Every now and then we all fall out of practice when it comes to reading. It could be that you've just finished months of studying and can’t bear to look at another book again – even if it isn’t a textbook. It could be your attention span’s shot from a little too much time online. Some people have even said the pandemic has negatively impacted their ability to stick with the written word. But if you are ready to come back to reading and you want to ease yourself into it, short fiction is a good place to start. If you need a little inspiration, here are some of our top recommendations for short fiction to rekindle your love of reading.
Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970 by Richard Brautigan
The stories in Revenge of the Lawn are incredibly short, often only a page or so long, with shortest entry ‘The Scarlatti Tilt’ coming in at a mere two sentences. This brevity makes them accessible but so does Brautigan’s abrupt conversational style, both charmingly deadpan and surreal without being oblique. Whenever I feel too overwhelmed to pick up a full-length novel, Revenge of the Lawn is what I turn to instead. The subject matter is comforting yet strange, romantic yet cynical, covering semi-mythologized accounts of Brautigan’s childhood in Tacoma, Washington and his adult life in San Francisco. One negative is that Brautigan is very much of his time, more specifically, very much a straight white man in ’60s America, and occasionally this colours his tone in a way that’s decidedly, well, off. However, if you’re willing to overlook these transgressions, the stories are worth it, and more worth it than other offerings from far more problematic writers of the era who were able to enjoy the success that so often alluded Brautigan, in his life and posthumously.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
In contrast to Richard Brautigan’s abrupt style, Angela Carter is almost overwhelmingly verbose, spending pages describing something as seemingly simple as an eye. This could be unappealing in less capable hands, but Carter somehow makes it engaging and captivating, weaving stories full of lush imagery that often take inspiration from, or are direct retellings of, well-known fairy tales. Carter’s retellings have a feminist bent to them too, although an enjoyably immoral feminist bent. The stories in The Bloody Chamber are full of strange bloodthirsty girls and the abusive men they wreak revenge upon, and all described in Carter’s lyrical and rich style. This detail-oriented writing style could seem daunting when you’re just trying to read again and yet thankfully, it isn’t. Carter’s slow-moving basking (or wallowing) in mood and scene fits perfectly for when you don’t have the energy to read more intently.
Tomie by Junji ItoOne of Junji Ito’s most iconic characters Tomie is a femme fatale with devilishly good looks. She can snare any man in her sights – infatuation turns to obsession, turning to madness, ending in a gruesome finale. Or is it? Ito uses everything at his disposal to make every second you spend with Tomie unbearably suspenseful, from the act of turning the page down to the weight of a line, he draws you in until you can't get out. Throughout Tomie there are recurring themes of regeneration despite the fact Tomie can be killed; she can always resurface as long as there is a part of her lingering in our world, toying with themes of loss and toxic grief that often surface in Ito’s work, keeping you guessing where Tomie will appear next. Truly the perfect late night short story to ignite your love of fiction again.
I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young
I hate Fairyland is strangely reminiscent of late 2000s cartoons, with that specific style of PG13 horror. Its candy coloured pallet, fluffed up swear words and fairytale characters all suggest a sickenly sweet story. Enter Gertrude, twenty-seven years after arriving in Fairyland, she is done with the mindless riddles and talking vegetation. So now the world must suffer the wrath of a small child with green rigglets and enough anger to shoot for the moon and bring down all the stars. New York Times Best Selling, Eisner Award winning cartoonist Scottie Young does a great job of mixing cute designs and gratuitous gore, his wit as sharp as Gertude’s axe. Following the adventures of Gertrude as she tries to escape her cutesy, magic hell, is viciously funny and visually beautiful.
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Macksey
This collection of some of Charlie Macksey’s cherished characters in Ernest Shepard style illustrations journeying through the harsh wilderness teach us – and themselves – some important life lessons. Sometimes melancholic, often heart-warming Macksey shows us a glimpse into the human relationships we form with each other and the ones we love. When faced with uncertainty like finishing education or transitioning into a new period of your life we often leave things we enjoy – like reading – behind, but the journey of The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse is a joyful message of hope in those uncertain times, with beautiful imagery you can revisit time and time again for a small respite.
Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica by Hamish Henderson
A heart-wrenching series of poems written by Henderson during his time fighting in the Second World War, each elegy is written about his fellow soldiers – the ones who fought with him and the ones who fought against him. A self-proclaimed humanist, Henderson filled his poems with a deep sense of empathy, and decorated the more dreary sections with dark humour often directed against how uncomfortable the terrain they fought on was. He prioritises fast-paced, assonance fueled lines that read with a sense of playful lyricism. There is often an underlying anti-war message to his work. His most powerful call against the romanticisation of war sits with me to this day; when describing those who lost their lives on the battlefield, he writes: “There were no gods, and precious few heroes. What they regretted when they died had nothing to do with race or leader.” Henderson spent much of his later life campaigning for Scottish independence and gay rights. His poetry will always reflect his spirit and compassion.
John Constantine, Hellblazer: Original Sins by Jamie Delano and John Ridgeway
Graphic novels are some of the easiest things to sit down and enjoy, partly down to the incredible illustrations that are found within comic book pages, but also because they often contain some of the most interesting characters around. One such graphic novel that marries a great art style with an interesting and somewhat unconventional story is Hellblazer: Original Sins. You could choose any of the Hellblazer titles, however, there are obvious reasons why the original is a fan-favourite. John Constantine is a sarcastic and cynical character that was initially created by comic legend Alan Moore, however, Delano’s retelling of the character’s early years is as brutal as it is politically driven, a great example of interesting commentary on British class structure and the alt-right, whilst able to give horror fans and DC fans exactly what they want, in the best way possible.