Recently I became a father. As any new parent will tell you, this doesn't leave a lot of time for reading, even if you happen to run a publishing company. As a result, over the last two years I’ve become a connoisseur of the shorter tome, or the more casual reading experience. The books that can be devoured in short increments or without too much cognitive application. That isn’t to say that the books I’ve listed below lack quality or depth - just that for whatever reason they were easier to consume whilst sleep deprived.
Over the past few years I’ve read nearly all of Sciascia’s book’s that have been translated into English. Preoccupied with the inescapable, fatalistic nature of corruption in Italy, his novellas and short story collections are mostly loose detective stories where things happen slowly. But Sciascia’s work is very much centred in the real world and despite ever-present humour, there are no cosy redemptive conclusions to be found in the face of the political corruption and Sicilian mafia of mid-century Italy.
Graphic novels are a lifeline for the sleep deprived; not just because there are fewer words, but the pictures accompanying the words mean you don’t even need to use your imagination.
Killing and Dying is a collection of poignant, sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and very very readable short stories. I read it during the early days of fatherhood when sleep was at an absolute premium. Tomine’s brief comics are easily consumed, but take significantly longer to digest. I found myself returning to each story in my mind to rotate and examine them — always landing upon something new to pull apart.
Ginzburg’s novella opens with a wife shooting her husband (on page one!) and from there it tracks back through the relationship to figure out the point at which things went wrong. Very much a one-sitting read, The Dry Heart is literary melodrama at its best — simple, conflicted and ultimately tragic. If you’re a fan of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair then you will probably get on well with this even shorter and snappier novella.
Joel Lane is one of the greatest post-war writers of Weird Fiction and it is an ongoing travesty that he hasn't received the recognition he deserves. Thankfully Influx Press is doing their bit by republishing all of his work and I’m eagerly awaiting the new edition of Where the Furnaces Burn in October.
I had to attend several meetings in London last year in sleepless fugue, and ended up with a few hours to kill. I set up shop outside a café, chain drank several coffees and burned through the entirety of The Witnesses are Gone. A shaggy-dog detective story investigating a disturbing occult video tape, it contains everything that I love about Lane’s writing; morbid and disturbing Weird imagery bleeds through into the depressing kitchen-sink realism of everyday life in the Midlands.
This book is neither short (it is actually two books that form a duology published as a single omnibus) nor particularly easy to decipher, so it might seem an odd inclusion for this list. But, for the sleep deprived, Firefall has something in its corner that easily wins out against the odds — it is a very original page-turner, guaranteed to keep your bedside light switched on into the small hours.
Watts takes several cliched tropes of the scifi/fantasy genre and turns them all on their head to come up with something startlingly original. A through-line of cosmic horror holds everything together as he pushes the genre right to its limitations swallowing up a number of sub-genres as he goes. Whatever your scifi itch, Firefall scratches it and as it pushes it to uncomfortable extremes.
Practically every page of Johnny Ryan’s graphic novel features a beheading or a dismemberment or some other form of grotesque slapstick violence and it is hilarious. From start to finish, it is some of the most fun I’ve ever had reading a book. Rather than give you anymore words of my own, let’s finish on a high and I’ll just give you the blurb:
“Welcome to The Prison Pit, a planet full of repugnant intergalactic criminals, drug-filled slugs, and now Cannibal Fuckface (CF), who intends to slaughter anyone or anything that attempts to get in the way of his escape.”
Nathan Connolly is the Managing Director of Dead Ink Books.