From Heavy to Light Is More Than Alright

Reading an intense novel is great. Reading a lighter novel is also great. Alternating between the two can be ideal. Our brains tend to crave variety, and can use a bit of a relaxation break.

My latest pairing, not planned per se, was first reading John Grisham’s legal thriller A Time for Mercy. An emotionally wrenching novel about a teen who kills a brutish cop who had been living with — and abusing — the teen, the teen’s younger sister, and their mother. Eventually followed by a dramatic trial.

Then I turned to Jane Smiley’s Perestroika in Paris, about a racehorse named Perestroika who escapes her stall, roams part of the French capital, meets an interesting array of other animals, and then also meets a boy. Of course, so-called “light” novels are often not totally light; Smiley’s poignant book has some serious things to say about animal-human relationships, family, loneliness, death, and more.

Coincidentally, both novels were published in 2020.

Next on my to-read pile is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The General in His Labyrinth, which I expect will not be light. 🙂

My other literary juxtapositions are almost too numerous to mention. I’ve read a George Eliot novel and then a Janet Evanovich book starring Stephanie Plum, a Dostoevsky novel and then a Terry McMillan book, a Mary Shelley novel and then a Sue Grafton alphabet mystery, a Toni Morrison novel and then a P.G. Wodehouse novel featuring Jeeves, a W. Somerset Maugham novel and then a Discworld book by Terry Pratchett, an Isabel Allende novel and then a Jack Reacher thriller by Lee Child, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and then Twain’s Tom Sawyer (a reread), John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and then Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, etc. Yes, a specific author can be on both sides of the literary spectrum.

In case you’re wondering, I keep an in-order list of novels I’ve read. Perhaps I have OCD: Obsessive Canon Delineation. 🙂

Again, lighter novels are often not totally light — just as intense books can also have sunnier/funnier moments. Many lighter novels do have happy endings, which can be comforting once in a while.

What have been some of your consecutive reads that veer from weighty to less so? Do you consciously or subconsciously try to change things up as you choose novels?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about unopened town pools and more — is here.

104 thoughts on “From Heavy to Light Is More Than Alright

  1. A feast for book lovers. Light may turn out to be heavy and vice versa. Depends on one’s frame of mind and taste. Rereads are always a pleasure and adds a different flavor to the story line.

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  2. Hi Dave,

    I generally have multiple books on the go and have to make sure they’re quite different so that I don’t get confused. I’ve done this for a really long time and honestly don’t know how people read one book at a time. It’s especially helpful when I’m reading something that I’m not enjoying, but determined to finish. I don’t have to read it every day, but I will make sure to read a bit every week so the pages keep turning.

    Having said that, I have a few books that I’m going to read one at a time. Starting with The Three Musketeers. I’m about half way through and not only am I loving it, but I still feel like I have multiple books on the go. It’s heavy, and serious and you have to pay attention to all the intrigue, and it’s also so very light and funny. I had no idea it was going to be so much fun. Next up is Brideshead Revisited which somehow I think will be less fun but hopefully just as gripping

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan! Impressive that you juggle several books at once (and read them, too 🙂 ). I can see your reasons for that multi approach, though it’s still not something I do. 🙂

      “The Three Musketeers” is indeed a great novel! Serious — and, yes, very fun as well. The sequels are pretty good, but, as is often the case, the first book is best. Sort of an “Anne of Green Gables” thing…

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  3. Interesting topic, Dave.
    So, I don’t eat books for breakfast like you do, but a couple of thoughts come to mind.
    From your list, I have read Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” and Twain’s “Tom Sawyer.” I don’t know which I read first. I do remember I played Aunt Polly in a grade 8 operetta of “Huckleberry Finn”.I couldn’t sing, but there was no one else willing, so I got the part. That poor piano player….. the look on his face as he tried to get me to hear. Then on the night… hehehehe….. poor thing.

    Any way… when I was reading “Of Human Bondage” I was so, je ne sais quoi, that I kept sneaking to mom’s forbidden closet to read trash. Of course it was more like ; a few chapters of “OHB” then an entire book of trash.

    I do remember reading “A Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, followed by “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson.
    Okay, Dave!
    Resa’s humble offerings.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I often read 3-4 books at a time and choose depending on mood. I like police procedurals paired with a romantic comedy, or fantasy (I’m currently reading an excellent series by D. Wallace Peach) teamed up with lighthearted women’s fiction like Kristan Higgins or Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

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  5. I tend to read what is available on the net, some light literature that I have read include classics such as “A Christmas Carol”, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Anne of Green Gables”. One lighter work I found rather unusual is Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” a comical rather than frightening ghost story.

