By Bre Pickens
Is it just me, or is Christmas starting earlier every year? As a kid the holiday season was pretty well separated with one holiday a month post October. In my eyes this made every holiday feel unique, due to all being at the end of the month. Halloween was as distinct a holiday as Thanksgiving in my elementary school classrooms, and the bulk of the Christmas holiday was spent at home since school ended for winter break at least a week before the holiday. These days I feel like the holiday music begins just before Halloween in the corporate world, and as a retail worker it’s become a beast to be loathed. There were a few years working where all I wanted for Christmas was a break from the neverending pop-synthesized, Mariah Carey holiday music that played on loop through my store speakers for two months straight.
But Christmas doesn’t last forever and suddenly it’s the new year, and the energy high I’ve been riding through our busiest time of year here at the store does the opposite of what I want it to do: it crashes. Those handy resolutions people create about reading more books this year? Couldn’t be me. My resolutions are more along the lines of taking more photographs, having a tea party once a month or actually stopping to smell the flowers. My favorite from last year was to become an expert power napper (as it turns out the art of napping still eludes me). This doesn’t mean I read less, but my reading for the beginning of the new year has lately been along the lines of the shorter the better. I’ve found that short stories, essays, novellas, and many other amuse bouche-sized reads are what I prefer to read after the holiday rush. My brain craves a rest and reading is still usually a relaxing activity…even when my attention span can’t be caught for very long.
As an adult I still tend to read more fiction than nonfiction. It really just depends on what I’m in the mood to read. I’m also heavily influenced by what people recommend to me. I value a good recommendation (especially as a bookseller) because it helps me prioritize which new books are worth my time. There’s no possible way any of us booksellers have read all of the books we recommend and so every bit of feedback or opinion helps us give a better recommendation to other customers and, as a bonus, helps us curate our own TBR list!
Below I’ve compiled some books that I’ve read over the past few Januarys and some that are on my soon to be read list this year.
Joy Harjo was appointed America’s poet laureate in 2019 and was the first Native American to hold the title. This is just one of her excellent memoirs that she’s written and comes in under 200 pages total. An incredible feat for how immersive this memoir felt, and when I finished I was sad that there wasn’t more due to her haunting writing.
When this one came out in 2020 I was unprepared for how many people would ask if we had a copy. It’s got so many rave reviews through publishers that it’s hard to believe this is the author’s debut novel. With illustrations throughout, beautiful essays meant to inspire, and the author’s own personal experiences weaving this story together I hope I’m just as entranced when I pick this one up to read this year!
I first read Sy Montgomery’s nonfiction book “The Soul of an Octopus” right after I began working regularly at BookPeople. “The Hummingbird’s Gift” is appropriately sized for some of the smallest birds in the world, and is a rare gem that takes the reader on a journey following two abandoned hummingbirds. Very wholesome and I love recommending this one to any bird lover who comes through the store.
This is one on my TBR list about how we should all take more afternoons to slow down and peruse the world in person. It was appropriately written during the pandemic when most could only browse via the internet and as someone who’s worked in retail for almost eight years, it would be nice to see if this sparks a newfound interest for “shopping for fun” that’s been dead for a while in me.
First: if you haven’t read this one then get ready to have your heart skewered with the story of a single mother who flees to Italy after her daughters decide to live with their father. Second: once you’ve read the book, watch the movie (it’s fantastic and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut) or watch it first. I won’t judge!
Mary Clearman Blew is one of those rare writers that can describe grueling work and make it sound like music. I had the pleasure of hearing Mary read from her newest fiction novel “Think of Horses” back in November of 2022, which finished off her Montana quartet. Her shorter fiction is just as stunning as her longer, she is highly distinguished so I wouldn’t expect anything less from this local author, and I’m happily working my way through this collection this month.
If you’re a fan of Pablo Neruda (and everyone should read at least some of his poetry at some point in my opinion) then reading about a young couple falling in love because of Neruda should be right up your alley. This particular book has been translated into 25 different languages all over the world and was the book behind the Academy-Award winning Il Postino film in 1994.
Claire Keegan is the master of shorter fiction and “Small Things Like These” doesn’t disappoint. It’s an international bestseller set during Christmas-time in 1985 Ireland, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2022, and is the author’s first published work in nearly a decade. It’s original and Dickensian all at once and I devoured this in one sitting.
Probably better known for his book “The Alchemist” this is a companion work to that novel, it’s a collection of philosophical short stories that ask us, the reader, to embrace the uncertainty of life.
When I tell you the way this one gripped me and I have a pretty legitimate fear of horses after almost getting bucked off at the age of 10. From the first page you’re privy to the most intimate vignettes of a horsewoman and her love of the racetrack and by the time I got to the end I found myself questioning if I actually, almost two decades after getting thrown from a horse…actually like them??
If you’re like me and are searching for shorter reads to kick off your 2023 then I hope you enjoy these under 200 page reads. There’s more where these came from and we’ve definitely got more in store. Feel free to click the titles to check on any to see current prices and availability. Until next time