Tuesday, April 26, 2016

In praise of short novels

I recently convinced several people to read Valera Luiselli's The Story of My Teeth, not by describing the main character or his story or explaining the concept behind the book, but by praising how short it was. As if its brevity was its greatest virtue. Perhaps it was.

Of course you can read it over the weekend! It's so short! Only 134 pages, according to my e-version. And all those blank pages at the front. The table of contents is longer than expected. An epigraph or two. Decorative leaves between chapters. Then there are photo plates at the end, and the translator's chronology, which can't be said to be part of the book proper, though it was my favourite part. The author's afterword, also not really part of the book, although arguably it's what gives the book meaning. Still, it doesn't count as story. And more blank pages. Bringing us down to maybe a 100 pages of novel. Who can't manage that?

In this way I "sold" a book I didn't really like (I admire and respect it — I just didn't connect with it) because I had nothing better to say about it. It's really short! And an impromptu book club came into being.

I've read a lot of short books this year. It's all that my time and attention can hold.

Short novels means less commitment, cuz I just don't have it in me these days. Short novels sustain my interest, in ways most 400-page novels just can't. I can slip from one genre to another. More variety. I'm sampling more authors. And I have a sense of accomplishment. I can still read and finish books! And I can convince other people to read them too. Short novels are so digestible.

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