Soothing books with short chapters for pandemic brain and despair
May 9, 2020 6:38 AM   Subscribe

I recently finished Margaret Renkl's Late Migrations. It was the perfect book for right now, accommodating my fractured attention span, frequent insomnia, and deep grief and despair at the state of the world. Almost every chapter was less than 3 pages, and most involve nature intertwined with family memories. What other books are like this?

I try to keep a bedside book I can read before I fall asleep or when I'm dealing with insomnia. Not only do I really like the format of chapters that are less than a few pages long, it helps if the chapters don't have a lot of continuity so that if I read one at 3 AM and forget it the next day, I can pick up at the next chapter without having to go back and reread.

I love the voice of women nature writers like Terry Tempest Williams, Rachel Carson, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Rebecca Solnit (her earlier works) but most of their books seem to have chapters longer than what my brain can handle right now.

Recommendations don't have to be light - explorations into grief and pain are okay. I prefer something with more modern language (for example, while I love Moby Dick and am rereading it right now as my non-bedside book, the language is a little too antiquated and "extra" for what I need in a bedside book).

Other books I've found which scratch this itch are things like a compilation of thirty years of a naturalists column from a local newspaper.
posted by mostly vowels to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
If you have never read them, Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner are both comforting and extremely clever.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:47 AM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Birds Art Life by Kyo McClear is short and lovely and perfect for what you want.
posted by veery at 7:05 AM on May 9, 2020

I just finished The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo and recommend it whole-heartedly. It's barely a novella and the structure is of a dozen short chapters that are almost stand-alone stories. It's got a very strong sense of landscape and written with some beautiful imagery and phrasing.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:11 AM on May 9, 2020

It's close to your request, and an uncommonly good book. A Primate's Memoir, Robert Sapolsly. I recommend it a lot; it has a great deal to offer.
posted by theora55 at 8:05 AM on May 9, 2020

Ross Gay's *The Book of Delights* will not disappoint! These short essays are the result of Gay promising himself to write something every day that focused him on small joys in daily life. They are lyrical, meditative, and absorbing. Each one is short and, I've found, helps me focus better on the blessings around me.
posted by correcaminos at 9:12 AM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Fifth Woman by Nona Caspers is a novel in which each chapter works as a brief, standalone short story. The setting is mostly urban, but natural elements, from ants to the ocean, have a strong presence. It's such a beautiful book - surreal but lucid; about grief and memory and the strangeness of integrating profound loss into everyday life.
posted by prewar lemonade at 9:31 AM on May 9, 2020

If your primary criterion is length and continuity is not a concern, is there a reason you’re not considering short story collections? Specifically, I’m thinking of collections that share characters across stories, like the Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:41 AM on May 9, 2020

Mrs. Bridge and the sequel, Mr. Bridge. A life through vignettes, typically a couple of pages each.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:55 AM on May 9, 2020

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard might work!
posted by stillmoving at 11:20 AM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should have probably clarified that what I’m after is more “non-fiction nature essays that have a quasi literary vibe” and less short story collections. So yes, things in the vein of Pilgrim at Tinkers Creek is more of what I’m after.
posted by mostly vowels at 12:28 PM on May 9, 2020

Derek Jarman's Modern Nature might work for you. Jarman moved out to the relative middle of nowhere in England to cultivate a garden in the shadow of his AIDS diagnosis, and this is his memoir of that experience. A quick flip through suggests that the "chapters" tend to run around 10 to 15 pages (a month's worth). It's on the episodic and fragmentary side, so good for discontinuous reading.
posted by praemunire at 12:49 PM on May 9, 2020

You might really enjoy Jules Renard’s Nature Stories.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 12:55 PM on May 9, 2020

I think you would love The Hidden Life of Trees. Short chapters with beautiful insights into tree life, communication, biology, etc. It was the perfect pre-bed read.
posted by Paper rabies at 1:10 PM on May 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A Country Year by Sue Hubbell seems like it should work.
posted by gudrun at 7:16 PM on May 9, 2020

I highly recommend The Bet by Chekhov. It is perhaps the perfect story for these times. This book has other short stories as well, but this is a must-read.
posted by metasunday at 7:30 PM on May 9, 2020

I think you might enjoy the books of David Quammen.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:16 AM on May 10, 2020

Future space-based thrillers from (pen-name) James SA Corey, The Expanse series is 7 x 550-ish pages told in chapters that average 10 pages.
posted by k3ninho at 1:07 PM on May 10, 2020

It’s not nature-heavy, but Carmen Maria Machado’s In The Dream House has short chapters and doesn’t have a lot of continuity. (I actually listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and would recommend that too.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:56 PM on May 10, 2020

Marion Winik's Glen Rock Book of the Dead, Baltimore Book of the Dead, and (new, compiled) Big Book of the Dead, perhaps.
posted by jabes at 10:51 AM on May 11, 2020

Response by poster: Coming back around to say that A Country Year by Sue Hubbell was EXACTLY what I was after, and was a complete delight to read! I'm hoping to reserve a few others that haven't made it to our library's eBook lending platform yet.
posted by mostly vowels at 4:31 PM on July 7, 2020

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