Alexander Larman

Short books to read on the commute

  • From Spectator Life

As lockdown shows early signs of (finally) coming to an end, there is the likelihood that, once again, early morning trains will be full of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed commuters, keen to leave their ‘home offices’ in favour of being around people who they are neither married to nor responsible for. And this means, one hopes, that they will be choosing appropriate books for the hour or so’s journey into work. While there is a time and place for a 600-page behemoth, there is also something deeply rewarding (and, let us be quite frank, relieving) about a shorter title; not only is it considerably easier to fit inside a briefcase, handbag or satchel, but many great writers produced some of their finest work in less than 200 pages. Here are seven of our favourites, from classic novels to intensely moving memoirs.

The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh

Few of Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant satirical novels are especially long, but his fantasia on Hollywood and ‘the American way of death’ comes in at a snappy 160 pages. Published after Brideshead Revisited, it is everything that that (admittedly seminal) book is not: irreverent, blackly comic and jaw-droppingly scabrous. It tells the story of failed poet Dennis Barlow and his excursions into the Whispering Glades Memorial Park, an upmarket Californian mortuary, where death is viewed less as an end and more as a particularly bizarre beginning. It features all of the rich characterisation and distinctly un-PC one-liners that Waugh is associated with, and is probably the last of his fleet-footed satires. Thereafter, his work became graver and more pointed, arguably to its detriment.

High Windows, Philip Larkin

Everyone should read at least one volume of poetry a year, and Philip Larkin, although he is permanently teetering on the verge of cancellation, remains one of the most readable and vivid English-language poets who has ever lived.

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