2020: Year of the novella

KeskusteluClub Read 2020

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2020: Year of the novella

1nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 29, 2019, 4:16pm

If, as Flannery O'Connor wrote, short stories reveal character while novels track character development, what's a novella for? Search me, but I hope to discover whether and how the novella is in any way distinct from short story and novel.

To this end, I'm starting with a bunch of novellas by Henry James. I may re-read some of Muriel Spark's. And I have racked up some recent critical studies on the form, which I may report on.

To begin with, here's as good a light intro to the novella as any plus a short rec list: https://listverse.com/2011/12/29/20-brilliant-novellas-you-should-read/

And a somewhat meatier intro with a rec list:
https://wattswrites.com/tag/kurt-vonnegut/

A list of the novellas of Joyce Carol Oates: https://celestialtimepiece.com/2015/01/18/novellas/

A collection of novellas by John Steinbeck: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6665330-the-short-novels-of-john-steinbeck

Novellas by Edith Wharton: https://www.loa.org/books/78-novellas-and-other-writings

Selections from Granta Collection:
“A Day in the Open” by Jane Bowles
"Blackberry Winter” by Robert Penn Warren
"O City of Broken Dreams” by John Cheever
“The Magic Barrel” by Bernard Malamud
“In Time Which Made a Monkey of Us All” by Grace Paley
“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin
“Are These Actual Miles?” by Raymond Carver
“You’re Ugly, Too” by Lorrie Moore

More rec's here: https://www.mhpbooks.com/series/the-art-of-the-novella/

I would be grateful for rec's across genres. I would prefer NOT to include YA books, though I realize this line is kind of fuzzy sometimes.

Thank you for visiting.

2jenknox
joulukuu 28, 2019, 8:20pm

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor is a spectacular Nigerian sci-fi novella

3AnnieMod
joulukuu 28, 2019, 9:20pm

If you are interested in speculative fiction, Locus had been publishing a recommendation list every year. This year's one will come out in February, last year's is here: https://locusmag.com/2019/02/2018-locus-recommended-reading-list/

Search with the same title for earlier years -- and the ones that are online are linked so you can just read them. There are other lists for the related genres out there as well...

From this year's crop, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is worth checking. If you want to try the author, "A Dead Djinn in Cairo" is online: https://www.tor.com/2016/05/18/a-dead-djinn-in-cairo/ - this one is a novelette technically but it is set in the same alternative world and has the same style so may be a good starting point.

Also - depending on how you define novellas, you may be also looking for works defined as short novels - a lot of contemporary novels are actually short novels/novellas - both because of the word count and because of the number of subplots and side stories (which is where the difference between short and long fiction is drawn). So... you may want to decide how you define novella as well :)

I love novellas (and novelettes) - they are long enough to allow the story to develop and short enough not to have too many side stories tacked into them. While short stories can be satisfying and nice, they tend to finish way too fast when I enjoy them. :)

4lisapeet
joulukuu 29, 2019, 10:42am

The Granta Book of the American Long Story is a good look at some (by now) American canon work, and has a good intro about the history of the novella by Richard Ford. With the caveat that this collection is almost 17 years old, and—as clearly stated—American writing only, with no major surprises, it's a nice intro to the form.

5AlisonY
joulukuu 29, 2019, 11:43am

It's worth checking out the novellas Penelope Fitzgerald has written.

6RidgewayGirl
joulukuu 29, 2019, 12:05pm

>3 AnnieMod: I'd second reading P. Djeli Clark if you're interested in speculative fiction. I really enjoyed The Black God's Drums. He's a historian, which is evident in his settings. He manages to world-build with depth and subtlety in very few words.

>1 nohrt4me2: I tend to prefer either the concentrated rigor of short stories or the depth of a novel, but I'm interested in following your reading path here.

7nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 29, 2019, 1:31pm

>2 jenknox: Thanks. This was on Evil Amazon for a couple bucks so I downloaded it. It seems to be part of a trilogy, so does that make it a real novella or just part of a novel? Hmm.

>3 AnnieMod: I see Locus has a novella and novelette list. Interesting. Thank you for the rec.

>4 lisapeet: I have added a partial list of works in the Granta collection to touchstones and comment #1 above. Thanks.

>5 AlisonY: Great minds think alike. I have The Bookshop on my list.

8ELiz_M
joulukuu 29, 2019, 2:03pm

one of my favorite publishers has an "The Art of the Novella" series:
https://www.mhpbooks.com/series/the-art-of-the-novella/

9nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 29, 2019, 4:20pm

>8 ELiz_M: Thanks! I downloaded Oroonoko, as I have never read it. At 60+ pages it would fall into the short story slot, but it was originally published as a stand-alone, so I'm calling it good for my purposes.

10thorold
joulukuu 29, 2019, 6:39pm

Some of my favourites (that I can think of right now and haven’t been mentioned)...
- Kleist, Michael Kohlhaas and The Marquise of O.
- Tim Krabbé, The rider
- Bohumil Hrabal, Closely observed trains
- Hella S Haasse, The black lake
- just about anything by Heinrich Böll

11dchaikin
joulukuu 29, 2019, 9:37pm

>1 nohrt4me2: interested in this Granta list. I loved "Sonny's Blues", which I read this year. I probably read that Grace Paley too, although I don't recognize the title. Everything she wrote was terrific. Cheever and Charver are two I've wanted to read for a long time. (But, where's The Lottery? - ok, I haven't read it, but still)

12nohrt4me2
joulukuu 29, 2019, 11:10pm

>11 dchaikin: I think "The Lottery" is usually classified as a short story. Page parameters are kind of arbitrary, but I think a novella is generally over 80/under 200 pages. My husband read a lot of James Baldwin this year and also liked "Sonny's Blues."

Thanks for the rec on Paley. I haven't read anything by her.

13dchaikin
joulukuu 30, 2019, 6:11am

Another suggestion is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He has a book of Collected Novellas that includes Leaf Storm, No One Writes to the Colonel, and, maybe my favorite, Chronicle of a Death Foretold. He has others too.

14avaland
joulukuu 30, 2019, 10:24am

One year I read all of JCO's novellas existing at that time, there were 9. All had been separately published except one. I have enjoyed the form (but then, I'll read fiction in any form).

15Petroglyph
joulukuu 30, 2019, 8:51pm

I read 36 novellas last year (2019). I like the format and am always looking for more, so thanks to all who have posted links to texts or lists!

16AnnieMod
joulukuu 31, 2019, 10:53pm

>7 nohrt4me2:

The Locus list (and most speculative fiction lists you will find) splits the types based strictly on the number of words:

Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words
Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words

It is a side effect of the way the genre awards had developed (or vice versa...). Outside of the genre, it is more about how the work feels and subtopics and what's not - so what can be called novella by some can be a novel for Locus and vice versa. :) So don't get surprised when the categories do not match between lists.

Have fun finding interesting novellas (whatever definition you want to chose) this year. :)

17nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 4, 2020, 2:08pm

FINISHED: Mathilda by Mary Shelley (94 pp, written 1820, pub. 1959).

Preliminary comments: So far pretty Bronte-esque fare, though nicely written. Dying heroine sets out to reveal a dire secret she has never told anyone before. Despite promises of doom and terror, why do I have the feeling that this is going to be anti-climactic?

Plot WITH SPOILERS: Mathilda's mother dies after her birth and her father abandons her to an aunt. Upon his return, Mathilda and her father delight in each other's company, until the father develops incestuous feelings for her. Mathilda envisions his going away and returning as an old man, his passions burnt out by wandering in harsh natural environments. Instead he runs away, jumps off a cliff, and commits suicide with Mathilda in hot pursuit to save him. She withdraws from life into an isolated "hermitage" in deep despair, gets consumption, and dies.

