relationships. Alderton’s memoir is both sweet and serious, light in its stories of bad dates and heart-wrenching in its stories of loneliness and death.
Women & Power: A Manifesto – Mary Beard (2017)
In this transcript of two speeches given in 2014 and 2017 respectively, Mary Beard, the Cambridge Classics professor, shows how history has treated powerful women: in short, badly. In one hundred pages, with many pictures helpful for the partially-attentive holiday reader, she explores her premise that ‘our mental, cultural template for a powerful person remains resolutely male.’ By tracing misogyny back to its ancient roots, namely the constant exclusion of women from powerful roles in public life, she shows that if women aren’t perceived to be within the structure of power, then it is our definition of power and how power works that must change. The only criticism of the book is that you want it to be longer, ironic I suppose for a list of short reads. Some clear goals to change these power structures would have made this a true manifesto.