Four Books to Read on the Bus (or Train)

I started bussing to work a few months ago and realised — as I sat, crammed in with other daily commuters — that I had just discovered a whole new pocket of readers. These readers brave jostling elbows and dripping umbrellas. They fend off carsickness despite the rumbling vibrations of the bus. They endure cliffhangers and unfinished chapters for eight hours a day, until it is time for their commute home. These are readers who will do anything for a bit of escapism to and from work.

So, here is my public service announcement for the daily commuters.

You need stories that make you forget the snuffling hayfever–victim to your left, you need stories that grip you from the moment the bus doors close (rather than halfway to work), you need stories that will sustain you through the 3pm blues and you need stories that can be devoured in half an hour (give or take) so that you are not left hanging when you reach your bus-stop.

Readers, what you need is a good selection of short stories.

Short stories are not most people’s ‘go to’. Maybe they are viewed as too literary or too hard. Maybe most readers have never been recommended a book of short stories. I am here to set the record straight. The stories that I am about to recommend are potent and somewhat arcane; they are page turning tales that will haunt you throughout the day and leave you craving more on your journey home. There will be twists, laughs, shocks and squirmy bits, everything you need to survive the journey to and from work.


revengeRevenge, by Yoko Ogawa 

You will never read anything else like these eleven macabre tales. They are strange and sensual; haunting and ordinary. A bag maker is commissioned to construct a bag to hold a live heart, a girl stumbles across a museum of unusual torture instruments and a lady at a bakery bumps into a woman who buys sweet treats for her dead son.

As the book progresses you begin to notice disconcerting details, characters and themes that are repeated and cross referenced. These elements weave their way through the books like the traditional Japanese poetry form of Renka, linking the stories and unearthing the creepiness that lies within scratching-distance of everyday life.


the complete short stories roald dahlThe Complete Short Stories: Vol 1, by Roald Dahl 

Those who loved childhood classics like The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory should graduate to Dahl’s adult fiction. Dahl is the master of the twist, his stories involve strange bets, cold-blooded murder and harrowing discoveries. You will be as captivated as a kid.

Dahl was a prolific short story writer and his complete works have been collected in two volumes. The first volume tells tales from WW2 to the early 1950s. They are thrilling tales that also reflect the life and times of the 20th century in the UK.


stone mattress margaret atwoodStone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood

Atwood’s fans will devour this electric and daring set of nine tales, each as captivating and unique as the last.

A furniture dealer buys two storage containers with life-changing contents. A tourist cruise through the Arctic turns murderous. A severed hand has a life of its own.

Besides gripping you like velcro, these stories are beautifully written. Margaret Atwood is truly a poet in a novelists body.


from under the overcoat sue orrFrom Under the Overcoat, by Sue Orr

New Zealand author, Sue Orr takes short stories from her favourite authors and fashions contemporary tales from the threads. This is the kind of book that will lead you to other treasures (in the form of short stories). This book will bulk up your backlist with short story champions such as Anton Chekov and Katherine Mansfield.

If you like a story that makes you feel something, then read Sue Orr’s work. Her stories are profound, honest and at times, brutal. Journeyman, (a story that explores medical ethics and ambition among other themes) will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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Libby likes to think of herself as widely read but is probably more of an eclectic hoarder – anything from NZ poetry books to Japanese novellas to chick-lit set in Manhattan crosses her bedside table. However, if a curator was looking through her bookshelves in order to find a link between all of the pages, it would probably have a bent towards literary fiction (think Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, David Mitchell), short stories (Yoko Ogawa, Susan Orr, Dave Egger) and novels with a nod to history (Tracy Chevalier, Arthur Golden, Kathryn Stockett).

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