Assessment: The novella has a clear plot, each of 12 short chapter advancing the plot and the breakdown of Mathilda step-by-step. If you can get past the overwrought tone of the first-person narration by Mathilda, it's an interesting study of the Natural vs. Unnatural. Mathilda's father is possessed by unnatural impulses in the way he abandons his child and in the way he falls in love with Mathilda on his return. Mathilda's natural feelings are often mirrored by her love for nature, in which she has always found solace.

The revelation of her father's unnatural love (it is not consummated), infects Mathilda with an aversion to human society that becomes unnatural. She cannot abide the sympathy she receives from her relations on her father's death, and she does not feel she can confide why. She arranges for a small income for herself, fakes her death, and goes to live in the natural world, which she finds restorative.

When she admits a friend, Woodville the poet who has lost his beloved fiance, into her life, she cannot enjoy a natural friendship with him. She is demanding and jealous of his attention. She talks incessantly of wanting to die and tries to lure him into a suicide pact.

Woodville talks a lot about the unnaturalness of despair and suicide. He frequently urges Mathilda to unburden herself (a natural act that will help purge her unnatural feelings), but she cannot and leaves the novella in the form of a letter as a form of self-explanation and -consolation.

18nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 6, 2020, 8:20pm

FINISHED: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (122 pp., written 1898)

Preliminary comments: The wind-up James gives in the Prologue is great! It's a frame plot--a bunch of people at a Christmas house party are telling ghost stories in the evening, and "Douglas" says he's got a great story, but it's locked up in his desk at home, and, no, he can't just tell it to them, it really needs to be read in its original. He is persuaded to send his servant to go get it so he can read it out to them. While the manuscript is being fetched for the next evening, he tells everybody that the story is a manuscript given to him by his sister's governess about her first assignment as the sole caretaker to some orphaned children at a country house and has never before been told.

So in a few pages, we, like the house party guests, are in thrall to Douglas's promised story, and he's milking the attention for all its worth.

Plot WITH SPOILERS:An unnamed governess is assigned to care for two children, Flora and Miles, niece and nephew to a gentleman in London who does not want to be bothered--quite literally--with their care. The governess is charged to do whatever she sees fit and to answer the uncle's questions only, but not to initiate information or ask for advice.

The governess falls in love with the uncle and sees fulfilling her job as a way to show her devotion to him. She makes friends with Mrs. Grose the housekeeper, and Flora. She meets Miles the next day when he returns from boarding school on holiday. With Miles comes a letter expelling him from the school.

The governess is concerned with the expulsion letter and spends the night worrying about it. Soon after, while walking in the evening at Bly, she sees a strange man on the parapet of the house's tower. She senses he is evil. When she mentions this to Mrs. Grose and describes the man, Mrs. Grose confirms that the description fits Peter Quint, the uncle's valet, who is dead. The governess learns that her predecessor, Miss Jessel, was somehow involved with Quint and is also dead. She sees a woman at the pond while playing with Flora and believes it to be Miss Jessel. The governess is struck by the fact that Flora seems to pretend not to see or look at the apparition, and is possibly trying to distract the governess from seeing Miss Jessel.

The mystery of Miles's expulsion, more appearances by the dead Quint and Miss Jessel, and the children's increasingly hostile behavior to the governess leads her to believe that the apparitions are influencing her charges.

Flora falls ill with a fever after sneaking out of the house to the pond, presumably to commune with Miss Jessel, and is sent to London with Mrs. Grose. The governess is left alone with Miles. She believes that he wants to be exorcised of Quint's evil influence. In the course of confronting Miles about his expulsion and the apparitions, he becomes highly emotional and dies.

Assessment: "The Turn of the Screw" ratchets up the tension a notch in each chapter as the governess begins to make inferences about what is going on. As her concern (or hysteria) and increases and her "evidence" about the demonic forces mounts, she is answered by Mrs. Grose, and the children in ways that never completely affirm her perceptions, and, in fact, can be seen as puzzled or shocked responses to her belief in what is going on, or even direct negations of them. Is Mrs. Grose afraid of the apparitions? Or afraid of the the governess's mental state? Does she agree with the governess out of concern for the children? Or to placate her until the uncle can be sent for to sort her out?

The governess has many sleepless nights; she mentions "trouble at home" and an "eccentric" father; she falls in love with the uncle after only two interviews; no one else admits to seeing the apparitions; she suffers a blackout at the pond after seeing Miss Jessel; she takes no common-sense measures such as writing to the uncle or the school masters to discuss Miles's behavior--all of these details build a case for the governess being utterly mad.

In fact, the governess admits the possibility that she may be mistaken, wondering, if that is the case,"what does that make ME?" Sadly, it is a possibility she fails to explore, and it comes too late to save Miles.

There is no epilogue to the story; "his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped!" are the final words. It is a problem of a story, an experiment in perception and ambiguity. The governess might be merely a silly and funny young girl. Until she turns the screw so hard one of the kids ends up dead.

One can only hear James quietly chuckling from the Beyond, challenging one to read it all again and keep turning the screw until the grooves are stripped.

19nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 8, 2020, 3:12pm

FINISHED: Oroonoko by Aphra Behn (80 pp, published 1688)

Plot/Assessment WITH SPOILERS: Oroonoko is a noble savage narrative. The title character is a Coromantian (Ghanaian) king enslaved by trickery and brought to the what is now Suriname. His honor and nobility finds sympathy with honorable and noble whites, and his efforts to start a slave rebellion end in an honor-killing of his pregnant wife (who is fully complicit in her own death) and the hideous mutilation and execution of Oroonoko, on par with the kind of drawing-and-quartering that was used at the time in England for traitors.

This novella is interesting mostly as an historical artifact--one of (if not the) first novels written by a woman in English, and representative of certain universal humanist ideals. But it is not an anti-slave narrative (though it was considered one in the 1800s, when the morality of slavery was at issue in the U.S. and Britain).

I did do some reading about the author, who was a successful playwright despite living at the time of the Cromwellian suppression of the theater, and who was very likely a spy for the British to the Dutch. She may actually have traveled to Suriname, where the story takes place, and her account of the place is lively and interesting, though some critics say it takes some license with details (for example, sheep could not be raised in that country). Her style reminds us that generations before the Victorians wrote with more earthiness and frankness about sex and death.

The novel was written during the Restoration of the monarchy in England and a time when the British and Dutch were vying for New World territory. Critics see in Behn's story of the noble Oroonoko a pro-monarchism, as well as a nationalistic abhorrence of the Dutch, whom the first-person female narrator claims will be so much worse than the English. Her description of the slave trade, in which West Africans were complicit with white traders, seems to be pretty historically accurate.

Suriname was eventually traded by the English to the Dutch for New York City. Under Dutch rule, many black slaves found freedom in the interior of the country with friendly native people. These African-Native People were called Maroons and largely left alone because of the remoteness of their settlements. Subsequently, the Dutch brought in Indonesian Muslims and Indian Hindus to work the plantations as indentured servants

Today, Suriname has a small population of just over 500,000--about the population of Iceland--but unlike the homogeneous people of that cold country, Suriname is the most ethnically and culturally diverse country on earth today. Dutch is still the official language of the country, though other languages, including an English-based creole, are widely spoken.

Alas, I could not find books written by Suriname authors translated into English. I have become a little obsessed about the place since reading about its history, and if anyone has suggested works, please let me know!

20nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 8, 2020, 4:08pm

FINISHED: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (96 pp., 2015)

Plot WITH SPOILERS: Binti is a Namib teenager accepted to the off-earth Oomza Uni (university) over the objections of her family. She is a harmonizer (kind of a peace-maker, though there's more to it than that), math genius, and is expected to go into the family business of making astrolabes (personal computers that contain vital records, GPS, and other things). On the flight to Oomza Uni, while Binti is making friends with Khoush people, the Meduse people wipe out everyone on the ship except the pilot and Binti. The Meduse want to recover the stinger stolen from their king and put on display at the university, and Binti tries to stay alive by volunteering to negotiate on behalf of the Meduse. In the course of her tense relations with the Meduse, Binti becomes more sympathetic to her captors as a result of psychological and biological means. She recovers the king's stinger and becomes friends with one of the Meduse who is left to study at the university to promote understanding and peace.

