ELLEN'S TAKE: The gas crunch meets the luggage crunch: No matter how you shake it, by car or plane, going away this summer calls for the motto, "Think small." So if you're not ready to spring for a Kindle or the Sony Reader (those digital Etch-a-Sketch devices that can store a summer's worth of reading and weigh less than a pound), consider slipping one of these three short, intense and excellent books in your travel bag.
"Senselessness," by Horacio Castellanos Moya (New Directions, 142 pages. Not even a hard cover on this one, so it's almost as light as a feather. Weight-wise, at least. Content-wise, it packs a wallop. An alcoholic, atheistic, sex-obsessed writer is hired by the Catholic Church to edit the testimonies of the survivors of slaughtered Indian villages in an unnamed Latin American country. Their testimony combines with the narrator's paranoia and anger to create that claustrophobic sense of a world that doesn't make sense, although there's no way to stop it. Castellanos Moya is a political exile from El Salvador who currently lives in Pennsylvania.
"A View of the Ocean," by Jan de Hartog (Pantheon,102 pages). This short memoir from an internationally known writer, who died in 2002, is more about his mother than his father, but I loved this anecdotal gem: His father, a famous minister, was the only one to show up to speak at a 1933 rally in Amsterdam organized to protest the Nazi pogroms against Jews. Others bowed out after hearing that members of the Dutch Nazi Party planned to turn the event into a brawl. Standing before 7,000 people, Arnold de Hartog raised his arm in the Nazi salute. "This is the way the heathens salute you: 'Heil Hitler,'" he said. "But this is the way we Christians bless you: 'Heil Israel!'"
"Memory," by Philippe Grimbert (Simon & Schuster, 152 pages). This little novel adds another entry to the now-immense library of books about the Holocaust. As a young boy, the narrator concocts an imaginary brother; as a young man, he learns his parents' secrets and the fact that he actually had a half-brother. History and a love affair coincide in this tale of how tragedy can simultaneously take place on a personal and epic scale.