I have two concrete rules: don’t get on a crowded elevator if you have to use the restroom (because it might break down), and never go anywhere without a book (so you have something to do if the elevator does break down). Related: Remind me not to go into an elevator this week.
Anyway, the best books for these situations have to be easy to pick up and put down, great for any mood, and of course, inspirational. Because if you’re going to be stuck in a tiny metal room, suspended in midair, you’re going to need something to lift your spirits while that metal room’s staying put.
Even if you don’t get caught in elevators frequently (is this an irrational fear? I’ve never actually had it happen, but I just have a FEELING that it will someday), you probably have little pockets of time that you might as well fill with reading. Waiting at the dentist? Stuck in a long line at the Apple Store? Anticipating a late professor? Legitimately stuck in an elevator? Have no fear! The following volumes are perfect slim reads you can keep in your bag (or on your e-reader) and read again, and again... and again.
Mermaids: The Myths, Legends, & Lore by Skye Alexander
This book is pure fun. I bought it on a whim because, honestly, it’s pretty and I wanted it on my bookshelf. But I quickly ended up completely absorbed. Lovers of fantasy will become enchanted by the short chapters and snappy prose, not to mention the empowering analysis about how mermaids = feminine power. Each chapter is brief and separates the book into different topics such as the history of mermaid lore, the physical characteristics of mermaids in legends, and mermaids in pop culture. Not only will it look pretty in your purse, but it will also be easy to dive in and out of this turquoise gem.
Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters by Kathleen Ragan
If your taste for fairytales goes beyond just mermaids, you can also check out this beautiful anthology by Kathleen Ragan. The stories in this collection are grouped by region, and cover retellings of females saving the day from all around the world. You'll probably recognize some fairytales you read when you were younger, but you can also discover new stories, not to mention Jane Yolen's awesome foreword about how these feminist stories have always been around. Since each section is divided into a complete short story, you can easily read one or two at a time and come back to the rest later.
Secret Lives of Great Authors: What Your Teachers Never Told You about Famous Novelists, Poets, and Playwrights by Robert Schnakenberg
This humorous and quirky book gives salacious snippets about the lives of great authors. Each chapter is a profile on a different author, so it’s easy to start and stop, and perfect to reread when you need a pick-me-up. Bonus: the pictures are hilarious and will quickly pull you into the book, no long exposition necessary. Not to mention that the cover is already colorful and quirky, so if it gets a little lipstick on it when tossed into your purse, it will just add to this book's character.
Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson
Before writing The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson published this book of quirky short stories. From odd narratives about spontaneous combustion, to counting steps to and from a Scrabble tile factory, this collection is bizarre but thought-provoking and will make wait times fly by. Most of the stories are relatively short and easy to get into, with simple yet elegant language, so you'll have no trouble finishing one during that previously mentioned commute to the Scrabble tile factory.
The Jane Austen Rules by Sinead Murphy
You’ve probably heard of The Rules, a controversial self-help dating guide that advises women to play confusing head games to attract “Mr. Right.” The Jane Austen Rules is a response to this book, taking quotes from The Rules and debunking them in the sassiest way possible — by using Jane Austen. Whether you’re looking for love or not, this book is hilarious and sure to entertain. It will fit perfectly next to the copy of Pride and Prejudice that's probably already at the bottom of your bag.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
This reflective piece of short fiction blends fantasy with nostalgia, creating a beautiful novella about youth and growing up. You can read it in one night, but the prose is so stunning and full of intricacies that you’ll want to revisit it again and again — in classic Gaiman style. This one belongs in a beach bag, backpack, or even your sequin clutch bag, because you'll always be in the mood for it. Not to mention its smooth structure makes it perfect to pick up and put down again without losing the storyline.
Flash Fiction Forward edited by James Thomas & Robert Shapard
This collection of 80 very short stories is great for filling even five extra minutes of your time. Banish the mindless minutes wasted on scrolling through your phone and pick this up instead — From Barbies to all girl bands to a story written in the form of a test, these two- to three-page tales are packed with themes to think about while on the go.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Nimona began as a web comic by author/artist Noelle Stevenson. You might recognize her art from the cover of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell! Those of you who haven't read Nimona yet are lucky, because you can buy the fantasy comic in book form instead of waiting for Noelle to post an update twice a week. Seriously, that wait was always excruciating. Anyway, since this comic was written in installments, you can certainly read it that way — or, of course, you can experience this magical, shape-shifting, dragon-filled, emotional roller coaster all at once.
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Did you know you can buy Les Mis in paperback? And that it's small and compact and basically a cube? NOW YOU KNOW. This is one of the greatest books of all time (TRUST ME), but it's a commitment. So, what better way to plod through a classic than by carrying it around everywhere? You'll look super-smart, and you'll get to experience prose that's guaranteed to be beautiful — after all, it's been celebrated for over a century. So if you can only fit one book in your purse (and if so, I would suggest buying a new purse), this would be a great choice.