If the busyness of this time of year crowds out your reading time, it might be wise to turn to books that can withstand repeated cycles of picking up and putting down. Most novels don’t weather that kind of reading well, but nonfiction, poetry, and short story collections often do. Here are five excellent titles truly suited to sporadic reading.
- Archangel by Andrea Barrett (Norton).
The five stories collected here are each tiny gems, historically set, idea rich, and abundant in Barrett’s lyrical blend of clarity and wonder. Two of the pieces feature the same central character, first as a young boy and then as a grown man and soldier. Others investigate theories of science and the determination of women. All offer examples of exquisite writing that is full of power, detail, and grace.
- The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark (Harper). Clark’s authoritative survey of the events and circumstances leading up to World War I is accessible, masterly, and deeply compelling. Smartly arranged in three parts, the focused and highly readable chapters sustain intermittent reading, while Clark’s evenhanded, comprehensive, and accessible style encourage longer sessions when possible.
- A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture by Virginia Savage McAlester (Knopf). Examining more than 50 urban and suburban house styles and covering seven historical periods, McAlester’s guide to domestic architecture is an endless delight. Fully illustrated and detailed, this addictive and much welcomed update to a seminal resource will fuel any number of walks around the neighborhood and inform travels farther afield as well.
- The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer with Martha Rose Shulman (Knopf). Cookbooks make delightful reading when one is pressed for time but still hoping to sink into a book for a little while. Combine that accessibility with an imminently useful—and inspiring—guide to making pastry, written by renowned baker and French Pastry School instructor Pfeiffer, and this precise instruction manual becomes a go-to winner.
- Incarnadine by Mary Szybist (Graywolf). Szybist’s National Book Award–winning collection of poems centers on the Annunciation and calls readers to spend as much time as possible within its grip. Its size alone is an invitation—at a mere 72 pages, holding it is a delight. The poet’s play on form furthers the engagement, but it is her skill with lyric, words, and the mix of the profound and the everyday that will keep readers late for their next engagement.