There is something very satisfying about reading an entire book in one sitting. Part of the pleasure of Julian Barnes’ Booker Prizing winning novel, The Sense of an Ending, is that you can spend a deeply pleasurable and indulgent afternoon devouring the book whole. You don’t have to worry about forgetting who said what when, of losing track of the plot as you nibble your way through the pages, piecemeal, when you get a moment here or there. The book is completely with you and the reading experience all the richer for it.
Last week we launched a new series of eBooks written with this experience in mind. The Penguin Shorts can be read over a long commute or a short journey, in your lunch hour or between dinner and bedtime, these brief books provide a short escape into a fictional world or act as a primer in a particular field or provide a new angle on an old subject.
To introduce you to the series, we are going to blog our way through all nine of the launch books, as we read through the series on our way in and out of work. To kick off, I’m starting with Colm Tóibín’s A Guest at the Feast. Celebrated as one of the finest novelists and short story writers of his generation Colm Tóibín, in his Penguin Short, turns his hand to his first piece of memoir, moving from the small town of Enniscorthy to Dublin, from memories of a mother who always had a book on the go to the author's early adulthood, from a love of literature to the influences of place and family.
To Work: 388 from Victoria Park Road to Embankment (50 minutes)
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It was bitterly cold yesterday morning. It proved difficult to keep my reader still as I tried to steal away the first few pages while keeping my morning vigil for the 388 to take me into work. It’s a good journey, I always get a seat and it allows for just shy of an hour of solid reading time. A Guest at the Feast opens with Tóibín's childhood in Enniscorthy, the story of how parents got together, his schooling (good at maths, giving ‘smart answers’ and being ‘no good’), childhood trips to the Wexford Town, and by the time I reach work, he is on his way to Dublin and University.
Back Home: 26 from Aldwych to Cassland Crescent (50 minutes)
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In Dublin, Tóibín’s love of the arts develops. There is a wonderful scene in which he meets Frederick May, a forgotten Irish composer, responsible for ‘one of the greatest contributions to Irish beauty which was ever made’. He continues, reflecting on his mother, an avid reader that adored ‘smart’ books and stayed clear of those she found ‘slow-moving’. And finally, to the importance of place and the influence it has had on him and his work. And that’s it, a perfect gem of a book and an insight into one of our most profound writers, completely enjoyed and digested on a single day on my way in and out of work.
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