Billionaires like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates often point to reading as a big part of their success. They, however, have the time to curl up with a good book. Normal people have to sandwich their reading between kids’ soccer games, finding passive-aggressive ways to annoy their spouse, and hiding their hangover from their boss. For average people on a tight schedule, here are five quick novels for those with no time to read.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist is Paulo Coelho’s magnum opus. Actually, you’d be wise to only read this piece of his oeuvre, as nothing else he penned comes close in terms of profundity. In just a few hundred pages, Cuelo manages to encapsulate the entire voyage of life. Sans the awkward teenage years we’d all rather forget.
In the tale, a young man sets out to find an alchemist, with the power to turn lead to gold. Along the way he stumbles into incredible kindness, vice and cruelty, success and the frustration of failure. As he traverses an idyllic yet dangerous desert landscape, he begins to see that the answers he seeks at his destination might not be the ones he needs, and that the joy of the journey could provide riches that transcend anything gold might give him. It’s Siddhartha for the age of social media.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy is to cheerfulness what McDonald’s is to weight loss. McCarthy also knows how to make a real dystopian hellscape. There’s no chosen person who is born beautiful and special and is going to bring down a despotic regime. No one in The Road is choosing between two equally wonderful love interests. There’s no triumph of good over evil, because those absolutes exist only for people who have enough food and warmth to mull over the supposedly deep questions. You won’t even get names for the main characters, as they’ve gone further beyond that than even the disposable soldiers in The Red Badge of Courage.
The Road is also about what we get as we slowly die on our journey of life. In this case, it’s not so much riches as scars and lost limbs.
The Humans by Matt Haig
The notion of an alien being a tenured professor at the University of Cambridge wouldn’t shock anyone who has met the faculty of that institution. That the extraterrestrial would also be in the mathematics department would cause many to offer naught but, “Yeah, and?” in reply. However, it turns out that being inside the mind of an alien who snatched the body of a professor is actually quite hilarious, to say nothing of heartwrenching.
Throughout The Humans, our own society and social mores are lampooned from every direction by the alien who has been forced to live among us. Then, our perfect imperfection begins to infect him, and he’s forced to wonder whether all answers can be had from the cold world of mathematics, or if perhaps messiness and chaos might offer something that even math never could. Though, he wisely surmises that noses are hideous abominations. Yet, he tolerates the cartilage nightmare that is ears.
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Marriage is frequently referred to as a gilded trap. It ensnares and enchants us with promises of love and companionship everlasting. Those notions are mostly invented by troubadours trying to sell us a dopamine rush of sex and an end to loneliness. Marriage in actuality is a difficult business that will cost you half your stuff to escape.
Dept. of Speculation explores the ecstasy and the misery of the miasma of marriage and family through a too-familiar tale of adultery. It’s an honest love story, which is to say little for love when it’s run through the grinder of actually living with it from day to day. From rosy glasses to bitter bile, no punches are pulled as we see where love can all too easily lead.
Don’t let that description deter you. Dept. of Speculation is biting and brilliant. It doesn’t spackle over the ugliness, nor mar the beauty of real life and the battle for self against a role we’ve fallen into.
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
Most people would tell you that God is big. Small Gods asks what if God were small, perhaps reduced to the size of a tortoise? Consider then what this be-shelled deity might do if his only advocate were a dim but kindly monk who must struggle with a crisis of faith as he’s forced to help the holiest of beings get back to sitting atop the throne of heaven. After feeding him some lettuce. Those might be enormous questions, but might also be no more complicated than choosing whether or not God might make a tasty soup, creation and damnation be damned.
You can’t make a mistake when you pick up a Terry Pratchett book. His work is wide and deep, pardon the pun and metaphor. Though Small Gods exists within the Discworld universe, the novel stands wholly alone. It manages to walk the line between mocking organized religion, and exemplifying the people who dare to act on faith against a world that ridicules them and their little tortoise higher power.