Get off the internet
August 3, 2022 5:39 PM   Subscribe

End of day exhaustion, short bursts between tasks, while waiting for an appointment or a call... What books can I read when I have little chunks of time or in the times I usually turn to stupid internet scrolling? I'm thinking of like, lightweight humor, short essays, micro-fiction, poetry, joke books?? I guess anything that you can read in short bursts and that is at some level distracting/engaging. Doesn't have to be highbrow - I just want to read more books instead of staring at my goddamn phone.

I like long books but usually need to have some energy and a chunk of free time to read them. So all my shorter or more depleted times tend to regress to the stupid internet, playing dumb phone games, or whatever stupid online shit I don't really want to be doing. Help me find something very slightly better for my brain!
posted by latkes to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Samantha Irby’s books are engaging but also tend towards smaller vignettes that might work better for short bursts
posted by raccoon409 at 5:46 PM on August 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

There's The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which consists of multiple "entries" that are more or less prose poetry. Easy to read an entry or two and then set it down, and in fact, I'd say that's the best way to read it.
posted by yasaman at 5:53 PM on August 3, 2022

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.

Also I'm finding the chapters in the latest William Gibson 'Jackpot' books so short they may be just what you're looking for.
posted by Rash at 5:55 PM on August 3, 2022

A method rather than content: maybe put an ebook app on your phone. That way when muscle memory puts your phone into your hands, it's just as easy to get to your book as to a time-wasty website. (Ahem).

For very good short books, try The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. It's fantastic novella-length sci-fi. (And nowhere near as dark or violent as the title implies)
posted by hovey at 6:04 PM on August 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

posted by kevinbelt at 6:23 PM on August 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

I recently enjoyed reading 100 Whites, which is about shades/instantiations of the color, not about Caucasians. Each section is about 1.5 pages.
posted by praemunire at 6:28 PM on August 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound counterintuitive, and I've never done it, but: apparently War and Peace is a very manageable reading project over the course of a year. It's like 360 chapters with an average length of just a few pages. People seem to love doing the "War and Peace in a year" project.

I'd second magazines, or a comic book that is engaging.

I'd also recommend Richard Brautigan's poetry.

I enjoyed this Khadija Queen book of poetry.

Something I really love is just a big old book of pictures that I'm interested in. I'm interested in pottery, for example, and can spend an hour looking at the book "500 Cups" in much the same way I could fall into, say Tik Tok, but without the gross existential regret feeling of a hangover.

I really love this question, latkes.
posted by kensington314 at 6:30 PM on August 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Nancy McPhee's book of insults and Second Book of Insults available through Internet Archives Books to Borrow program — the second one is, anyway; I can’t even remember whether I read the first one. I don’t think I ever found it, though I did look.

Also Moira Tatem's and Iona Opie's A Dictionary of Superstitions, focused on England, Scotland, and Ireland and also available through IA. Opie is coauthor with her husband of the 'Children's Games in Street and Playground' series.

A Dictionary of Superstions has proven inexhaustibly fascinating to me over a couple of decades now, and I’ve spent many hours reading hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds!) of snippets describing these folk beliefs, their sources, geographic locations and dates. Despite the somewhat slighting "Superstitions" of the title, there is not a scrap of judgement, condescension, or contempt to be found there despite an abundance of good-natured fun as well as quite a bit of darkness.

Here is small sample from p.239:
1787 GROSE Pro- vincial Glossary Superstitions 62. If, in a family, the youngest daughter should be married before her elder sisters, they must all dance at her wedding without shoes: this will counteract their ill luck, and procure them husbands. 1863 R. CHAMBERS Book of Days I 723 [Suffolk] If a younger sister marries before the elder one, the elder must dance in the hog’s trough. In the case to which I refer, a brother went through the ceremony also, and the dancers performed their part so well, that they danced both the ends off the trough, and the trough itself into two pieces. 1883 BURNE Shropshire 290-1. It is an old Shropshire custom, kept up in humble life, that if a younger sister should be married before her elders, the latter must dance at the wedding in their ‘stocking-feet’. This was actually done at a wedding at Hod- net in 1881; and in the same year a maid-servant, who omitted to do so at a younger sister’s wedding, was thus accosted by her aunt .. ‘So I hear you didna dance barfut! I’m ashamed of you. If I’d ’a bin there I’d ’a made you do it’
posted by jamjam at 6:38 PM on August 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Mefite Mchelly wrote a fun futuristic novel title Norma Gene
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:47 PM on August 3, 2022

I like for this. You can get them via email too.
posted by SJustS at 7:12 PM on August 3, 2022

I picked up some magazine subscriptions for this very reason. I wanted something to fill those little moments where you would otherwise scroll through the web while you are between things. It has actually been really cool to have tangible things within reach to flip through that also don't ask for the same level of commitment as a book does.

I like fiction magazines and have been really enjoying Infinite Worlds and the first issue of Infinite Horror. They are a grab bag of short fiction, comics, and art. They also usually have one interview and an article or essay. There are no advertisements.