Assessment: This novella is part of a trilogy for very young adult readers, and I felt like I was reading a children's book. Okorafor has created an interesting future culture for the Namib, whose fusion of tradition and technology, I guess, place it in the Afrofuturism sub-genre of science fiction. The style is engaging and lively, and the setting fresh and interesting. I like that the plot raises the issue of appropriation of cultural artifacts.

Maybe jenknox can weigh in?

21nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 16, 2020, 6:02pm

FINISHED: A Box of Matches by Nicholson Baker (192 pp., 2004)

Preliminary comments: I enjoyed Baker's Mezzanine (140 pp., 2010), in which a lunchtime trip to pick up a prescription becomes an interior observational commentary sparked by the quotidian details of life. (I may read that novella again for this project.) "A Box of Matches" is similar in in focus and tone: A medical book editor has decided to get up at 4 a.m. every day, start a fire in his fireplace, and record his thoughts and observations.

The book is rich in unexpected similes and metaphors, wherein lies the charm of Baker's observations. For instance, he describes his pet duck, Greta, pecking "all over the exposed underside of a log as if she were Teletyping a wire service story on it." If you've ever seen a duck searching out food with its bill, this is exactly what it looks like. It's not only an observation of the duck's seriousness and focused energy, but a commentary on the somewhat ridiculous intensity with which a reporter files a story as if the world will end if it doesn't have this particular bit of info RIGHT AWAY (as I once did myself).

Plot/Assessment WITH SPOILERS: Emmett is a 40+ father and husband, editor of medical textbooks. He decides to get up at 4 a.m. every day in the dead of winter to make a fire in his living room and enjoy and record his "morning consciousness."

In his daily reports, Emmet comes off as a little eccentric (he tells us what belly-button lint looks like when it burns), a little OCD (how to clean the soap in the shower), but probably no more than most of us are when no one is looking. He offers jarring confessions at times (he used to contemplate suicide in order to get to sleep) and has lots of theories and insights about dreams. He notices details that are apparent only in the dark morning.

Emmett seems to be suffering from some kind of melancholy, a midlife crisis, or just the need to be left alone with his thoughts. His early morning routine, the reader senses, is an effort at restoring equilibrium, perhaps even joy.

What I liked about the book is the way it conveys how much goes on in our heads that others cannot see and will never know. We are all fascinating little miracles hidden behind the daily grind, full of quirks, endless imagination, and wonder.

22thorold
tammikuu 9, 2020, 6:04am

>19 nohrt4me2: Tagmash https://www.librarything.com/tag/Suriname,+fiction
Looks as though Cynthia McLeod's The cost of sugar is the top hit by a Suriname author and is available in English. I've been meaning to read it since we did the Caribbean theme read in RG, but haven't got there yet...

23nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 9, 2020, 11:25am

>22 thorold: Thanks! Going right over to see if I can get it on ILL now!

Amazon has it only in Dutch.

24baswood
tammikuu 9, 2020, 1:44pm

>18 nohrt4me2: >19 nohrt4me2: two books I want to read. Nice idea to have a novella thread

25avaland
tammikuu 9, 2020, 3:32pm

>20 nohrt4me2: I read Okorafor's first book when it came out. It was not YA and was a very good SF/F female coming of age story set in Africa. I know you are reading novellas, but I thought I'd throw that out to you. Or should we not distract you from your reading-novellas mission?

>21 nohrt4me2: I used to really enjoy Nicholson Baker. Just checked, I read five of his books but not this one. It seems to have fallen between The Everlasting Story of Nory and The Anthologist (where I stopped reading his stuff. Why? dunno). I think Vox is my favorite...

Elizabeth Gaskell has a couple of novellas, one is Lois the Witch, the other The Moorland Cottage (came across them on the shelves today). They were both about 3/3.5 star reads for me. The first is notable only because it is set in New England instead of England (and I'm fond of the title :-).

26nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 9, 2020, 4:08pm

>25 avaland: Distract away. I went off on some dystopias last summer as a break, and ended the year reading books about Marilyn Monroe by women, then finished A Tale of Two Cities on New Year's Eve.

Thanks for the heads up on Okorafor's other book. I am intrigued by Afro-futurism. Second after my current obsession with Suriname.

I like Baker a lot, but I am a little worried about the duck in A Box of Matches. The narrator and his family seem a little clueless.

I saw some novellas by Simone de Beauvoir, so nice way to get back in touch with her. I will keep Gaskell in mind.

27raton-liseur
tammikuu 10, 2020, 4:32am

>26 nohrt4me2: I allow myself to interject and really second the recommandation for Elizabeth Gaskell. It's very classic, but quite interesting. I really liked Lady Ludlow for example.
I am happy to follow your novella trip, you are really exploring different and unexpected (to me) aspects of it, I am likely to make some really interesting discoveries in this thread!

28nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 11, 2020, 12:51am

>27 raton-liseur: Welcome and thanks for the Lady Ludlow. I wonder if I read it some years ago when I was reading thru Gaskell. Will have to check it out.

29dchaikin
tammikuu 11, 2020, 12:21pm

Enjoying these novella posts a lot. Fascinated by Aphra Behn and this 1688 perspective of a slave revolt. And just interesting about Suriname.

30Nickelini
tammikuu 12, 2020, 2:01pm

My favourite length for a book is 120 - 250 pages, so I'm interested to follow this thread.

31nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 17, 2020, 1:52am

FINISHED: Formaldehyde and From the Wreck by Jane Rawson (188 pp, 2015; 190 pp, 2019)

Preliminary comments: Elements of magical realism in these two Australian novellas, the first about a love quadrangle and a severed arm, the second about a ship's steward who survived a shipwreck. Both novels examine trauma and its psychological and physical effects. Not sure I understand these novellas entirely, but liked the first one enough to want to read more. Reading them is kind of like trying to make coherent conversation with a high fever. They are creepy and enticing.

Plots/Assessments WITH SPOILERS: "Formaldehyde" is an odd little novel of love lost and found in which one severed arm is attached to an accident victim, while the victim's own arm, mutilated in an accident, is kept in a jar of formaldehyde. Without trying to offer a cogent plot summary--it's all very complicated--I will just say that the severed limbs are one way to explore identity and interconnectedness that manifests itself physically and psychologically.

"From the Wreck" is about a real historical shipwreck that occurred in the Gulf of Carpentaria in Australia ca. 1850. While the wreck occurred within sight of land, rough seas prevented rescue of survivors for eight days, in which time some of them resorted to cannibalism. The survivor, George, in this story, is traumatized by his experiences on the shipwreck, and is obsessed with a strange woman who may have helped save him by keeping him warm. He believes the woman is some kind of shape-shifter, especially after he thinks he sees her in his attic window the day his son is born Henry with a strange birthmark. George believes Henry's birthmark makes him strange and obsessed with the creatures of the sea and Darwin's theory of evolution. George is frequently drunk and cruel to Henry, whom he believes is influenced by the shape-shifting woman. Henry tries to run away from home, and it is only when a family tragedy occurs that George's equilibrium is restored after a fashion. Mark--the name Henry gives to his birthmark--does have a life of its own. It is at once a real Entity, but it may also be a symbol of a collective memory humans carry of their ancestry as sea creatures and as denizens of the larger Universe.

