Short Books

With a new year comes new goals, new plans, new books. I made a concentrated effort in 2017 to read a bunch of classics and was pleased to realize just how short some of literature’s most noted works are. Happily, I was reminded of this fact today.

My ongoing task to avoid focusing on the lives of others through social media has led to a years long tradition of ‘unfollowing’ those who crowd my feeds. I’ve coupled this with a new tradition of following high quality, inspirational individuals. Among these is writer Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle is the Way (a great read) in addition to articles posted simultaneously on his blog and various websites.

A recent post focused on short, high quality and inspirational books, which brought to mind a few that I have read and threw several new ones onto my radar for 2018. Among them was possibly my favorite book, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl,the detailed, first-hand account of a prisoner in a concentration camp seeking an answer to the greatest question: “What is the meaning of life?”. Frankl’s experience led to his formation of Logotherapy, asking man not to look externally for meaning but rather to turn inward, creating life’s meaning for oneself.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

But not all short works are so intense and emotional, as is clear from the rest of Holiday’s list. Absent, however, is a book I was happy to stumble upon at a personal favorite location for book buying, an Oxfam store (in addition to other second-hand boutiques that raise money to fight poverty). That book is Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. At less than 100 pages (under 250 with Through the Looking Glass) and featuring illustrations that were part of the original publication, the story is quick and unforgettable. And, while I’ve quoted it here in the past, I thought it might be a proper time to share the thoughts I wrote down immediately following its conclusion.

My thoughts on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll:

I’m sure I have been read this story at some point in my life, but this was my solo first adventure into Carroll’s crazy world. I’m surprised how enjoyable this book was, moving the reader’s mind from one outrageous situation to the next with ease and believability.

While it’s quick and short, the author is able to introduce ideas and characters that are beyond imagination and have them feel almost expected. He constantly plants small nuggets throughout the story that return to have meaning and push Alice further along. At the conclusion, I was most impressed with Alice as a work of literary art, feeling with every sentence and chapter exactly how unique the storytelling is, even after more than a century.

This is obviously a book I’d recommend to any and everyone, young and old. The story is so quick (roughly 100 pages with illustrations!) that anyone can get through it in just a few days. It’s a shame more people don’t feel compelled to go back to such classics as this. Most of the writing today, from stories and books to television and movies, lacks the creativity and general uniqueness of this amazing work.