A Short List of Books to Read in Short Bursts

I’m always reading too many books at once. If I count – like my friend forced me to count my succulent collection recently – it turns out I’m currently reading 10 books. (I’m not yet ready to publicly share how many succulents I have. That information would just be distracting anyway.) Of course, some of these books are in a hiatus sort of situation, and I should probably just start over because it’s been so long since I last opened them.

But other books I don’t feel bad about reading so incrementally slowly. Because these are “short burst” kind of books.

Short Burst Books Title Image with book hanging on a string

What are Short Burst Books?

A concept I just made up. I’ve been thinking about becoming a researcher lately, and researchers need to be able to make up new words and concepts at the drop of a hat. So don’t go throwing this phrase around and expecting people to get it.

But in my mind, short burst books are books broken into a lot of small essays. Usually, these essays are densely packed with information, inspiration, or just general goodness. So it’s better, actually, to only read a little bit at a time so your brain can really take it in.

Alternatively, maybe you only read bursts of these books when you feel uninspired, or discouraged, or need a kick in the butt to get going. Short burst books are excellent for that.

Okay, okay, you might be thinking. This short burst concept seems reasonable. Let’s see some of these books already.

I hear you. Just one more thing – this short list of short burst books is all about art. So if you’re not an artist, you might not be interested in the first book. If you have absolutely no desire to engage in any creative pursuits ever, you won’t care for the second book. And if you’re not a living, breathing human being, the third book won’t apply to you.

Let’s begin!

The Art Spirit – Robert Henri

Short burst books 1: The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

The Art Spirit is the most artsy book on this list. Its author, Robert Henri, was a famous and well-followed American painter and teacher during his time, which was 1865 to 1929.

Henri made important contributions to the art world, being part of the Ashcan School of Art and mysterious sound group The Eight (just kidding they were just a group of eight American painters). They challenged impressionism and academic standards of art at the time. I won’t go into it here because I’m not very knowledgeable on the subject myself, but you can read up on Ashcan and The Eight if you wish.

Because he’s such a big deal, Robert Henri didn’t even compose a book. The Art Spirit is a compilation of his works, speeches, letters, and instruction to students. The subtitle in my copy reads:

“Notes, Articles, Fragments of Letters and Talks to Students Bearing on the Concept and Technique of Picture Making, the Study of Art Generally, and on Appreciation.”

It does the book a disservice since the contents are far more interesting than the description. Henri and his editor Margery Ryerson have crammed The Art Spirit with excellent tips on art, motivation, and more specifically painting.

I have trouble ever getting very far in one sitting because I feel like I need to stop and paint so I can apply Henri’s advice. Perhaps because most of the fragments were written directly at his students, reading the book feels like you have a real, in-the-flesh artist speaking to you. A compact art teacher for busy artists on the go. (That sounded strange – sorry art teachers.)

It’s probably better if you just read some quotes for yourself. Like these broad art-teacher-y quotes:

“An interest in the subject; something you want to say definitely about the subject; this is the first condition of a portrait.”

“A weak background is a deadly thing.”

…to the specific and sometimes odd quotes:

“The white of the eye is more often the same color as the flesh about it than the average painter is likely to think it to be.”

“The eyebrow must not be drawn hesitatingly.”

…to the motivational, of course:

“Don’t worry about your originality. You could not get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick with you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do.”

The War of Art -Steven Pressfield

Short burst books 2: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Next on the list is a better-known work of creative inspiration. The War of Art is a motivational staple for creatives of any sort. I first borrowed this book from the library. I read the first chapter, a preface of sorts called “What I Do.”

Hey, this is me, I thought. This is the kind of routine that I need to be figuring out for myself.

At the surface level, the intro is relatively mundane compared to the rest of book. All Pressfield does is outline his daily routine as a writer. But read through my freelance writer eyes, Pressfield stirred up aspiration (I need to figure out my routine too!) and trust (this guy knows my life). I was ready to soak up everything this pro-writer was saying. I still am.

Steven Pressfield’s advice doesn’t just apply to writers. Visual artists, musicians, homemade crochet craft business owners – go for it. Read this book.

The War of Art is a series of short essays that deals with the creative’s worst enemy – writer’s block, artist’s block, lack of motivation, procrastination – all summed up as something he dubs Resistance.

He has three sections; defining Resistance, combating Resistance, and beyond Resistance. The chapters are super short, not even a page long in some cases, so you have no excuse to not give it a shot.

As my conclusion, here’s one chapter that I thought was Instagram-worthy:

Resistance and Self-Doubt

Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? And I really an artist?” chances are you are.

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

Wisdom from books. And #stevenpressfield. #thewarofart #thewarofartbook

A post shared by Monica Heilman (@writingmonicker) on

Real Artists Have Day Jobs – Sara Benincasa

short burst book 3: Real Artists Have Day Jobs by Sara Benincasa

Maybe someone will call me out on this one. So I have to beat them to it.

You got me. This one isn’t really an art book. But it’s definitely a short burst book. Real Artists Have Day Jobs is informative, motivational, and funny. So if you’re  a living, breathing human being, you’ll probably like at least a chapter or two. And there are 52 of them.

I bought this book on a whim. Somehow, during an Internet procrastinating session that spiraled out of control, I found Benincasa’s book on Amazon. Since I was already procrastinating from something, I spent another good 20 to 30 minutes reading through the preview.

Wait, you might be thinking, Amazon previews aren’t even that long, how did she waste so much time reading a book preview?

Well, here’s an Amazon pro-tip for you: Start reading from the beginning and read all the pages that are available. Then go back to the table of contents. If the chapter titles have hyperlinks, you’re in luck! Click to read as many chapter previews as you want.

While milking the preview for its full worth, I realized quickly that despite the title, there wasn’t a whole lot of art in this book. That’s mostly in the first chapter. But the other chapters, which fall under the subtitle “And Other Awesome Things They Don’t Teach You in School” were pretty fun.

The more I read, the more I laughed. Benincasa has some outrageous stories. And she’s a comedian, so you can’t go wrong there. Her book is aimed at a millennial audience, so I suppose if you’re sufficiently old and wise, you might not be as amused. Maybe you’d just roll your eyes. But if you’re young, young-ish, or feel young, some of these will definitely resonate with you.

You’ll get more out of this book if you read whole chapters, not just a smattering of quotes, so I’ll just end with some memorable chapter titles (out of the ones that are not NSFW):

  • When You Don’t Know What to Do, Ask a Successful Woman
  • Wear a Weird Hat
  • The Power of Being a Dork
  • When You Can’t Figure Something Out, Put Yourself in Water

The End

I’ll tell you now – so that you can’t say I never told you so – that I’m only in the middle of reading all of these books. I haven’t finished any of them. And if I keep going at my short burst pace, I won’t be done with them for a while. But I’ve been sufficiently impressed enough with each book to share them with you.

So give them a shot, if you want, but don’t blame me for any bombs dropped at the end.

By the way, I have 22 succulents.