11 Book Recommendations For Really Busy People

With email inboxes always overflowing, social media accounts to keep up with, and a cellphone that gives everyone a little more access to you than they should have, we all get a little busy sometimes. Then, however, there’s a whole other class of BUSY PEOPLE. You know who you are: You’re the one who puts in 10 hours a day at the office before heading straight from work to your volunteer gig teaching kids how to code, then over to your kickboxing class halfway across the city, and then you still have a dinner date with a potential client, a couple of articles to read for work the next day, and a favor you promised you’d help a friend with. So, when your friends ask you what you’re reading, you probably break out into uncontrollable laughter — read? Read?! Who has time read?!

Well, happily, even the busiest person can find a way to get in a little reading every day (and you could definitely use a few pages of pretty language and interesting ideas to keep you going on a daily basis). It’s just a matter of finding the right books. No, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck reading flash fiction (though that’s not a bad idea, either) or books whose page counts never hit the 100 mark. Instead, try out some of these:

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

Made up of a collection of many short paragraphs and poetic fragments, The Book of Disquiet as a whole tells the life story of Bernardo Soares, but in digestible little bits. So, if you only have a handful of minutes between meetings, you can always reach for this book to add a little literature to your day.

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A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

A brief read packed with great advice, like, “No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself,” and even good reminders like, “a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Aside from that, it’s also kind of an important feminist text that’ll inspire you to keep up that hard work (without making yourself crazy!).

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The Tenth of December by George Saunders

George Saunders is one of the best when it comes to short stories. His stories are unexpected and addictive. If you just have absolutely no time during the day, then this is the book to grab right before you call it a night. Saunders’ creative stories about the absurdities, griefs, and realities of being human draw you in so you’ll have no trouble staying awake long enough to finish at least one a night.

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Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer

Reading Trafalgar is like catching up over lunch with that friend who always has the coolest stories to tell, probably because it is written as a series of stories told by the narrator Trafalgar Medrano to different listeners as if over coffee. Trafalgar tells each listener a different tale of his travels as an intergalactic salesman. But this isn’t a heavy dose of sci-fi; the conversational tone of the book allows you to step into more magical worlds without really feeling like your feet have left the ground. It’s a good book to help you escape the chaos of your busy life without having to commit to the hardcore escapism of the usual sci-fi and adventure novels.

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Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

It’s short, it’s current, it’s powerful. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in a direct way without sacrificing poetic beauty, which makes the book technically easy to read, though the subject matter makes it a tougher read. For the busy person who’s looking for a book they can read quickly without sacrificing the importance and impact of the subject matter, this book is perfect.

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Brief Interviews With Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

This collection of “interviews” tells the stories of different men from their perspectives, so you can always dive into a new story without having to keep track of what you read the last time you had a moment to take a breather and read. But the narratives are also tied together by common themes and threads, so that by the end you’ll feel like you read a complete cohesive work.

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Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

Most people know Zora Neale Hurston for her famous novel Their Eyes Her Watching God, but she was a pretty busy lady herself. Besides publishing a bunch of fiction, she was also working hard as a dedicated anthropologist and folklorist — recording negro spirituals, work songs, and stories for preservation (which awesomely enough you can listen to at the Library of Congress!), writing essays, and, in the case of Mules and Men , travelling throughout the South collecting the folklore of southern Black culture. It’s a collection of tales so you can read it in small bursts, but the tales are told through Hurston’s own story of travelling down south to collect these stories, so mixed in with the tales you also get a glimpse of one of American literature’s dopest authors at work, as well as a lot of cultural context. You basically get a lot of rich material out of it without having to put in too much time.

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Working by Studs Terkel

If it’s work that’s keeping you so busy, you’ll want to pick up this book. In nine different sections, the text gives you a glimpse into the different lives of people who work different jobs — from farmers to sanitation truck drivers to baseball players and executives. These diverse perspectives on work and different careers will remind you of the reasons you pour yourself into your work, make you give serious thought to what your work means to you, or just offer up a little empathy for the hours of your life you’re throwing into that soul-crushing office job.

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Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson

At barely more than 100 pages, this book could be read in less than a day if you’ve got the time. If not, it also happens to be the first novel published by a black woman in North American history, which means that it’s old enough to be in the public domain… which means you can get it for free on Project Gutenberg and totally sneak-read it on your laptop or smartphone during the boring parts of that industry conference you have to go to.

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The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh

This book is a tiny little thing, but it’s got big ideas — ideas that might help you find ways to take a breath and make sure you're appreciating life a little with your busy schedule.

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The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton by Lucille Clifton

Don’t knock poetry. If you’re an insanely busy, poetry can be your best friend, giving you that burst of energy, creativity, peace, or motivation that you need to keep going with your day. Lucille Clifton is an amazing poet, and, considering she wrote most of her poems at her kitchen table while looking after six kids, she knows a thing or two about being busy too. Clifton’s poems are simple though, direct, so you won’t have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what they mean. And they run the gamut of emotions, ideas, reflections on daily living… so you can take a brief second out of your busy day and put a little poetry in it.

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“It is strange how a scrap of poetry works in the mind and makes the legs move in time to it along the road.”

― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Image: Monica Andino/Bustle