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    • Thank you, Tony! “A Christmas Carol,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Anne of Green Gables” are all excellent, and of course have some dark moments amid the light ones. And “The Canterville Ghost” is wonderful and hilarious. It being a non-frightening ghost story makes it quite original.

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      • One example of a lighter, less serious novel I forgot to mention was Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days”. I read this in my early teens and I enjoyed it at the time but now I think the major characters in this novel are too one dimensional.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Tony! That’s an excellent example of a relatively light novel. It has been a while since I read Jules Verne, but I guess his ability to create three-dimensional characters wasn’t as strong as his sci-fi prowess.

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  7. Hello Dave, excuse my interrupting you, but could you please tell me, if you didn’t get my comment, because then I would have to write to you when I see your post on the Reader and not in answer to your email!
    By the way, I thanked you for your inspiring post and that I am not so much interested if it is a short story or a novel of normal length, if the subject interest me or the original language. At the moment I have taken note of Rebecca’s proposal “LA DONNA IN ROSSO” by Diana Giovinazzo. Thank you also for having mentioned me here above.I still maintain my opinion on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Martina! I see this comment of yours, and will also check my spam folder to see if you submitted another. If so, I will release it/approve it. Strange how some perfectly good, legitimate comments end up in spam. 😦

      Happy to have mentioned you as recommending Jane Smiley! Unfortunately, my local library didn’t have “A Thousand Acres” on its shelves so I chose another Smiley novel at random. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you Dave, for your answer!:) I had written down “Perestroika in Paris” and hope that I will also enjoy this LIGHT novel !
        Thanks also for your checking the spam folder.
        By the way I also mentioned “Sunflowers beneath the snow” by Teri Brown. This novel about Ukraine concerns the period of after Gorbachev and of becoming independent. It shows light as well as more sad moments!

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re welcome, Martina!

          “Sunflowers Beneath the Snow” sounds very interesting, and I love the title. 🙂

          I hope you like “Perestroika in Paris,” if you read it. I enjoyed it very much. Almost like a hybrid children’s/adult novel.

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  8. The cover for Jane Smiley’s “Perestroika in Paris” reminds me that Dickens kept a crow as a pet, an independent sort who slept on horseback in his stable. The crow did itself in by digging its beak into a store of white lead, at the time used in housepaint, attracted mortally by the sweet taste.

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  9. I know I’ve written in this combo before, but in case there are readers here who have tackled neither of these classic writers of California detective fiction,, reading a Raymond Chandler novel and following him up with a Ross MacDonald is a fine way to appreciate both, though after a little while, you do run out of Chandlers. The good news: plenty of MacDonald to go!

    Not so much a juxtaposition of contrasts as an extension of reading pleasure, as well as an extension of motifs, character types and scenes into the decades after Chandler wrote, so, for those who like to take things consecutively, maybe the better tack is to read Chandler’s ouevre first, and then take on MacDonald.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, jhNY! I haven’t gotten to Ross MacDonald yet but I’ve read Chandler and, from what you describe, I like your pairing a lot. It’s fascinating to see the line from one author to another in a certain style/genre. Other examples would include Fanny Burney to Jane Austen, and Poe to Lovecraft to Shirley Jackson to Stephen King.

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  10. I enjoy reading short stories and then a novel by the same author. I think this has a lot to do with my time as a tutor. Rather than launch into a full blown novel. I found it easier for students to appreciate the author’s style, voice, etc. Oate’s Haunted Tales of the Grotesque and then Blonde is one such example, another is reading Mellville’s Short Stories before reading Moby Dick. Although as far as mixing things up, I once discovered how delicious it was to flip flop between Rice’s Interview With A Vampire and Tibetan Book Of The Dead. Kinda surreal to say the least. Ha. Susi

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Susi! I agree that reading both the short stories and the novels of a writer is a great thing — for the change of pace and as a gateway (from stories to novels, as you noted). Some of Melville’s stories (including “Bartleby, the Scrivener”) are flat-out magnificent.

      That Anne Rice/”Tibetan Book of the Dead” juxtaposition does sound memorable!

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      • I had an unexpected disappointment when I purchased Robert Walser’s “Berlin Stories”. You might remember how fond I am of his novels “The Assistant” and “Jakob von Gunten”, so I came to this collection expecting good things. And there may be some, but in my half-hour of reading several (they’re short), I was underwhelmed. After reading “What I Saw”, a book of feuilletons by Joseph Roth, written around the same time and around the same city, I expected more than I received. So Walser may be exceptional in his capacities– a fine novelist, but not so fine in small doses.

        Then there are those other ones, “The Berlin Stories”, by Christopher Isherwood, a loose collection of tales set also in the Weimar daze, out of which the movie “Caberet” derives, distortedly. Great stuff, these, but in contrast to Walser, the most beloved and most read of his works, despite several novels.

