It’s AP Exams season where I work, and finals time for many a college and high school. Which means legions of bleary-eyed students trying to summon up the discipline for a last surge of studying, even though they just want to be done. The sunshine is calling. I hear it too, and even though I’m well past the exam-taking phase of life, I’m still in crunch mode, trying to power through to many deadlines.
For the dedicated bookworms among us, studying for exams generally requires two sets of reading; the materials we’re actually supposed to be reviewing, and the reading we sneak for “study breaks.” This is a calculated strategy (no, really!) designed to achieve the perfect balance of discipline and release, allowing us to get all the necessary reviewing in while also getting enough of a break to feel revived and ready for…still more reviewing. Because the internet and everything that lives there can rapidly turn into a vast time-suck, all responsible students (and worker-bees) know: if you’re serious about getting something done, you have to stay (temporarily) signed out of all the stuff, especially this close to the finish line. And the pitfalls of streaming-binges are obvious, so the TV’s got to stay off too (as do the game consoles).
But a book…a book feels studious, even if what we’re reading isn’t likely to show up on any exams, or help cross anything off a task list.
So. What to read when you don’t really have time to be reading at all, but you absolutely must get a little escape in if you have any hope of staying motivated long enough to cover everything you’ve still got to do?
Unless you are a reader with very good self-discipline, novels are probably out. Novels are what we get to read when everything on the task list is actually done, when grades are in, school is out, and your to-do list is all inked-out lines.
Page count matters when you’re on a deadline. Short-ish graphic novels and short story collections are what we need when time is at a premium; pieces vivid enough to truly escape into, and short enough that we emerge from our work-respite refreshed and ready to dive back into the task at hand.
Here, then, are some suggestions for quick escapes, to tide you over until the freedom of summer is a reality, and not just a highly-anticipated future fantasy.
Lips Touch, Three Times by Laini Taylor. Are you a fan of sweeping fantasy shot through with romance, like Taylor’s epic Daughter of Smoke and Bone series? Well, here are three short stories about three different girls who’ve never been kissed, told in Taylor’s distinct, dramatic style, with brief page counts (but high pulse rates). A 2010 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults book.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. This is an I’m-too-busy-to-read jackpot of a book; short chapters in graphic format, thematically connected to make one creepy wave of foreboding descend over the reader. Gorgeous colors, stick-with-you-after-dark frames, and spare, haunting prose combine to make this 2015 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens pick a fast – but memorable – escape into the murky depths of the woods.
The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang. This is another short story/graphic novel hybrid, with three distinct tales showcasing Yang’s mastery of the form. For stories so short, these reach serious emotional heights, exploring big, sticky ideas with compassion and humor. A 2010 Best Books for Young Adults pick.
Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier. Certainly one of the most entertaining questions of our time, answered in alternately amusing, creepy, horrifying, and moving stories by an, ahem, veritable stable of YA’s most celebrated authors: Alaya Dawn Johnson, Maureen Johnson, Carrie Ryan, Scott Westerfeld, Meg Cabot, Garth Nix, Diana Peterfreund, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, and more. A 2011 Teens Top Ten nominee, and, as an audiobook, a 2012 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults pick.
Black Juice by Margo Lanagan. Margo Lanagan builds strange, vaguely sinister worlds peopled with slightly off-kilter characters. If you like your fairy tales more Grimm than not, she’s definitely an author you should be reading, and this is one of her most celebrated collections. A 2006 Printz Honor book, and a 2006 Best Books for Young Adults pick.
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson. See Carli Spina’s awesome post on this year’s Eisner nominations for more about this origin story that is a great mash-up of tried and true comic tropes and some much-need new angles.
These are just a few suggestions for those times when you really really don’t have time to start a new book, but you’re going to anyway (full disclosure: my college “study break” reading of choice was Harry Potter, over and over again, but I cannot in good conscious recommend that as a “quick” break, because I always got sucked in 100 pages longer than I’d budgeted for!). What are some short, quick reads you’re excited to fit in when there’s really no time to fit anything else?
-Carly Pansulla, currently reading Vango by Timothée de Fombelle