What is interesting in both novellas is the way Rawson explores connection, memory, and imagination. These do not reside strictly in the brain, but are also transmitted to us and through us by our unconscious physical selves at the cellular level. In reading the books, I wondered if scientific inspiration--evolution, for example--might be deeply embedded knowledge that scientists recover rather than discover. Like Mark in "From the Wreck," we are all shape-shifters; it's just that the shift occurred over millions of years. What may be stored in our memories, which are still scientific mysteries, may be more than we actually "know."

I could be way off base, here, but the novellas are certainly fun to play with, and the point-of-view shifts in the narratives are interesting.

These novellas are also dense, nicely written, but sometimes confusing. They need to be read carefully, and they took me awhile to get through, what with going back to re-read parts and make highlights on my Kindle copies. They also run counter to the general definition that short works have single plot line and limited numbers of characters.

32nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 12, 2020, 2:32pm

33nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 28, 2020, 9:01pm

FINISHED: Go: A Coming of Age Novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro (168 pp., 2018)

Preliminary comments: This book was already on my virtual TBR pile and fit the bill as a novella. It's also billed as a YA read, though I am finding it "deeper" than most books marketed to youngsters and certainly more than the title suggests.

It follows the events in the life of an ethnic Korean boy in Japan, where some rather complicated rules governing the status of Koreans living in Japan after World War II have left the kid with feeling adrift from both Korean and Japanese society.

What is remarkable about the book are the observations among the boy's friends about life and art, especially, about what they read. Here's something that, as a lifelong devourer of novels (poems, short stories, movies, plays, YouTube videos, podcasts, long-form journalism, and, yes, God help me, gossip), stopped me dead in my tracks:

I didn't believe in the power of the novel. A novel could entertain but couldn't change anything. You open the book, you close it, and it's over. Nothing more than a tool to relieve stress. Every time I said as much, Jeong-il would say something cryptic like, "A lone person devoted to reading novels has the power equal to a hundred people gathered at a meeting." Then he'd continue, saying, "The world would be a better place with more people like that," and smile good-naturedly.

What gets into our heads and transforms us as we read stories and absorb the imaginations of other people who have written or told them? Do we make the world a better place as readers? Interesting idea.

Plot/Assessment: The plot is kind of rambling. The protagonist meets a Japanese girl who rejects him for being Korean, he has problems with his Korean parents, he ultimately rejects Japanese society and culture that purports to ethnic purity.

I had no idea that ethnic classifications of people in Japan was so legalistic, bureaucratic, and stacked against those of non-Japanese descent. The book riffs frequently on ethnicity, the science of DNA, and culture. The themes will resonate with Americans, certainly. We've seen similar things before ...

34markon
tammikuu 17, 2020, 5:35pm

Watching this thread with interest, and Go: a coming of age novel sounds right up my alley.

35arubabookwoman
tammikuu 18, 2020, 4:44pm

>21 nohrt4me2: I loved A Box of Matches when I read it several years ago, and I fully intended to read more by Nicholson Baker. Alas, that has not happened yet, but thank you for reminding me about him.

And I've added both Formaldehyde and From the Wreck to the wishlist, as I find myself always attracted to Australian literature.

36baswood
tammikuu 18, 2020, 5:56pm

I am reading Le Sagouin by François Mauriac 140 pages

37nohrt4me2
tammikuu 18, 2020, 6:05pm

>36 baswood: Can't find an English version and don't read French.

38nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 4, 2020, 4:49pm

FINISHED: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (192 pp., 1978)

Preliminary comments: This is just too damn cozy for my taste. Florence opens a bookshop in an English seaside town populated by the usual cute British eccentrics, does battle with damp and local biddy Violet Gamart. There's also Nabokov and a poltergeist.

Lacks the melancholy satire of Barbara Pym or sting of master novella-ist, Muriel Spark.

Nicely written, but nearly finished and not expecting much of a payoff.

Did enjoy her novel Offshore, so wouldn't put me off reading more of her work.

Later thoughts WITH SPOILERS: Whoops, didn't see that grim end coming. Violet Gamart gets a bill through Parliament that turns Florence out of her book shop, forces her to sell her car to pay off the bank note, and puts her on a bus for parts unknown.

Not sure if I completely misread the tone of this book, or if Fitzgerald purposely wrote one of those English village confections and then upended the cake plate in my lap in the last few pages.

Didn't make me like the book better. In fact, it made me feel stupid for not seeing this coming. There is, in closer inspection, some foreshadowing with the herons and other symbolic elements that indicate Hardborough is a place of decay, on the skids, a poor place for a vanity project like Florence's. Planning to do a closer re-read of this to see what I missed after some Alan Gurganus novellas.

39nohrt4me2
helmikuu 4, 2020, 5:01pm

NOW READING: The Practical Heart by Allan Gurganus (approx. 130 pp. per novella; 2010)

Preliminary thoughts: For me, Gurganus is one of those writers who drags me through the looking glass. That is, "real" life and the events in the novel are reversed. Only a visit from the cops or a call from the hospital would pull me back. Maybe. I've never been put to the test.

As a lifelong Upper Midwest Yankee, I am not fond of spending time Down South, and I feel no real affinity with real-live Southerners. But there is something about Southern writers that absolutely sucks me in, I suppose because reading a book Up North means I do not have to contend with the bugs, snakes, dialects, sickeningly sweet desserts, heat and humidity, etc. I can just kick back and enjoy the kind of excellent raconteurship the region seems to generate.

So far, the novellas seem linked by images, themes, words. I'm just not far enough in to say anything about what they are now.

40baswood
helmikuu 5, 2020, 6:09pm

Now reading The Left-handed woman by Peter Handke

41nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 21, 2020, 5:25pm

FINISHED: Sanditon by Jane Austen (novel fragment not novella, but that PBS mini-series is seriously pissing me off)

I had a sneak feeling that Sanditon as adapted by Andrew Davies makes no effort to stay within the boundaries of the original Austen fragment. So here is my attempt at some correction to Davies' effort as well as my thoughts about how the novel ought to end:

Characters:
--Charlotte is a sober 22-year-old, not the impulsive teenager she seems to be in the adaptation.

--Sydney appears at the very end of the fragment. He is perfectly civil and friendly when meeting Charlotte.

--Miss Lambe also appears only at the end of the fragment, and is described as sickly and a "half a mulatto."

--There is no such character as Mr. Stringer, nor is there any major building project going on.

--Sir Edward may be conniving, but he is hardly sinister. He is constantly quoting Richardson's novels in a transparent and attempt to make himself appear like a "man of feeling." He merely seems silly.

--Esther, Sir Edward's sister, seems to be the more formidable of the two. Clara Brereton's desperate poverty might make her capable of a lot.

--Mr. Parker seems spot on. Ditto his hypochondriac siblings and Lady Denham.

Plots:
There are four women in the obligatory Marriage Market Plot: Charlotte, Miss Lambe, Esther, and Clara. This clutch would circle around Sydney Parker, Eligible Bachelor Apparent. There's no doubt that Charlotte will win in the end. Esther seems like the most serious foil for Sydney. That leaves Clara and Miss Lambe to spin around Sir Edward.

The Struggling Sanditon Resort Plot requires that Somebody Rich partner with the Parkers to make it a go. Lady Denham inevitably dies to put the enterprise at risk. That leaves Miss Lambe and possible heiresses Clara and/or Esther to become the new partners.

Clara might settle for Arthur the hypochondriac brother. If she inherits part of Lady Denham's fortune, she conceivably contributes to the enterprise. Sir Edward would naturally be attracted to Miss Lambe, as a sickly heiress who is likely to die and leave him rich.

But Miss Lambe could, after she has married Sir Edward, recover her health at Sanditon and decide to invest in the place. That would leave Sir Edward and Esther as hangers-on with yet another rich relative. Or Miss Lambe could weary of Sir Edward and his pretensions and send him off to manage her affairs in the West Indies accompanied by Esther. Where they both sicken and die from the climate.