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        • I guess many authors have their ups and downs — some good novels, some not-so-good novels; better at novels than stories or vice versa; etc. I also enjoyed “The Assistant.”

          “Weimar daze” — indeed!

          Liked by 1 person

        • ‘The Berlin Stories’ is another that made it to my summer hols reading list and, again, will be getting to it shortly (‘Cabaret’ is one of my favourite movies). I really enjoy reading the Weimar era novels.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Yes indeed Dave, that flip flop brought up all manner of thought re: reincarnation. For instance, Louis and Lestat, although immortal, were still struggling with mortal issues, ie jealousy, anger, feelings of abandonment, and on top of that having to raise an entitled little brat, ha. So what really is the point re: birth, death, rebirth… rinse and repeat and why would one “not” want to be released from all that suffering whether dead or alive. Perhaps both books are cautionary tales meant for Schrodinger’s cat. Susi

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I do mix books up based on the style, subject matter and intensity of the book. A book about WW2 may be followed by a ‘fun’ but in-depth mystery. I also balance my readings with inspirational perspectives from humanists such as Thích Nhất Hạnh, a man I greatly admire.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Mary Ruth! That’s a very nice reading mix you describe! And, yes, fun books can also be in-depth; definitely not mutually exclusive. Last but not least, we can use LOTS of inspirational words from humanists these days.

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  12. HI Dave, I listen to classics and heavy novels as audio books and I read poetry and lighter books. I do need breaks from heavy novels, but that is more to digest them slowly and think about them. I just finished Great Expectations and started a romance. I am flipping between the romance and A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (which is short) and then I will flip between the romance and The Picture of Dorian Grey. I find it hard to concentrate on light reads as audio books hence the flipping to keep my mind focused. I know its weird.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Can’t say I go from heavy to light, but I tend to read crime fiction in one room, and literature in another. Just now I’m in the middle of Canto V of Byron’s “Don Juan”, and enjoying it thoroughly, but in the other room I’m reading a sort of political crime fiction, “The N’Gustro Affair” by French author Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942-1995), who wrote from a more leftish slant than most in the genre, earning him reviews that rank him as a successor to Dashiell Hammett– which he just might be, or even more so, politically. Stylistically, so far as the translation allows me to conclude, nope, though like Hammett in “Red Harvest”,, Manchette is blunt, cynical and quite able to inhabit the minds of his characters– who are all more or less awful, both in their individual ways, and as exemplars of ‘types’.

    Any rate, yep. I read things simultaneously that only seldom make any sort of sense together. As a young man, I read many more things at a time, but was not so careful to finish any one of them….

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, jhNY! Reading literature and also reading crime fiction is definitely an appealing diversity of choices. And, yes, crime fiction is light and escapist in its way while of course dealing with some VERY serious human behavior and transgressions.

      Whatever combination of books a person chooses to read simultaneously, consecutively, or otherwise makes sense for them! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Dave what a book it was John Grisham’s legal thriller A Time for Mercy, it was perhaps the third book of the same town Lawyer, now he is completely broke but was assigned by his superior to take the case.
    It was pathetic for a special teenage boy to be charged for murder , which he actually did, but under what circumstances ?

    I am waiting for Grisham’s next book to come out on my Library list for which I am in a long line of waiting list.

    In the meantime I am still reading a little at a time ” PERIL”, but Trump as we know never has any remorse or shame.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I think I like to veer between fiction and non fiction, just because I fancy a change of scene and maybe of pace, or learning about someone’s life, or a particular incident. Otherwise when it comes to fiction I’ve never really thought about it before I read you post but I probably do veer from long to short, heavy to light.

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    • Thank you, Shehanne! Yes, it’s possible that people read different kinds of books both with intent in some cases and perhaps subconsciously in other cases. And I imagine reading nonfiction is very useful for you in researching your novels!

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  16. Right on topic, as I find myself caroming between reads like never before these days. I very recently read and finished all but simultaneously both Middlesex by Jeffrey Euginides (‘heavy’, a truly literary accomplishment) and L’ Énigma de la chambre 622 by Joel Dicker (‘light’, but a real pageturner with a great plot, as is true for every Dicker novel I’ve read so far). Having finished these two – bien étonnés de se trouver ensemble – I broached The Vulcano Lover by Susan Sontag (a delicious literary read, freely anachronising through the ages and switching between storytelling, history and essayism) allowing myself to occasionally swerve to The Authority Gap by Mary Ann Sieghart (a totally unfictionalized and unembellished study, largely confirming my own experience as the only woman in a board of five in a technical consultancy firm).

