Five Quick Reads for a Long Weekend

Featuring Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Patricia Highsmith, Thomas De Quincey, and J. L. Carr

A holiday weekend is upon us and even in the time of coronavirus a long weekend should mean good food, good people, and good books—as much as possible, at any rate. Who you spend the weekend with is up to your discretion, of course; and there are plenty of places where you can get advice on what to cook; but when it comes to books . . . well, hopefully we can a reliable source for great recommendations. With that in mind I put out the call to several of our editors and contributors looking for books that are: a) short enough to read in one weekend (or even one afternoon); b) enjoyable enough to plow through at a brisk pace; and c) good enough to recommend to the most discerning readers. The following list is their choices. You should be able to get each of these titles in audiobook or Kindle formats, or even from your local bookstore or library, if they’re doing curbside (or perhaps are open again). Or order from bookshop.org and make an afternoon of it some warm day soon.


Chronicle of a Death Foretold 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Chronicle of a Death Foretold is exactly what it claims to be. Santiago Nasar’s murderers announce their bloody intention to the entire town and the reader learns of their success all in the opening lines. He is stabbed to death outside his own (locked) front door by two brothers who believe he has deflowered their sister—a fact that is discovered rather awkwardly after her marriage to a prominent citizen the evening before. Chronicle of a Death Foretold was written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, so it is, at one and the same time, not what it claims to be. Although the identity of Santiago’s killers is public knowledge, the day of his death brims with mystery. As the non-linear story pieces together the events of that day, more perplexing questions emerge: Did Santiago actually commit the wrong he was killed for, and how—beloved as he was by many—did everyone in town come to know of his impending death without warning him or attempting to stop it? Weighing in just north of one hundred pages, Chronicle is a quick read, but Marquez’s ability to yoke together the preventable with the inevitable—eliciting tragic mystery from a foregone conclusion—will keep you up till you’ve turned the last page. —Sean Johnson

Get it at Bookshop.org and help independent booksellers.

Get the Kindle version from Amazon



The Little Prince 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

During the twentieth century, French existentialists like Sartre and Camus wrote prolifically on some of life’s most perplexing questions: What is the meaning of an individual existence? How can we participate in human relationships when the Other could corrupt our individual identity? Why is communicating meaning through language so difficult? Is that difficulty a sign that there is no meaning? And if there is no meaning, why should we live at all? Their tomes participated in a complex framework of esoteric, philosophical language. And the further they dived into complicated issues, the more obtuse their language became. Then Antoine de Saint-Exupéry entered the conversation by publishing his philosophical masterpiece in 1943. Not only does The Little Prince run under 100 pages long, but it is also a whimsical picture book aimed at young readers. Still, Saint-Exupéry tackles these same questions. He approaches them with childlike faith and a simplicity that somehow manages to incisively brush away each creeping existential doubt. It is truly a testament to the power of children’s literature. So if you have an hour or two to alter your understanding of life, look no further than this little volume and the color of the wheat fields. —Emily Andrews

Get it at Bookshop.org and help independent booksellers.

Get the Kindle version from Amazon

Get the audiobook on Audible


Strangers on a Train

Patricia Highsmith


Skip the Hitchcock film and go straight to Patricia Highsmith’s debut novel about two strangers—one a young alcoholic and the other an up-and-coming architect—whose destinies are curiously intertwined after sharing a meal together on a train. As with the best of Highsmith’s work, Strangers on a Train is a carefully observed study of guilt, loneliness, fear, lust, distrust, dishonesty, and every other dark emotion you care to name. I rarely read modern fiction because I can’t get over the suspicion that there’s something better and older I ought to be reading instead—besides, who needs to read a twentieth century work twice? And yet Strangers on a Train offers some dazzling revelations about what makes people tick on every page. For the reader who takes some solace in confessing his sins, Highsmith’s gutting account of her heroes will aid in the task. —Joshua Gibbs

Get it at Bookshop.org and help independent booksellers.

Get the Kindle version from Amazon

Get the audiobook on Audible


Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

Thomas De Quincey

That estimable editor David Kern asked me for a book that would be “fun to plow through,” one requiring “5-6 hours to read or less.” What I’ve come up with is a book that would be a sin to plow through, one to dip into and savor, skipping about as you please—and yet, I maintain, it is entirely in keeping with the spirit of this list intended for a long holiday weekend: Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. I should tell you that the book’s ostensible subject is not the reason I always keep a copy at my bedside. In fact, I generally dislike books about drug-taking, and I usually skip those passages when I’m dipping into this one (though the very beginning, on this theme, is magnificent). No: I read the Confessions for De Quincey’s fantastic and yet whimsical erudition, for his serpentine sentences and cunningly digressive style, for the sheer excess of his imagination. I roll his words around in my mouth with a kind of ecstasy. You can obtain an e-book easily this weekend, but you’ll be wanting the real thing if you too become a convert to this magnificent freak of English prose. —John Wilson

Get it at Bookshop.org and help independent booksellers.

Get the Kindle version from Amazon

Get the audiobook on Audible


A Month in the Country

J.L. Carr


Tom Birkin—mid-twenties, recently-divorced, and a veteran of the Great War—arrives in a rural English village called Oxgodby where he has been invited to uncover a centuries-old mural in the local church. Meanwhile, another former-soldier has been hired to wander the nearby fields in search of a lost grave. Each evening the two men gather to discuss the day’s accomplishments, remember the horrific war they lived through, and contemplate an uncertain future. This might sound like the setup for a Father Brown or Brother Cadfael story, and in a way A Month in the Country is a mystery novel, but ultimately this brief novella has more in keeping with the work of Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. Despite releasing in 1980, it reads like something published the same week as Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. As with the work of those enduring authors, Carr’s book is about spiritual malaise: about despair and fear and being haunted by the ghosts of a world that no longer exists. But it’s also about beauty and hope and renewal. The whole thing may be a bit on the nose—a divorced former soldier whose spirit is revived while beautiying a church in an idyllic village—but the particulars of the novel are so deftly rendered that the experience itself is rather transcendent. And in that it might the perfect little novel for the beginning of summer in a world that seems changed forever. —David Kern

Get it at Bookshop.org and help independent booksellers.


If you like this list you’ll love what a full subscription gets you: great digital content along these lines, plus two beautiful eighty-page print issues every year. The next issue is hitting mailboxes soon so be sure to subscribe now!