I see Mr. and Mrs. Parker moving back to the old homestead that appears early on in the novel, a place where the Parkers were happy and that Mrs. Parker misses. Their original investment in Sanditon pays off nicely under Miss Lambe's good management.

Arthur and Clara find they are quite content with each other, Clara because she now has a home and money, and Arthur because Clara lets him eat whatever he wants to.

And Sydney and Charlotte ride off in wedded bliss.

42nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 21, 2020, 8:30pm

FINISHED: Rage, The Running Man, The Long Walk by Stephen King as Richard Bachman (1970s/80s, all under 200 pages)

A philosophical interruption: I'll go back to Gurganus's novellas (message 39) in a while. These are problematic stories as I hope to explain after some thinking time.

Meantime, I have been having a reader's crisis brought on by the quote from "Go" (message 33). What IS the point of living the life of a constant reader. What good is reading? Am I just keeping myself out of trouble killing time until sickness and death close in, the way my mother used to redecorate her house every few years? Should I be doing something else? Should my reading be prompting me to something? Am I merely a reading epicure, my brain cells growing fat and lazy on the books I consume?

Fortunately, when troubling philosophical questions of this sort arise, there is Stephen King.

Assessment: "Rage," "The Running Man," and "The Long Walk" are all books with the general themes of humiliation and self-destruction. They are heavy on the noir style. The latter two are dystopian stories, taking place in a near future in which reality TV has become something akin to the Hunger Games.

Richard Bachman himself is a bit of a dystopian character, a darker version of King himself. In an introduction to this anthology, "The Importance of Being Bachman," King imagines Bachman's life "as a dairy farmer ... his wife, the beautiful Claudia Inez Bachman ... his solitary New Hampshire mornings, spent milking the cows, getting in the wood, and thinking about his stories ... his evenings spent writing these stories, always with a glass of whiskey beside his Olivetti typewriter."

It's hard for me to imagine a dairy farmer with a hot wife being so utterly angry and frustrated that he has to vent by writing these dark stories. So, all respect to King, Bachman, in my head, is a middle-school English teacher beaten down by indifferent students, the cruelty of adolescence, intractable curriculum committees, and idiot school board members. At night he's got his glass of whiskey and etc. and works out his rage in these stories.

Are these novels any good? Well, the ideas for the novels were fresh and interesting in the 1970s and early 1980s. In "Rage," a high school kid holds his classmates hostage with a gun and everyone has an epiphany. Mostly this is cathartic for the kids, but has consequences for the hostage taker and his nemesis, the Popular Kid. And a couple teachers are shot in cold blood. In "The Running Man," a prole tries to raise money for a doctor for his baby daughter by participating in a game show that ends with the deaths of the contestants. In "The Long Walk," one hundred 18-year-old boys are selected each year to walk, for the entertainment of the nation, from the Canadian border south until they drop, at which time they are shot. Last one standing wins.

The novels are well plotted, but pacing is a problem. We enter each story in media res, and there are often too many characters to keep track of, and the back stories sometimes get onerous. Of the three, "The Running Man" is the least clunky. I think it was made into an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie (yes, it was, 1987).

Editing is also a problem. In "The Long Walk," for example, several items are seen to "flap obscenely," a hat in someone's back pocket, or someone's shoe sole. There's nothing obscene about any of these images, but Bachman/King seems to like the phrase and that it conveys the grit and obscene humiliation of the situation. Bachman seems to be writing more for himself, feeling free to use inept language if it satisfies him. King is a more generous writer, with more respect for the reader.

Despite the pulpiness and the clunkiness of the stories, they are page turners. They also unsettlingly prefigure events involved in school shootings, 9/11, and reality TV excesses. In these early dark days of the millennium, they may speak to readers more earnestly than they did 30 or 40 years ago.

43lisapeet
helmikuu 21, 2020, 6:41pm

What good is reading? Am I just keeping myself out of trouble killing time until sickness and death close in

Honestly? This works for me.

Also, good reviews of the King... I haven't read him in years, and am wondering what I'd think now. I recently repurchased The Shining just to see if it scared the crap out of me this time around, but there are other things clamoring for my attention (while I wait for sickness and death to finish the job).

44nohrt4me2
helmikuu 21, 2020, 8:36pm

I have never read "The Shining." I found the movie scary, though Kubrick apparently took a lot of license with the plot. I liked "Dr. Sleep," the sequel.

45avaland
maaliskuu 3, 2020, 5:05pm

Did you say that you had already watched "Leila" before the book arrived in your mailbox? We just watched it. I thought it quite good, but I thought there was little from the book besides the initial premise. I was very irritated by the abrupt cliffhanger ending (it insults my intelligence: as if they couldn't trust that I would return to it otherwise. Grrr.)

46nohrt4me2
maaliskuu 3, 2020, 5:58pm

I watched a couple of episodes and then stopped because the book was coming. What I saw seemed good.

47avaland
maaliskuu 4, 2020, 1:46pm

>46 nohrt4me2: It's worth finishing. Like many current dystopias, it seems terribly timely.

48nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 10, 2020, 5:39pm

FINISHED: Hunger Strike by Colum McCann (107 pp., 2000)

Plot/Assessment: This novella is part of a mini-trilogy--two short stories are also included in the collection Everything in This Country Must. They all revolve around the Troubles, more particularly the late 1970s and early 1980s. "Hunger Strike" refers to Bobby Sands's hunger strike in an Ulster prison that ended with his death at age 27.

This is Irish literature about an awful period in Irish history, so I didn't expect anything uplifting or optimistic. In the novella, a boy and his mother have fled to the south of Ireland to live in a caravan on the seaside and to wait out her brother-in-law's hunger strike in prison. The boy, about 13, is full of rage and confusion about events in the North. His mother, a cabaret singer, seems determined to be cheery and quelling of his questions, which only makes the boy more angry and confused.

As he rambles around, he feels an inchoate solidarity with his uncle without understanding much about the political background of events. He wants to wear a black armband, he tries fasting himself, he lashes out at his mother. Because his mother deflects his questions, he keeps a journal in which he estimates his uncle's weight and blood pressure during the strike. He learns small details about conditions in the prison that may or may not be rumors--that the guards are putting better-than-usual food in the strikers' cells in order to goad them into breaking their fast.

The boy's mother urges him to play chess with her, and he becomes fascinated with the way the knight moves in a kind of sneaky two-step. When the knight is lost, he sculpts one out of the bread from his own supper and keeps it in the caravan's little fridge to prevent it from softening. The bread knight in the chess game becomes another symbol of solidarity with the prisoners in their game of strategy with prison officials and political opponents. The knight also reverberates in the way the bread in the Mass does--as sacrament and sacrifice.

A kindly old Lithuanian couple in the seaside town teach the boy how to use their kayak. The boy is not very curious about the couple's back story, but the reader can guess that they have escaped their own kind of political hell decades earlier. The old man teaches him how to free himself if the kayak tips over, how to protect himself from the spray, how to paddle sideways into big waves. The old couple offer freedom from the boy's anxieties, but his confusion over familial and political events keep pulling him back with destructive results.

Also in the book is a short story about a farmer, whose beloved horse is saved by English troops patrolling the area; and a mother and son who mill poles for the Orange parade against the husband/father's wishes. Neither of these stories is exactly a laugh riot, either.