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  17. Hi Dave. This post seems really relevant this week!! As I’ve just been travelling for a few weeks I try to put in a few books that cover all eventualities. So, this trip, I started with ‘nights at the circus’ by Angela carter and then picked up ‘Grand Hotel’ by Vicki Baum and after that it was ‘Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris’ and then ‘Mrs Harris Goes to New York’ by Paul Gallico, followed by ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Passing’ by Nella Larsen. And finally am I now getting round to reading ‘A gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles. So yes, I do try to mix it up a bit especially when I’m away! However, there’s been more than a little crossover with this reading!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Sarah! That sounds like an excellent and eclectic group of travel-time books! And wonderful that “A Gentleman in Moscow” has reached the top (or near top) of your reading list. It’s a novel that brings a smile to one’s face, though of course what happens to the protagonist isn’t always happy. But he makes the best of things.

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      • I must admit I put ‘A Gentleman Of Moscow’ off. Partly because I’ve been so looking forward to reading it and consequently it’s been like savouring the favourite part of a meal – Yorkshire puddings for me! 😄 And perhaps no surprise but I’m absolutely loving it!

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    • HI Sarah, I really enjoyed A gentleman in Moscow. I am listening to A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. I read it when I was younger (about 11 or 12 years old, and although I am sure I didn’t really understand it, I did get the concept of eating the Irish babies. I remember asking my teacher about it at the time. It is perfectly horrifying to read, even now with the context of this piece.

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  18. I don’t have an in-order list of novels I’ve read, so it’s difficult to answer your question about varying novels from weighty to less so. During the course of a month, I read bits of four books at a time: non-fiction (weighty stuff for my work-in-progress and other topics of interest), fiction (may be weighty or light), inspirational/spiritual, and poetry. When the troubles of the world become overwhelming, I escape with a light favorite crime/mystery novel.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Rosaliene! You definitely have an impressive and very nice mix of diverse reading genres/categories there! I think my post might have given the impression that I often alternate heavy and lighter reading. It happens, but there’s usually no specific plan. So, I might end up reading several heavy novels in a row or several lighter novels in a row.

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  19. A profound question that has me thinking, Dave. I usually go between non-fiction and fiction. For example, I’m currently reading , The Woman in Red by Diana Giovinazzo – fiction which tells the epic story of Anita Garibaldi, a feminist icon, who was married to Giuseppe Garibaldi. I have just downloaded Elsa Schiaparelli by Meryl Secrest on Libby which is described as “A comprehensive, compelling biography following the life and style of the inimitable Elsa Schiaparelli by renowned biographer Meryle Secrest.”Elsa was one of the most extraordinary fashion designers of the twentieth century and an integral figure in the artistic movement of the times. I understand that Coco Chanel was intimidated by Elsa and was envious of her popularity!

    And now I am on a search for this book (you know that I had to end with a quote didn’t you?)

    “Many men admire strong women but they don’t love them. Some women succeed at being strong and also tender, but most of those who have intended to walk alone, making their own way, have lost their happiness.
    Elsa Schiaparelli, Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli

    Will be following this discussion!!! Thank you for another fabulous post.

    Liked by 5 people

    • How fascinating. I’ve got the Schiaparelli autobiography which I’ve had for a while now – I’m hoping to get to it shortly. I thought it might be an interesting foil to all things Chanel!

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    • Thank you, Rebecca! Alternating fiction and nonfiction is definitely a great reading approach; I use to do some of that myself before switching to almost all novels — partly to “feed” this blog. 🙂

      You mentioned what sounds like two very interesting books about memorable women who should be better known. And you posted yet another memorable quote; this one kind of sobering. 😦

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    • HI Rebecca, this is a fascinating quote. I think this attitude is changing. Traditionally, men were the providers and many did not want a woman who was more successful they they were as they saw it as undermining them [this is my view]. I do believe that with the younger generation (millennials and younger), men and women work together to build a home and life. Everything is so expensive now, men can’t be the only ones bringing home the bacon, generally. I am the older generation, Gen X, and my generation is still much more traditional. I made a conscious decision that my husband would be the bread winner and ‘senior’ to me at work. I am successful in other areas of my life like my artwork and writing and it is best that he leads in one area and I in others. This has worked for us.

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      • I am only at the beginning of Elsa’s biography, but I recognize the reasons for this quote. Coca Chanel had some interesting thoughts on the subject as well when she wrote: “Women have always been the strong ones of the world. The men are always seeking from women a little pillow to put their heads down on. They are always longing for the mother who held them as infants.” Both women continue to influence fashion and style.

        I agree wholeheartedly – the demographics are changing and it will be interesting to see how the next generation evolves over time and what legacy they will leave for the future. We live in exciting times!

        Liked by 3 people

    • That’s fantastic, Bill! It’s nice when authors (and other well-known people) live up to or exceed our expectations. I definitely plan to read more of Jane Smiley’s work.

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