Books With Short Unrelated Chapters?
August 4, 2019 12:44 PM   Subscribe

What are some great, interesting, immersive books with short chapters that are unrelated to one another?

I have found that when I travel I enjoy books that have short, unrelated, stand-alone chapters. I like this type of book because I can jump in, read a bit, then take a break.

A couple of examples:
One Minute Mysteries, where each chapter is about two pages long containing a short mystery.
What is Your Dangerous Idea?, where each chapter is limited (to 1000 words?) and contains a clever, insightful idea from "leading thinkers" in a given field.

Fiction or non-fiction is fine. Thought provoking is awesome. Short stories are usually too long (but I am open to suggestions). I am not interested in puzzle books (crosswords, soduku, etc).
posted by gnossos to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
You might like Mary Roach's books; Bonk, Stiff, Spook...etc. The chapters are all on a theme, but can totally be read as stand alones. You don't need to read them all at once to make sense of them.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 12:48 PM on August 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Some of them are only a few sentences long and I read them and think, there’s a whole long novel in that story somehow.
posted by sallybrown at 12:52 PM on August 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


Roald Dahl’s “twisted, overlooked stories for adults”.

I like the one about an itinerant grifter, Lamb To the Slaughter is another hit, any of the anthologies are good. I find their pacing tight and their length shorter than many, I too often find short stories too long for what I want.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:00 PM on August 4, 2019


You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
posted by anderjen at 1:19 PM on August 4, 2019


You could look into various flash fiction collections, like this one.
posted by sigmagalator at 1:30 PM on August 4, 2019


You Are Not So Smart and its sequel, You Are Now Less Dumb, are books based on author David McRaney's science blog about human self-deception and self-delusion, and other cognitive fallibility we mostly manage to live with. Having been blog entries, they're long for a blog but not overly long for book chapters.

Any book by Jon Ronson will have unrelated chapters, as they are generally collections of his journalism, united by a theme but separate. They're all good, but he does report on a lot of extremists who say a lot of extreme things.

The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science, (in some countries, "The Heretics:...") by Will Storr, is likewise a collection of stories about dogmatic people who cannot or will not be persuaded by counter-evidence, and discusses what that says about human cognition, and what an entirely normal state that sort of thinking is.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:39 PM on August 4, 2019


While it's maybe not to everyone's taste, Pessoa's The Book Of Disquiet is exactly this, and I read it exactly as you described — occasionally popping in for a visit with its olisponense assistant bookkeeper and then going back to whatever I was doing. The visits are inevitably rewarding.
posted by multics at 1:51 PM on August 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


James Robertson's 365 Stories is pretty great. He wrote a 365 word-long story every day for a year, then made a book of 'em. Each story is different and unrelated, but some common themes are: ghosts, Scottish folklore, recounted dreams.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 3:38 PM on August 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


How unrelated? The chapters in Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino are all about the same topic, but they're independent enough that you could read them all separately.

Also by Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler: the chapters are written so as to appear to be completely unrelated, but (spoiler alert) do in fact form a story.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:44 PM on August 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


Randall Munroe's What If? is funny and charming.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:19 PM on August 4, 2019




Probably not exactly what you're looking for, but anthologies like The Vintage Book of Walking are like highlight reels from world literature and are often highly readable in short doses.
posted by niicholas at 8:33 PM on August 4, 2019


Eduardo Galeano's Children of the Days, or many of his other books.
posted by ProtoStar at 9:30 PM on August 4, 2019


Hello, Goodbye, Hello is a chronicle of 101 chance encounters between notable people, and though each chapter contains one person from the previous chapter, each story is a standalone story of 1001 words.
posted by cholly at 11:18 PM on August 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


I found Daily Life in Victorian London good for dipping into on trains. Londoners is a more modern option.
Voices from Chernobyl is pretty amazing.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 2:14 AM on August 5, 2019


I really enjoyed Atlas of an Anxious Man by Christoph Ransmayr.
posted by 15L06 at 5:07 AM on August 5, 2019


This isn't a perfect fit as the chapters are technically related but only around a central premise: the Machine of Death.
The machine had been invented a few years ago: a machine that could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die. It didn’t give you the date and it didn’t give you specifics. It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words DROWNED or CANCER or OLD AGE or CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN. It let people know how they were going to die.

The problem with the machine is that nobody really knew how it worked, which wouldn’t actually have been that much of a problem if the machine worked as well as we wished it would. But the machine was frustratingly vague in its predictions: dark, and seemingly delighting in the ambiguities of language. OLD AGE, it had already turned out, could mean either dying of natural causes, or shot by a bedridden man in a botched home invasion. The machine captured that old-world sense of irony in death — you can know how it’s going to happen, but you’ll still be surprised when it does.
Each story/chapter was written by a different author. You can download the PDF of the book for free.
posted by komara at 10:41 AM on August 5, 2019


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