Also read: The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson (2019, not a novella)

A French nun is sent to Iceland to investigate accusations of sex abuse at a Catholic school. The narrative has three layers, shifting between the nun's girlhood and love for her Icelandic roommate in the 1960s, the investigation in Iceland in the 1980s, and a return to Iceland in the present to meet with one of the abuse victims. The abuse plot may have been inspired by real events in Iceland: https://www.icelandreview.com/news/catholic-church-confirms-child-abuse-iceland/

"The Sacrament" is a compelling mystery, but I didn't quite get why Pauline/Sister Johanna ended up as a nun in the first place. She is a lesbian scholar who seems to have a mostly intellectual interest in God and her theology courses. Her call to the religious life puzzles me. A manipulative and awful priest (later a cardinal) puts her in demeaning and awkward positions at key points in her life, but Pauline/Sister Johanna clearly has this guy's number, and she has the kind of personality that seems perfect capable of telling him where to get off. Why she is in thrall isn't quite believable.

However, if you can suspend your "why is this woman a nun?" question, Pauline/Sister Johanna is a wonderful heroine. And if you can stomach one more story about pedophila cover-ups in the Catholic Church, it's a pretty good book, and nicely written with interesting local color.

49avaland
maaliskuu 10, 2020, 4:51pm

>48 nohrt4me2: I apparently had no problem suspending the "why is this woman a nun?" question, although it did cross my mind.

50nohrt4me2
maaliskuu 10, 2020, 5:42pm

>49 avaland: It was a question that kept intruding for me.

51avaland
maaliskuu 10, 2020, 6:04pm

>50 nohrt4me2: I wanted her to quit (could she?) Back to the roses....

52nohrt4me2
maaliskuu 11, 2020, 12:26am

>51 avaland: Nuns take a vow of obedience, so declining Raffin's requests (which are as much sadistic tests of her "willpower" as investigative missions) would have put her in a bind, and she would have been able to give her mother superior no compelling reason to weasel out.

Agreeing to go to Iceland in the 1980s becomes her battle against clerical abuses broadly, and Raffin specifically.

I think way the battle plays out would have felt much more problematic and ambiguous to most people, particularly to a nun.

53nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 31, 2020, 3:34pm

NOW READING: The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

See message 55 for the three Tolstoy novellas.

54avaland
maaliskuu 18, 2020, 4:53pm

>52 nohrt4me2: Interesting insights. I do have an older Olaf Olafsson novel here on the shelves, I might pick that up sooner rather than later.

55nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 31, 2020, 4:44pm

FINISHED: The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886, 114 pp.), The Cossacks (1878, 161 pp.), Master and Man (1895, 78 pp.), all by Leo Tolstoy

Plot/Assessment WITH SPOILERS: In each of these unrelated novellas, particularly "Ivan Ilych" and "Master and Man," Tolstoy is preoccupied with the contrast between the way the privileged class and the peasantry view life and death.

In "Ivan Ilych," the title character is a successful lawyer who spends much of his time accruing power, influence, money, and possessions, and the reader feels the weight of these things oppresses the mood of the story.

As Ivan, still a young man at 45, lies dying of cancer, a terrible and terrifying drawn-out affair, "all that had then seemed joys now melted before his sight and turned into something trivial and often nasty." It is not until a question occurs to him, "What if my whole life has been wrong?" that the terror gives way to introspection.

It is the cheerful care of his butler's assistant, Gerasim, a peasant come to work in the city, who provides the example Ivan needs to assess his life in spiritual and moral terms, and to die in peace.

In "Master and Man," Vasili Andreevich insists on following his own misguided path through a snowstorm and freezes to death, while his servant, Nikita, who is more able and willing to accommodate the changing weather conditions, manages to survive. The snowstorm, of course, like Ivan Ilych's cancer, is a metaphor for human suffering that cannot be controlled by power, influence, or social status. The blizzard is also a metaphor for Vasili Andreevich's blindness to his own pride. Stuck in the snow

he did not wish to sleep. He lay and thought: thought ever of the one thing that constituted the sole aim, meaning, pleasure, and pride of his life--of how much money he had made and might still make, of how much other people he knew had made and possessed, and of how those others had made and were making it, and how he, like them, might still make much more.

In a final selfless act, Vasili overcomes his own pride and is instrumental in insuring his servant's survival.

The extremely tight construction of "Master and Man," a story with just two characters and a single setting, might more rightly be called a long short story. But because it not only reveals the characters of both Vasili and Nikita, but shows character development, I think it qualifies as a short novel.

Both novellas movingly illustrate Tolstoy's notion of last-chance salvation. Do they speak to a modern society likewise struggling with spirituality and materialism? I like to think so.

In "The Cossacks," Tolstoy sets a soldier, Olenin, from the privileged class in Petersburg against the characters in a rural Cossack village. Olenin has romanticized the Cossacks and what he sees as their natural way of life. He hopes to integrate himself into their society, perhaps even be accepted by them as a Cossack. While Olenin believes he has made inroads along these lines, adopting Cossack dress and making friends with some of the villagers, we see how far he is from their way of life.

Olenin has a vague notion that he wants to "do good" in life. Early in the novel, however, Tolstoy observes that "A man is never such an egotist as at moments of spiritual ecstasy. At such times, it seems to him that there is nothing on earth more splendid and interesting than himself." While a reader could take this passage in a number of ways, it bespeaks Olenin's desires as of a piece with his general self-preoccupation.

The Cossacks are happy to take advantage of Olenin's money, gifts, and hospitality, but their outlook is generally tribal, and Olenin remains an outsider for all that he mixes with the villagers. They are not interested in "doing good" as much as following their long-established code. Men defend the village, drink and carouse, run relations with neighboring towns, and generally defer to their wives when at home. Marriages are arranged. Religion is a rather superstitious and perfunctory affair. Many of the Cossacks are Old Believers (that is, followers of the Orthodox tradition before it split into separate Russian and Greek lines). Olenin's introspection is viewed as eccentric and immature. He leaves the Cossack village without having left a ripple in its affairs.

Those who have read Anna Karenina will find a parallel with "The Cossacks" in the sub-plot of Konstantin Levin, who loses Kitty and finds solace and salvation working in the fields with his serfs. When he is reunited with Kitty, she is saved from her grief over losing Vronksky to Anna by living life alongside her husband in the country. I'm not a Tolstoy scholar, but perhaps the secret to Konstantin and Kitty's happiness is that neither attempts to arrange their own salvation through good works, as Olenin tries to do, but learn to be better people by leading good and simple lives.

56nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 11, 2020, 11:42pm

Read recently (not novellas):

Edith Sitwell, Victoria of England. Seems like kind of a tossed-off piece of fluff, but the narrative voice is charming, and you get insouciant little observations like this one about Prince Albert's coaxing Queen Victoria to take an interest in the arts:

It must not be supposed for a moment that the arts, with the exception of music, had yet attained to the high position in the domestic lives of the people which they afterwards held--a position midway between that of the Voice of Conscience and that of a pet dog.

Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers. One percent of the world's population disappears inexplicably. It has a ripple effect on society. Overly long, but generally solid speculative fiction. Then I made the mistake of watching the TV series. There's some really good character acting in it, but the plot winds around aimlessly after the first season and it all ends up in a soupy woo-woo. Perrotta concocted the series, and it made me think less of him and the book.

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year. I am publishing daily excerpts on a separate thread here on Club Read. My takeaway is that John Lawrence, Lord Mayor of London in 1665, had more empathy for plague victims than most world leaders have about pandemic victims right now. Interestingly, many public health authorities now are saying we should isolate infected individuals in quarantine centers, even if they only have mild cases of Covid-19, so that their whole family doesn't get sick. This was a big lesson learned after the London plague 400 YEARS AGO. Why, oh, why do people have to reinvent the wheel whenever a new pandemic rolls around??

Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown. This book might be a little gimmicky, but I liked it a lot. It's really an essay in novel/screenplay form exploring the problem American culture has had in accepting Asians as "typical" Americans.

Now reading Individutopia by Joss Sheldon (174 pp., 2018). I dunno yet.

57nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 26, 2020, 11:48am

FINISHED: Welcome to Hard Times by E.L. Doctorow (not a novella, 1960)

This Western is mentioned in Stephen King's novella, "Rat," in his anthology, If It Bleeds, in which the author is trying to write a Western and may be going insane. More of that another time.

Anyway, Welcome to Hard Times is a page-turner, and if all Westerns were this good everyone would read them and deem them Great Literature.

PLOT: A bad man comes to the town of Hard Times, rapes the women, kills many residents, and runs off most of the rest except for the town's unofficial mayor and record keeper, a traumatized saloon girl, an orphan, and a Native American. A Russian brothel/saloon keeper decides to settle in the ruins when he hears that miners will come into town on Saturdays for entertainments, and Hard Times begins to attract more residents. The fear that the bad man will come back is ever-present.

THEME and OBSERVATIONS: While there is plenty of venality among the residents of Hard Times, it isn't the greed, lust, or envy that does them in. In fact, these smaller sins contribute to the resurrection of the town and its prosperity. Rather, it is senseless destruction and chaos that rides into town, infects certain citizens, festers, and explodes.

In reading the novel, I was struck by how much of the imagery and thematic language echoes that in the Psalms, and I wonder if some of the longevity of the genre is that it plays off language that has reverberated in the Judeo-Christian tradition for thousands of years.

Just for fun, I did a search of the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer for image/theme words that are often the stock and trade of Westerns. Approximate number of times each word group appears in the Psalter is listed below. I may play around with this more, but that means I have to read more Westerns ...

120 x stranger, enemy/enemies, foe
110 x life, birth, children, baby

95 x water, stream, river, torrent, flood, wash
90 x judgment, judge, justice
90 x poor, grain, wheat, food, famine, bread, eat

85 x terror, afraid, fear
85 x sun, light, morning
80 x evil

75 x home, house, shelter, tent

70 x cry, misery, anguish, affliction, suffer, tears
70 x mercy

65 x faith, faithfulness
60 x death, murder, kill, die, death, perish
60 x cattle, sheep, goats, oxen, flock, herd, horse, calf

50 x dark, blind, night

30 x desert, wild, wilderness, forest
30 x mountain, cliff
30 x alone, abandon, orphan, forgotten
30 x serpent, adder, lion, wound

25 x rock, cliff, mountain
22 x peace
20 x storm, tempest, whirlwind, thunder
20 x deceit, lies

15 x grass, pasture, meadow
15 plague, sick/sickness, famine

7 x wine, drunkard

58lilisin
toukokuu 26, 2020, 8:30pm

>57 nohrt4me2:

Adding this to my wishlist!

59thorold
toukokuu 27, 2020, 8:14am

>57 nohrt4me2: Fun! I wonder if there's a digital corpus of western fiction somewhere you could compare it with?

60nohrt4me2
toukokuu 27, 2020, 10:56am

>59 thorold: Yes, I was thinking of running some Larry McMurtry through a word cloud to compare. But, basically, if you go down the list above, you've got all the ingredients for a Western--minus the piano player playing "Oh, Them Golden Slippers" or "My Darling Clementine. " It's always one of those two.

61thorold
toukokuu 27, 2020, 11:38am

>60 nohrt4me2: And Marlene Dietrich singing in her underwear...!

Do you think it's the desert scenery and pastoral economy that gives Westerns and Psalmists a common source, or do you think the people who grew up to write westerns spent too much time in Sunday school? Maybe the interesting thing would be to compare with gaucho stories (Spanish/Catholic tradition) or Aussie outback fiction (Irish/socialist)?

62nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 27, 2020, 4:32pm

>61 thorold: Haha! Destry Rides Again.

I think you have a project there chasing down these angles! I have never read any gaucho stories, but that would be interesting.

63nohrt4me2
toukokuu 27, 2020, 4:33pm

>61 thorold: Of course, Catholics do read the Psalms ... I don't know what Irish Socialists read. GB Shaw?

64thorold
toukokuu 27, 2020, 4:41pm

>63 nohrt4me2: Just throwing out theories — I don't really know anything about it :-)
Borges often mentions Martín Fierro, I suppose that must be the iconic text for gauchos. For Australia I was thinking about Henry Lawson, but I don't know how representative his stories are really.

65nohrt4me2
toukokuu 27, 2020, 5:11pm

>64 thorold: I think people living on a frontier without any central authority within reach, and beset with squabbles over land and other natural resources might write similar stories.

The Psalms, supposedly written by King David at a time when the Jews were trying to establish themselves as a nation, might have felt similar to gold miners in Alaska, gauchos in Argentina, or whatever Henry Lawson was writing about in Australia.

Modern readers of the Psalms, often take the "strangers" and "enemies" who bring "evil" metaphorically, as our own bad impulses that we are trying to root out.

But in a historical context, frontier stories I'll call them, the strangers and enemies bringing evil are often a native population in the process of being displaced. Or sometimes they're just members of the frontier group who have decided to cross over to the Dark Side as in Doctorow's novel.

66nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 17, 2020, 12:09pm

None of these are novellas. I may have abandoned that theme. I dunno. The world is so screwed up right now that sticking with a "program" seems kind of pointless. Just reading in a desultory way until the New Normal establishes itself or the world ends. Whichever.

FINISHED: How to Go to the Movies by Quentin Crisp. Crisp is shallow, witty, provocative, and occasionally insightful. He really doesn't tell you *how* to go to the movies as much as what he thinks the movies are/should be: He refers to movie theaters as "the forgetting chamber," which pretty much tells you what you need to know about his approach. After a short intro, the book is mostly a collection of entertaining reviews of 1980s movies.

Bottom line: It's like eating movie popcorn. Not exactly sustaining, but hard not to want to eat a lot of it.

FINISHED: Mary B: A Novel by Katherine Chen. The story of Mary, the ugly middle sister from Pride and Prejudice. On the plus side, Chen tries to be faithful to the characters and plot of the original book. She's got Mr. Collins' verbosity down, and she also sees an interesting connection between Mr. Darcy and Mary that makes sense.

What mars this book almost beyond endurance are the anachronisms--"existentialism," for instance, would not have been part of Mary's vocabulary--and just plain "off" use of words. I started making a list. Here are some:

1. ...frightening apparitions transpire (s/b conspire?) to haunt him
2. ...their diffidence (s/b indifference) had given me ample opportunity to consume all the plays by our revered Bard
3. ...an appearance so forgetful (s/b forgettable)
4. ... that lady's (s/b woman/person since it refers to a servant)
5. ... knife rolled (s/b slid) off the side of his plate
6. A blustering (s/b flustered? even that seems awk) hand upset the cup of aromatic coffee.
7. ...announced with appropriate morbidity (s/b solemnity?) that we had arrived
8. "I hope you are in good health," Mr. Collins suggested (s/b ventured tentatively)

Chen also has a penchant for odd and unpleasant similes and images:
1. ...looking more and more like a bloodhound that had just been kicked in the teeth
2. I could have collapsed onto my knees and kissed the ground and the worms that lived in it. I loved Pemberley this much.
3. ...like the tortuous churn of a heavy soup

Chen has Mary getting on and off horses at will. Dresses of the day would certainly not have allowed a lady to ride astride. Riding required a costume with a fuller skirt and a side-saddle. Mary also asks the Holy Virgin to be made beautiful. The BVM is referred to among country Anglicans as Our Lady, and I'm not sure that too many Anglicans in Austen's time sent prayers to her specifically.

Bottom line: I felt more like I was grading fan fic than settling nicely into a story. Once I have mentally pulled out the red pen, the book is spoiled.

FINISHED: Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Laura Willowes is a spinster who is sick of being the hanger-on in her brothers' families and goes to live in an odd little village by herself.

Bottom line: My God! Why aren't older women reading this book a lot more! She figured out the need for a room of one's own years before Virginia, and her story was a lot more engaging. There's witches.

