The team at the Willoughby Book Club are known for reading on the go. Be it train, plane or bus, we’re always trying to squeeze in a few more minutes with our books wherever possible.
Call us dramatic, but is there anything worse than sitting back to relax on a long journey and realising that you have forgotten to bring your book with you?
If you’re more likely to pick up a physical book than a Kindle, it can often be tricky to decide which one you should pack. Hardbacks can be too cumbersome, but some paperbacks are just as big and heavy.
After years of collectively attempting to perfect our commutes, excursions, and holiday travels, we have discovered some perfectly proportioned books.
We’ve compiled a list of super-portable, Willoughby-recommended books for your backpack, tote bag, or even your dungarees pocket! So, wherever you go, you’ll be sure not to run out of reading material- and lighten your load in the process.
The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century by Olga Ravn
Published to mimic a work handbook, The Employees is one of those books which uses its unique formatting to enhance the reading experience.
It’s a slim little sci-fi book, divided into witness statements recorded after the events that take place. Set in the near-distant future, millions of kilometres from Earth, on the Six-Thousand ship, the crew have taken several, mysterious objects on board from a planet named New Discovery. The crew members soon become deeply attached to these objects, which in turn bring up buried feelings about what it means for them to be so far away from home, thoughts about loved ones who were left behind, and speculation about what it truly means to be human.
It’s also a clever dissection of the ideals of work and productivity. Subtly foreboding, yet very moving, it’s an original, profound piece of fiction that deserves to be in the hands (and bags) of as many readers as possible.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
A few years ago, Picador Modern Classics released several beautiful special edition, pocket-sized hardbacks, designed to fit in your pocket. Featuring both renowned fiction and non-fiction titles, including work from Joan Didion, Marilynne Robinson, and Hilary Mantel, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides is a fantastic stand-out from the impressive collection. Now something of a cult classic and made doubly famous by Sofia Coppola’s film adaptation, it’s a haunting coming-of-age story narrated by a young neighbour who recounts the bizarre and tragic lives of the five Lisbon sisters in the 1970s, who for their own reasons, each die by suicide.
It’s clever, accessible book and will shorten any trip with its strange, dream-like story.
Foster by Claire Keegan
Any book by Claire Keegan would be worthy of a handbag! Her prose is pared back, and every word is selected with precision. Foster can be read in one sitting and should, in our humble opinion, be read in one sitting.
A young girl in Ireland is sent to live with foster parents on a farm, after her pregnant mother and unaffectionate father struggle to feed a growing family. At first unsure of her new home, the girl is soon enveloped in the love and warmth of the Kinsellas.
If you enjoyed Keegan’s Booker-nominated Small Things Like These, you must read this short piece. It’s full of empathy and tenderness and will stay with you for a long time.
Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette.
This is a piercing work of fiction, set during the summer of 1949, one year after the Nabka, in which 700,000 Palestinians were displaced and expelled from their homeland by Israeli settlers. It’s a mystery novel of sorts, but one that finds no pleasure in the solving of the crime, as a woman many years later seeks to resolve the ‘minor detail’ of one woman’s horrific death at the hands of Israeli soldiers.
If you have been on the search for Palestinian writing, Shibli’s is a fantastic example. She shows us all exactly how the novella form can make the greater impact, with 144 pages of unapologetically political writing, on the importance of memory, displacement, and violence. The fact that the narrative is based on a true account makes Shibli’s narrative decision even more poignant.
If you’re not afraid to shy away from heavier topics when you’re reading on-the-go, this one would be a near-perfect one to pick up.
Weasels in the Attic by Hiroko Oyamada, translated by David Boyd.
You can always rely on Japanese writers to publish super interesting and surreal slice-of-life books. These three interconnected short stories are a snapshot of a set of characters, taking part in seemingly ordinary, daily tasks. They are suffused with unease and an uncanny feeling that there is more being left unsaid than is actually said.
Seemingly banal on the surface, two friends chat with one another, the conversations revolving around animals and food, skirting around and evading the real meaning of what they are really saying.
It’s a clever short story collection, with its simplicity a jumping off point for interesting discussions on motherhood and masculinity. You’ll finish it in a matter of hours!
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
The second Irish author in this list, Colm Toibin is a master of storytelling, as well as a master of brevity. Brooklyn is a moving period piece, which centres on a homesick Irish ex-patriate, settling in Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1950s. She longs for the mother and sister she left behind in Ireland, but endeavours to successfully navigate her new world, finding work, love, and heartbreak along the way.
If you’re travelling and feeling like a fish out of water, Toibin’s beautiful prose will comfort you as you explore pastures new.
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
Considered one of America’s best writers of the last century, Johnson’s writing won’t be for every reader, but for those intrigued by his stories, he will not disappoint.
Described as an “epic in miniature”, Train Dreams is set in the West, spanning the years of the early twentieth century and follows a day labourer named Robert Grainier as he lives through the social changes that occur over his lifetime.
Crease it, underline, shove it in your coat pocket, but carry it with you on the train for some ‘meta’ reading time. It’s a fine example of Americana at its best.
Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades
“We live in the dregs of Queens, New York”. So opens the debut novel of Daphne Palasi Andreades. Narrated with the choral ‘we’, Brown Girls is a refreshing, originally-told story that follows the titular ‘brown girls’, growing up together in Queens.
For such a short book, it spans childhood, adulthood and motherhood, as the five friends and the other women around them all navigate life, coming and going, and exploring their relationships to home, to their cultural identities and their community.
Queens comes alive the more you read on. It’s a fantastic, underrated book that has a lot to say in 169 pages. If you want a vibrant, heartfelt love letter to friendship and belonging, look no further.