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The Statesman


Six short books to read this year

We are all familiar with the New Year’s resolution to read more novels, but towards the end of January, many have yet to progress with that goal. Instead of waiting for the beginning of a new month to start anew, begin your reading journey now with these six short yet mighty books. 

“Lie with Me” by Philippe Besson

Three words to describe this book: beautiful, heart-shattering and tender. This 160-page book tells the story of a first-love relationship between two teenage boys in 1984 France through stunning prose and lyricism. Besson explores the wistfulness of forbidden love and loss, and what it means to live in a world where you cannot truly be yourself. While reading this book, it is advised to have a box of tissues handy. 

Themes: LGBTQIA+, reflective, emotional, translated-fiction

“Open Water” by Caleb Azumah Nelson

This novel is about the beginnings of a relationship between two young Black British people who meet in a pub in South East London. Told in the second person and in 160 pages, Nelson creates intimacy and emotional intensity between the characters to offer to readers. “Open Water” is a love story with discussions revolving around blackness, vulnerability and masculinity in a systemically racist world.   

Themes: emotional, thought-provoking 

“Normal People” by Sally Rooney

Even though “Normal People” is 300 pages long, it will not fail at capturing your attention, which will lead you to complete the book in one sitting as I did. The novel follows the “intimate and complicated relationship” between Marianne and Connell, who have known each other since high school. It’s about miscommunication, relationships, growing up and finding one’s place in the world. 

Themes: emotional, literary

“Assembly” by Natasha Brown 

A Black British woman is preparing to attend a lavish party her white boyfriend’s family is hosting at their England countryside estate. Yet, that is just the surface level of this 112-page book. This remarkable literary debut examines race, British colonialism, capitalism and misogyny as the unnamed narrator dissects the assembled pieces of herself. Brown shares the bitter truth that is ingrained in British society, but can also be applied to American society too: as a Black woman, there will never truly be a place where you belong. 

Themes: challenging, timeless

“Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke” by Eric LaRocca

What starts as an interaction between two young women on an online marketplace about an antique apple peeler for sale turns into a “whirlpool of darkness” in rapid succession. The pair’s relationship merely exists on an internet chat room, yet they manage to bring out the worst in each other. While reading this book, you will feel uncomfortable and wince with both disgust and shock, but in the best way possible. If you for some reason read this book without grimacing, seek help. Clocking in at 120 pages, LaRocca creates a page-turner narrative about obsession, sadomasochism and control with intense imagery and prose. As Gabino Iglesias wrote in their review, “Eric LaRocca is here to [mess] up your day.”

Themes: horror, LGBTQIA+, thriller, novella 

“Consent: A Memoir” by Vanessa Springora

Springora writes of her two-year-long sexual assault by Gabriel Matzneff, a well-known French writer, when she was 14 years old and he was 50 years old in a delicate, heart-shattering way. Matzneff wrote openly about pedophilia, yet he was always held in high regard by the literary world and never faced repercussions. The 200-page memoir critiques the factors that allowed the assault to persist, such as neglect from Springora’s mother and the cultural elements at the time. With this book, Springora broke the silence of Matzneff’s victims and triggered an abrupt cultural awakening in France. 

“This is the #MeToo of the French publishing world,” François Busnel, the host of “La Grande Librairie,” told The New York Times

Themes: nonfiction, translated, French literature, biography 

These six books will have you thinking about them for months and years to come. The potent prose and the meanings they convey will hopefully inspire you to read more great books like these. 

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About the Contributor
Jenna Zaza
Jenna Zaza, Arts & Culture Editor
Jenna Zaza is The Statesman's Arts and Culture Editor. She is a second-year journalism major with a minor in Korean studies and on the fast-track MBA program. When she is not writing, she is probably reading a book with a cup of coffee in hand.
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