Holidays: 5th Column
The Lazy August Reading List 4 Columns

Short and sweet: five very brief books to meet your demands for both quality and quantity.

Just two weeks remain of summer, and as we find ourselves in the season’s languorous dregs, it may become difficult to pay attention—the eyes blur, the head nods, the mind drifts. Ambitious plans for summer reading hatched in June prove, in August, too onerous to complete. What a disappointment! If only there were some way to restore one’s self-esteem without having to commit the energy, the focus, required to seriously devote oneself to serious reading . . .

Thankfully, dear readers, the somnolent 4Columns editors have discovered that there is succor for those of us thus afflicted: the very, very short novel (even, the novella). The slender volume that can be devoured in just one sitting, the tiny text that requires as little as an hour or two of your attention.

To fill up the last two lazy weekends before Labor Day and the back-to-work rush, we offer this reading list of five very, very short books of 150 pages or less recently reviewed in 4Columns.

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THE ROAD TO THE CITY (94 pages) AND IN THE ACT (61 pages)

In her two-for-one review, critic Jessi Jezewska Stevens describes reading the two latest installments of the New Directions Storybook series—Natalia Ginzburg’s The Road to the City (1942), translated from the Italian by Gini Alhadeff, and Rachel Ingalls’s In the Act (1987)—in a single exhilarating evening. Though the Italian memoirist and American satirist may seem worlds apart, it’s a persuasive pairing, Stevens writes—“a shared genius for terse tragicomedy is on display: behold the reactive potential of a mid-century woman in domestic captivity, distilled into less than one hundred pages.”

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The Pepsi-Cola Addict (1982), June Gibbons’s “brief, shimmering mirage of a novel,” in the words of reviewer Zack Hatfield, is a long-out-of-print cult classic of outsider literature just republished by Strange Attractor Press, and is also the hallucinatory second entry in our list of very short books for the end of summer. This story of Preston, an all-American teen boy with a terrible addiction to the eponymous soda, makes fitting reading matter for the last steamy days of August: “Everywhere, a febrile heat threatens to melt away the veneer of realism; empty space seems to pant, unquenchable, as though it might swallow Preston whole.”

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ARTFORUM (82 pages)

Another New Directions title makes the top-five in our compact reading list: César Aira’s Artforum, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver, and reviewed for 4Columns in 2020 by Reinaldo Laddaga. The book—a paean to the titular magazine—is a tiny gem in Aira’s treasure chest of tiny books, Laddaga writes: “Aira’s texts tend to give the feeling of being barely finished, the works of an impatient craftsman who, in the midst of completing a piece, couldn’t wait to start the next one. But taken together, his books (for decades he has issued as many as four or five a year) amount to a massive collection of interlocking miniatures. . . . while [this] volume may be slim, it is a surprisingly rich work.”

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KICK THE LATCH (129 pages)

Coming in last but certainly not least is Kick the Latch, Kathryn Scanlan’s captivating glimpse of the strange, small world of horse racing, out last year (again from New Directions, apparently our preeminent publisher of tiny narratives). As Eric Banks describes, “The vignettes that make up [this] horse-racing anti-epic . . . are models of compression. Kick them indeed and you imagine them snapping back with deadly spring-loaded force. The longest mini-story here, ‘Bicycle Jenny,’ which packs in the biography of an oddball chihuahua hoarder, strains to reach four pages. The briefest, ‘Racetrackers,’ comprises a single sentence: ‘You’re around some really prominent people and some are just as common as old shoes.’ Both are miniatures in a miniature, sprightly nuggets (much like the book itself), daring to capture the arc of a life or the flavor of the track in the tightest number of strokes possible.”

Short and sweet: five very brief books to meet your demands for both quality and quantity.
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