Or short novel. Or novelette. Or novel for people with short attention spans, limited time, weak arms, extremely unbendable necks, etc. I once looked up the difference between novel, novella, novelette–the latter two seem like the same thing to me, and then both are still novels anyway. In any case, 2014 is clearly Jam and Idleness’s Year of Very Short (Mostly Fictional) Books Comprising with the Regulation Beginning, Middle, and End Structure of the Novel We All Know and Love (Forever and Ever).
I am now a full-time working person, which means that many things have fallen by the wayside: a social life, blogging, adventuring into new foods, editing, writing for venues other than J&I (I’m still squeaking out the minimum for Food Riot, but it’s hard–one hour is SO MUCH now), sleep. You know how it goes. Or maybe you don’t: to all of the people I know mostly from the interwebs, who have both full-time jobs and extremely rich blog presences–how do you do it? I don’t know whether or not I’m asking that rhetorically. But in the end, the answer likely doesn’t matter: for the foreseeable future, I suspect my very rare blog posts will be mostly about how I don’t have time to blog. Instead of despairing about how boring that is, I’ll optimistically say I’m place-holding–and hope that somehow settling in to my new life will come to mean finding time to write about books, in a real way, again.
I recently finished Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall (1928)–it doesn’t get more short or novel-ish than this. It was crazy. Perfect maybe, too. In any case, it’s what I’d always hoped for from Waugh and which I didn’t get in Scoop (clever, but not funny enough) or A Handful of Dust (almost pure shite) or Brideshead Revisited (super-excellent, but not funny and mean, which is the standard I’ve erroneously set to measure Waugh’s work against). I suppose its mode is satirical, but that satire is so pervasive that it’s (for me, anyway–but I tend to read in 7-10-page bursts now, so I likely don’t know anything at all) more like mood lighting. Every single word in this book is just so–which it’s always been clear to me is something Waugh could do, and which is why I found A Handful of Dust so enraging–how could such good writing be wasted on such a stupid idea…? Anyway, enough of that. Decline and Fall was pretty much perfect.
Well, perfect of its kind.
This morning, I threw all my good exercise and eating habits temporarily out the window so I could finish Anton Chekhov’s The Steppe (1888) before work. (Chekhov goes down especially well when there’s toast and a bucket of tea involved, fyi.) I’ve been aware, for quite some time, that claiming to be a reader but not having delved into Chekhov at all made me rather a liar and cheat, at least in my own mind.
The real crime, however, is that I’d been depriving myself of Chekhov. My gawd. Like Waugh, he wields the pen with a precision and stylistic perfection that I have neither the skill nor the time to describe. But I know and can say this: Waugh and Chekhov were not playing the same game at all. Chekhov had a breadth and depth and any other number of words ending in -th and denoting the kind of earnestness and intensity that Waugh understood but maybe only in the most shallowly intellectual way.
But you know what? That’s fine. Waugh is perfect for how I read most days now: in the teeniest little bursts. But knowing I have five short novels by Chekhov waiting for me when I can find the time to splurge on a full evening or two of hard reading makes me tremendously happy.