Although no longer currently in college myself, I still remember well the frenzied week(s) as I would rush to study for exams and write final papers and reflections for my classes, often while trying to also grab final moments with friends who were graduating or going abroad. The even bigger challenge, of course, was wishing I had time to do all of the things I normally loved doing: reading, writing, and watching tv/movies. In honor of that tension felt by many college students dealing with finals now or in the coming week, I have compiled a list of books that I consider “quick-reads” that could be used as ways to procrastinate during finals. Most range from 100-200 pages, and are either things that I first read in a single day, or could be broken up into nice chunks in between studying. Happy procrastinating!
The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories by Tim Burton
For some reason I never seem to tire of Burton’s dark humor in this collection of poems and illustrations that include such characters as Voodoo Girl, The Pin Cushion Queen, and, of course, Oyster Boy himself. The illustrations are just as creepy as the characters, so maybe don’t pick this one if you are easily scared of anything remotely creepy.
Astray by Emma Donoghue
She also has at least one other collection of short stories, and her novels are pretty good too (but longer). I included this collection on the list because many of the stories in it are very short, so they would be easy to reward yourself with on studying breaks.
Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein by Stephanie Hemphill
I stumbled onto this at my public library a few years ago and found it both strange and very interesting. This verse novel tells the story of Mary Shelley and the writing of her novel Frankenstein. It includes many of the details of Shelley’s difficult and complicated life, and would be good context for anyone who has read the classic recently.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Would also highly recommend The Graveyard Book and Coraline. Neil Gaiman does short and powerful works very well, so he has several that would work well as a finals week distraction, depending on what exactly you’re looking for. Out of these three, The Graveyard Book is probably my favorite, but The Ocean at the End of the Lane is his latest, which is why I listed it first.
“Howl” by Allen Ginsburg (specifically the graphic novel edition illustrated by Eric Drooker)
I read this at some point during my senior year of college when I realized in horror that despite having heard people reference it many times, I had never actually read “Howl.” Luckily my college’s library had the beautiful graphic novel edition, illustrated by Eric Drooker, and I highly recommend that edition if you can get your hands on it. The illustrations were created for the animation sequences in the 2010 movie about the poem (and the controversy surrounding it) starring James Franco. Drooker is a former street artist who actually collaborated with Ginsberg on his final book of poetry.
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
Also would recommend Written on the Body. Jeanette Winterson is probably the author that led me to fall in love with the concept of literary fiction. Her prose is so beautiful that I often find myself reading as slowly as possible in order to savor it. That said, her works are still quite short, and even if you take your time to enjoy them, they probably won’t take you very long to read.
How to (Un)cage a Girl by Francesca Lia Block
A collection of poetry about being a girl, growing up into a woman, etc. It’s angsty for sure, but if you were someone who struggled a lot with your sense of self while growing up (and who didn’t at least a little bit?) you will probably find something in here that speaks to you. Francesca Lia Block also has many other short works, some prose-based and some poetry, and many of those would also work as brief distractions during a stressful finals period.
How I Became a Nun by Cesar Aira
I read this for a class in college but held onto my copy because I found it so interesting. How I Became a Nun shares the complicated inner life of a 6-year-old in Rosario, Argentina. The main character, Cesar, alternately claims to be a boy and a girl, and steps in and out of the truth as comfortably as one might expect a six-year-old with an active imagination to do. You will probably be confused multiple times while reading this. Just go along with it, and revel in the fact that you are becoming a master procrastinator and reading some great literature to boot.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
A novella telling the story of Penelope from The Odyssey as she reflects back on her life from Hades. As you would expect from Atwood, there is a lot of time spent discussing gender roles in the story, and how women are treated worse than men, or have to pander to men’s feelings. While I don’t think I love this as much as some of Atwood’s other writing, I do love a good myth retelling, and especially one that could be considered feminist.
Have you read any of these before? What other quick-reads would you recommend for finals study breaks? Let us know in the comments! And don’t forget to like and share if you enjoyed this post.