The year of the novella


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.

Decline and FallI 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.

The SteppeThis 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.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Guy Savage says:

    I feel your pain. There was a time in my life when I made a pact with myself to read 10 minutes a day.

    There’s always short stories…

    1. Colleen says:

      True. I’m looking for Chekhov’s short stories but just found O. Henry’s, so that might be a good place to begin!

  2. Stefanie says:

    During the work week almost all my reading takes place on public transit. Also, I selfishly hide away during my lunch break so I can read and not have to talk to anyone. Sustained reading happens pretty much only on the weekends, holidays and vacations. As for blogging, I pretty much figure out what each post is going to be about on Sunday and then the ideas circulate in my head until I sit down the night of to bang it out. I know some people have a posting schedule and will give themselves two or three days to write a post. Once you hit your stride at your job, you’ll start to figure it all out.

    1. Colleen says:

      Ah. I don’t take a lunch break; well, not a sitting one. After sitting for a few hours I have to go take a brisk walk or I’ll be crippled with back pain the rest of the day. My 7-10 pages happen on transit (I live pretty close to my office) and will soon be lost to cycling. But hey, cycling!

  3. I have thought about doing something like this myself, banning long books for a year – or five years. The psychology of the long book really can be different. I am not sure why.

    Ha, I do what Stefanie does at lunch. Lunch time is reading time, even if it only ends up being ten minutes.

    1. Colleen says:

      The psychology is really different, isn’t it? I think I prefer the settling in to a long tale. Something about stability; must be my age.

  4. lauratfrey says:

    I am so into novellas since I did a month’s worth of reading them (Novellas in November event, you know how book bloggers love alliteration!) and I’ve been having similar feelings about Chekhov so this is a very timely post for me.

    As for finding time, I did the same 10-minute thing after having my second child. I read Infinite Jest in 10 minute bursts which sounds (and is) crazy. Blogging happens between 10pm and midnight when I can stay up that late. Lunch is a great time to read or blog as well.

    1. Colleen says:

      How long did it take you to read Infinite Jest this way? That book falls under my weak arms exemption, so I ask just out of curiosity. :p

      1. lauratfrey says:

        About three months, and I read it on an ereader. Weak arms and never two free hands 🙂

  5. heidenkind says:

    I love novellas (although it kind of annoys me when people call books that are 100 pages or more novellas, because they ARE technically novels, but anyway). I have very weak arms. 😉

    1. Colleen says:

      The Weak Arms Book Club. Let’s make this a thing.

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