There is actually kind of a small renaissance going on with magazines right now thanks to patreon/crowdfunding and quality print on demand services. There is a lot out there right now, but they can be a little tricky to find. Try searching patreon for "magazine" or search for independent magazines or print periodicals. Based on your ask, you would probably like American Chordata. They only have one back issue available for order, though.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 7:19 PM on August 3, 2022

Oh, if you're adventurous you could subscribe to Stack. They will send you a different independent magazine every month. Browsing through their previous month's magazines might be a good way to find something that interests you.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 7:23 PM on August 3, 2022

I just picked up Margaret Atwood's Burning Questions, and it would seem to fit the bill.
posted by Dashy at 8:39 PM on August 3, 2022

Shaun Bythell has some memoirs about running a bookstore in Scotland.
Jen Campbell writes Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops and a sequel.

Both are pretty episodic and not narrative. Also pretty funny!
posted by soelo at 9:05 PM on August 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

Get off the 21stC and find the short stories of W. W. Jacobs [1863-1943]: a British contemporary of O. Henry but a lot lighter in his exposures of the human condition - like The Garden Plot. Ignore his ghost-story The Monkey's Paw which scared the bejaysus out of me when I was a kid.
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:40 PM on August 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you like going to the library, I strongly suggest letting yourself wander away from where you normally might grab books and into random non-fiction sections. I bring home all kinds of unusual books about topics that I am casually interested in when I feel free from the pressure of reading the whole book. Giant books about plants and animals, art books with works from specific eras/artists, cookbooks with nice pictures where I can just cruise recipes I'll probably never cook, travel guides, home maintenance, self help, fashion compendiums, books about boats, fairy tales from various cultures, magnified scientific images, etc. Just walking through the non-fiction section, picking up things that look kind of interesting, and then stacking them next to my couch to flip through when I'm thinking about looking at my phone has been a really fun update to my reading life. For me, removing the idea that I have to read and finish the whole book has been game-changing to my selections and my enjoyment.

Also, my library always has a couple of shelves that have curated books from the librarians that fall loosely into the category of pop culture. I'm always pleasantly surprised by some of the fun finds there -- it's kind of gift shoppy stuff, heavier on photos, current trends, popular foods/fashions, memes, etc., but usually very enjoyable stuff. A couple examples from that section are a "Where to go When: Europe" guide from Lonely Planet -- filled with facts, pics, and lots of opportunities to dream about travel, and a whole book about dumplings in different cultures -- how to make them, what they look like, why they're called what they're called. Good stuff!

Last idea: poems! I find flipping through a poetry book and reading just one or two that catch my eye a very soothing substitute to phone scrolling.
posted by luzdeluna at 5:39 AM on August 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

I just got the giant collection of all of Emily Dickinson's poems (edited by R. W. Franklin), and they are both short and dense -- so in a few minutes you can read several, or re-re-read a tricky one.

I have an English degree, and never gave Dickinson the attention she deserved before this.Some of the poems are kind of throw-away things, and others earned a dog-eared page. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:25 AM on August 4, 2022

I just had Covid and I spent my brief waking moments rereading all my old books of Dave Barry columns. Very short pieces, funny (if you are okay with white-boomer-guy humor) and non-demanding.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:53 AM on August 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Look for something along the line of those old "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books. Really short essays, designed to be emotionally engaging. Stories about dogs in that kind of a format, or gardening, or visiting Iceland, or the latest successes in protecting the climate - any subject you are interested in.

This might give you some ideas.

Get a couple of anthologies of poetry out of the library and read through, looking for poems that work for you. Make a note of any that resonate, and then look for poetry by those authors. A pad of post it notes will be handy while reading the anthologies. Try Alden Nowlan, Wendell Berry, Elinor Lyon, Warsan Shire, Patricia Lockwood, Jenny Zhang.

Look for any collection of essays by a columnist you can stand. - Gwynne Dyer, Maureen Dowd, Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, anyone whoever has a book out you can get from your library. Consider reading columnists you don't necessarily agree with, but who will make you think, and want to debate with them, but not writers who merely fill you with outrage or disdain.

Pick some topic you wish you knew more about and look for young adult non-fiction on that topic. Brazil, optics, pre-Columbian history, the history of manga, Black baseball leagues, NASA, the immune system - anything you know you are ignorant about and feel it as a lack. Read three or more different books on the topic.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:37 AM on August 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Try classical short fiction that you might have missed.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:40 AM on August 4, 2022

Alexander McCall Smith's books are great for this. Short chapters, gentle humor, not too much to remember. Some of his books were originally published as newspaper serials, so they were written to be read in small chunks and with the expectation that people may not remember something from ten chapters ago.
posted by Mournful Bagel Song at 8:57 AM on August 4, 2022

The Book of Delights and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay.

(Also, I too need short things to read in little chunks of time, so thank you for asking this question.)
posted by kristi at 2:17 PM on August 6, 2022

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