• Isabelle Osborne

In Focus: six short books everyone should read

It is easy to judge a book by its cover. In my opinion, I feel we also judge books by their length - the shorter the book, the less attention it demands. However, I have recently read some wonderful short books, both fiction and non-fiction, that I learnt a lot from and enjoyed in different ways. I often read short books in a matter of hours, thoroughly devouring their to-the-point but equally intriguing themes and characters. Here are my top six short books that are totally worth reading...

Women & Power, Mary Beard

I really enjoyed reading Beard's short book. Beard's feminism is brilliant, as she draws upon the ancient world right through to modern day to show how gender inequality is deeply rooted in our culture. She displays how history has treated powerful women, from Medusa to Theresa May, and our cultural assumptions about women's relationship with power (such as the images of professors and Prime Ministers as men, for example). Beard also touches on the 'handbag effect', linking May's use of her shoes as a symbol of power to how Margaret Thatcher's handbag was used as her political 'weapon'. This was really poignant and interesting, a great read!

The Festival of Insignificance, Milan Kundera

I was sent this book as part of a book exchange, and I was very intrigued by its characters and what Kundera hoped to teach us. In my reading of it, I picked up on its satirical tone and fascination with the psyche of the four main characters (all of whom were men) as a representation of the human condition as a whole. It is very much a novel of abstraction, but this was quite refreshing as it enables you to focus on the ideas that are at play rather than the plot itself. This was a new style for me, and I feel it's worth your time!

‘No one has the right to pretend to be reconstructing a human life that no longer exists. No one has the right to create a person from a marionette.’

- The Festival of Insignificance, Milan Kundera

We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is a gem of an essay! Adichie considers how we internalise ideas from our socialisation, how a wedding ring earns a woman more respect, the belief that being a single woman after a certain age is deemed a failure, and the prehistoric custom of boys paying for dates. She opens the conversation about gender hostility, and how it originates in how men fear they will not live up to expectations of manliness. One thing that really interested me was the concept of ‘bottom power’, whereby women use men to get what they want. For Adichie, this isn’t a power, as the women are undermining their gender to achieve something through using the ‘superior’ gender. She offers lots of fascinating ideas and zooms in on key gender disputes in such a matter of fact way. If you're looking for something short and sweet but equally thought-provoking, you should definitely read this!

The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint-Exupery

This is a lovely little book, that whilst usually targeting at children can definitely be read and enjoyed by adults. Much like The Festival of Insignificance, it is a simple tale that holds a deeper moral regarding the human condition. After researching a little about what the story is truly about, I discovered it is inspired by war and the central emotions of conflict - isolation, fear, and uncertainty. It draws our attention the the fickleness of humans, especially through the character of the businessman. I'm still thinking about this story, and what we can learn from it!

'...the people have no imagination. They just repeat whatever one says to them.'

- The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint-Exupery

The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This is a brilliantly written and thoughtful story. I loved the narration, the ideas, the colours and the message. Gilbert's work conveys how mental instability was a manifestation of women's restricted role in a male-dominated society. Regarded as an important work of American feminist literature, Gilbert illustrates the attitudes towards the mental and physical health of women in the 19th century that really succeeded in opening a conversation of the topic. I love when writers use their work to explore their experiences and the issues surrounding them.

Let me know your thoughts on these books and share your own favourite short novels!

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