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9 Great Short Books to Kick Off Your 2024 Reading Goals

by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)

I don't know about you, but I definitely enjoy the time around the end of the year / beginning of the year as a way to start off new reading goals and challenges. There is much debate in the reading world about book counts as a way to monitor reading progress. I know for me, trying to reach a certain book number reading goal each year helps me maintain momentum even when I'm in a reading slump or when life gets really hectic. (I do this in Goodreads, which makes it very easy to track using their Challenge feature. It also helps you with pacing by showing how ahead of or behind schedule you are for reaching your goal.)

If you're like me and enjoy counting the number of books for the year, it's nice to hit the ground running in January, and short but impactful books are a great way to get that number going for the new year.

Here are some of my favorite short reads that would be perfect to get your reading momentum going. I've picked a wide range of books, so there's sure to be something that would be ideal for your TBR stack.

James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk ( | - This brilliant book was one of our book club picks for 2023 (you can check out our episode here), and we also watched the film adaptation, which was fantastic. (Our discussion of the adaptation is on Patreon.) This one focuses on a young Black couple, Fonny and Tish, whose early life together is completely derailed by a corrupt white police officer who falsely accuses Fonny of a terrible crime. Baldwin paints a beautiful picture of young love and the hope of a bright future, and although the events show how brutal reality impacts that hope, we see people who will do anything they can to continue striving toward the bright future they envision.

Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me ( | - This profound work shares Coates's thoughts about his experience as a Black man in America as he writes directly to his adolescent son. This work is very short but deeply impactful as Coates examines what it means to be a Black man living in the United States; he explores the past, considers his own experiences, and ponders the future. The way that he addresses his son incorporates a deeply personal element that will stay with the reader long after reading this work. I read the e-book version of this, but Coates reads the audio himself (which is perfect for the 2024 Unabridged Podcast Reading Challenge!), and I bet that it is a rich listening experience. Maybe a re-read is in my future!

K.C. Davis’s How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing ( | - I talked about this as one of my favorite reads for 2023, and it is a perfect book for the new year both because it is very quick and also because it can really help anyone who is looking for a gentle way to approach home and life goals. As the title suggests, this book focuses on cleaning and domestic life, but what resonated so deeply for me was Davis's perspective on how we often view home responsibilities. Davis shares her radically different attitude toward both those domestic tasks and the way that we view ourselves and our role in them. This is a practical, compassionate, action-oriented book that I'll be revisiting often.

Kim Fay's Love and Saffron ( | - This one, which is an epistolary novel, shows the blooming friendship between two women who get to know each other amid the cold war tensions and domestic tumult of the 1960s. When 27-year-old Joan writes a fan letter to Imogen, who is 59 and lives on an island off of Seattle, and sends her some saffron along with the letter, the two women form an unlikely friendship through letters. Because of their friendship and what they share in their letters, both women's lives change in meaningful ways.

Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird ( | - In this beautiful middle grade story, which won the National Book Award, the protagonist Caitlin has lost her older brother Devon in a school shooting. Devon was also in many ways her interpreter toward the rest of the world, and Caitlin's relationship with him was a huge part of her life. Caitlin is on the spectrum and finds that her life without Devon is not only devastating but is also confusing. She does not initially know what to do with her own grief or the grief of those around her, but through the journey within the book, she finds a way forward that is profoundly moving.

Annette Gordon-Reed's On Juneteenth ( | - This informative work combines Gordon-Reed's own personal experiences with Juneteenth as a native Texan with her research about the holiday. With clarity and attention to detail, Gordon-Reed dives into the connections between the slave-based economy and the many historical events that happened prior to and after the official declaration of the end of slavery on June 19, 1865. This is a short but impactful work that highlights the complexities of a past that continues to impact our present.

Ali Hazelwood's Under One Roof ( - This romance is technically a novella; it's the first book in The STEMinists Novella series, and it is an exploration of what happens when Mara, a young scientist, inherits a house from her beloved mentor and goes to claim the inheritance only to discover that the mentor's nephew, Liam, a lawyer working with the kind of companies that Mara despises, is already living in the home. Although they can't stand each other, neither of them wants to give up the house, so they find themselves as unlikely roommates. This is a fun, quick read.

Nina LaCour's We Are Okay ( | - I shared this one, which we read as a buddy read in 2023, in a book review because I found it so impactful. This young adult book explores what despair can look like for a college freshman who has found herself to be completely and utterly alone. In this one, we get to know Marin in the present time as a college freshmen who has traveled across the country solo to be at a campus where she knows no one. It's the start of winter break, and she is facing weeks in isolation on campus waiting for the next semester to begin. She's also preparing for a brief visit from an old friend, Mabel, who is coming all the way from their home on the west coast to see her. We as readers work our way through what led to Marin's current heartbreaking situation, and we look along with her to see what hope there is for a brighter future.

Ambelin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina's The Things She's Seen ( | - I loved this fascinating young adult novel, parts of which are in verse. The protagonist, Beth Teller, is dead, and as she finds herself in the afterlife, she is watching her dad's life torn apart by grief. She finds herself in the thick of a mystery, and she is hoping that its complexity will draw her detective father back into the world of the living. This is a captivating, short novel told from an unusual perspective (perfect for our 2024 Reading Challenge!) that is propulsive.

Jacqueline Woodson's Harbor Me ( | - I haven't read a book by Woodson I didn't love. This one is a middle grade novel examining what happens when a group of very different kinds of kids all get put together in a situation where they really get to know each other in a meaningful way. The six kids at the center of the story have been put together for weekly chats with no adults present, and although everyone is uncomfortable at first, they find a way to share their fears and hopes with each other that is both believable and beautiful.

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