For complicated reasons involving the Sun, the Earth, Julius Caesar and I’m pretty sure, the calendar industry, the concept of leap year was invented way back in 46 B.C. Ever since, we’ve been adding an extra day every four years in order to keep our calendars synced up with nature.
2016 is one of those years, so something special is happening after February 28: February 29. A whole day we didn’t have last year and won’t have next year. Think about it: everything you do on February 29 is something you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do in 2016. (Actually, don’t think about it too hard. Just play along.)
What’s the best way to make the most of leap day? We recommend reading a book. A whole extra book for a whole extra day. Finishing a book in one day, or even one sitting, is a satisfying experience that everyone should try, and we figure leap day is a perfect day to try it. Fortunately, there are lots of great short books, including many classics, that you can knock out in a few hours or less. Here are some ideas.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (29,160 words)
As a kid, I always enjoyed reading, but the day I read this book straight through may be the day I truly fell in love with literature. Steinbeck’s taut 1937 novella about friendship, compassion and tragedy is immensely moving—and it moves quickly, too.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (26,601 words)
This fish tale, published in 1952, won the Pulitzer Prize and marked a comeback of sorts for Hemingway, who was pretty quiet during the 40s. Critics are divided about this novel; take a couple of hours and then decide for yourself.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu (21,080 words)
If novellas aren’t your thing, how about an ancient Chinese treatise on military tactics and strategy? This work on warfare, which dates to the 5th century B.C., has seen its principles applied to business, education, law and sports, in addition to military matters. It’s required reading in the CIA and has been championed by the likes of General Douglas MacArthur and NFL coach Bill Belichick.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (39,680 words)
Published in 1963 at the height of the Civil Rights era, this book—actually two long essays—takes a searing look at race relations in the United States. It resonates just as strongly today and served as the inspiration for Between the World and Me, the 2015 bestseller by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (37,653 words)
This entertaining long essay is based on a series of the author’s university lectures and was published in 1929. In this slim volume, Woolf skewers sexism in the arts as she famously asserts that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” A feminist classic.
What are some of your favorite quick reads?