FINISHED: World's Fair by EL Doctorow. A novelized memoir of Doctorow's early childhood in 1930s New York. This takes a while to get into, but the characters eventually start to grow on you.

Bottom line: I don't think it's possible for Doctorow to write a bad book (except maybe The Book of Daniel), but this book kept me at arm's length emotionally a good deal of the time. Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a more engaging story about growing up in the early 20th Century in NYC.

67rocketjk
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 17, 2020, 2:05pm

Hi! I just found this interesting thread. I'm not sure if you're still taking suggestions, but back in grad school I took a Literature of the Novella course. We read Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which has already been mentioned, but a couple I recall that have not been mentioned here yet (I don't think) were Sula by Tony Morrison and The Bass Saxophone by Joesf Škvorecký. I highly recommend both. Now I can't believe I can't remember more of that semester's reading list.

68nohrt4me2
kesäkuu 17, 2020, 4:35pm

>67 rocketjk: Most of the above in message 66 were suggestions. Not all of them were great suggestions, but I have nothing but time right now, and even crappy books can be instructive and engaging ... just not in the way intended.

I read Marquez's Chronicle of etc. many years ago. I don't remember if I liked it. At some point I also read Sula. Again, I am fuzzy on the details.

Hmm. The Bass Saxophone meets two criteria I avoid--anything that suggests music (I am not a music lover) and anything by Eastern European authors (whom I perceive to be opaque and tortured). So if it's a novella, that might be a good choice to get me out of my comfort zone in these discomfiting times.

69nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 19, 2020, 12:11pm

NOW READING: Jodi Taylor's St. Mary's time travel series. It's a boy's adventure story with a flawed and close-to-middle-aged female protagonist. Thrill a minute, occasional steamy sex scene, and an enigmatic villain. Basically Hogwarts for wayward historians.

I'm on Book 3, and so far these are solid three out of five star genre fiction productions.

Don't judge me.

Many of us feel drawn to space and time travel given the shit show of the here and now.

70AnnieMod
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 19, 2020, 1:31pm

>69 nohrt4me2:

One of my favorite series. You may want to grab The Long and Short of It as well - the stories and novellas fall between the novels and actually do show things referenced in the main series - so you read them where they fall. :)

71nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 20, 2020, 12:32pm

>70 AnnieMod: I am on Book 3 now. Really want to slap that little bitch. But there is a kind of psychological/metaphysical thread, a bit skimpy, that asks the reader to consider free will and the way external events form personality and experience.

We are all pinging along the time-space continuum bumping up against people and events, and our ability to control anything is limited. I like that idea as age and infirmity close in.

I do think that witnessing history the way Max does would have driven her mad long ago, though.

72avaland
kesäkuu 20, 2020, 3:27pm

>56 nohrt4me2: Interesting comments about The Leftovers. I did not read the book but we did watch the series. I did think it was better in the earliest seasons.

>69 nohrt4me2: No judgement here. Is there a seat beside you on that spaceship?

73nohrt4me2
kesäkuu 20, 2020, 5:19pm

>72 avaland: The novel version of The Leftovers ends roughly where the first season of the show ends.

Yes, I'll make space here in my time/space machine for you. First we have to test my theory that the first monk who worked on the Beowulf manuscript was a kid just learning how to make a book, and copying out a monster story seemed more fun than hagiographies and homilies. Then we can go wherever you want.

74AnnieMod
kesäkuu 20, 2020, 5:31pm

>71 nohrt4me2:

I would argue that they are all mad, one way or another. :) have fun with the series - despite some darker moments I later books, I usually find them light and fun.

75nohrt4me2
kesäkuu 20, 2020, 6:32pm

Easy to chomp through these. On #4 now.

76nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 23, 2020, 10:39am

Finished Jodi Taylor's time travel series:

Just One Damned Thing After Another (June 2013)
A Symphony of Echoes (October 2013)
A Second Chance (February 2014)
A Trail Through Time (July 2014)
No Time Like the Past (February 2015)
What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (August 2015)
Lies, Damned Lies, and History (May 2016)
And the Rest is History (April 2017)
An Argumentation of Historians (May 2018)
Hope For the Best (May 2019)
Plan For The Worst (April 2020)

Evaluation: Not sure I have anything to say about this other than that they are entertaining, escapist, episodic, a bit hectic, and characters become better rounded as the series goes on. None are novellas.

Finished Austral by Paul McAuley (2017, not a novella).

Austral is a husky, a genetically modified human calibrated to be able to live in Antarctica, which is warming up with climate change. It's a look at a future that isn't particularly dystopian but is clearly stressed by the challenges of global warming, tech advances, and biological experiments. Austral and the story's arc share some interesting parallels with Frankenstein's monster in her quest to understand herself, her family, and her place in the world. I found the ending/resolution quite moving.

Finished Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2020, not a novella)

Really nicely paced horror story set in Mexico, which layers in lots of interesting ideas about history, colonialism, and ethnicity, with allusions to Western and Mexican indigenous culture. The plot revolves around Noemi, who has been sent to a creepy house in the mountains to figure out what's wrong with her cousin, Catalina, who has married into the eccentric Doyle family. Lots of mist and sinister servants. I like this author's style so much I got her novella, Prime Meridian, which I'm reading now.

77avaland
heinäkuu 24, 2020, 6:43am

Glad you enjoyed Austral. Ooo, the Mexican Gothic book sounds good... (like I need more books in the pile).

78nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: elokuu 14, 2020, 11:17am

>Moreno-Garcia is great! I await eagerly await Certain Dark Things, a vampire novel, to be reissued through Tor next year.

The Larger Issues in Mexican Gothic are all woven subtly and obliquely into the overall fabric of the story. In Prime Meridian, a novella set in the future, she has a lot to say about class and privilege. The political overtones are more overt, but they never get in the way of the story.

She grew up in Mexico but lives in Vancouver. It would be cool if the CBC did an interview with her and Margaret Atwood together!

79lisapeet
heinäkuu 25, 2020, 9:37am

I hadn't realized Mexican Gothic was a horror story... cool! Both of those sound interesting, so on the groaning wishlist they go.

80nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 5, 2020, 1:07pm

Finished: Prime Meridian (novella, 2017, 87 pp) and Untamed Shore (not a novella), both by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia

Sylvia Moreno-Garcia enjoys playing with genre fiction. "Mexican Gothic" (above) is a horror novel, "Prime Meridian" is a dystopian novella, and "Untamed Shore" is a murder thriller.

In "Prime Meridian," Amelia is stuck in Mexico City of the future, where there is no middle class, only the very rich and those who serve them. As one of the servers, Amelia is hoping to pay for a one-way ticket to the Martian colony. She scrimps and saves, pestered by her former rich boyfriend and working as a paid companion to an aging movie star (shades of Norma Desmond), who acted in a B-movie about Mars.

The novella is skillfully intercut with scenes from the movie star's film about a fictional Mars, the kind where the actresses dress in skimpy silver lame outfits and wield space-age ray guns. Amelia knows that the real Mars is nothing like the exotic Mars on celluloid, but it feeds her daydreams of adventure and escape.

Set in 1979, "Untamed Shore" follows Viridiana, an 18-year-old who lives in Desengano (trans. "disillusioned"), Baja California. She is being pushed by her mother and step-father toward marriage with an uninspiring local boy because his family owns a stationery store, but she resists this plan. Viridiana is named by her absent father, living with a new family in Mexico City, for the protagonist in the Bunuel movie, "Viridiana," another young woman trying to navigate traditional Mexican cultural expectations and to live a self-directed life.

Viridiana gets a summer job as an amanuensis for Ambrose, a rich elderly American in the film biz who has come to town ostensibly to write a book, but more likely to get his bearings after an alcoholic binge. With him are his wife, Daisy, and her brother, Gregory. None of these people are what they seem. Viridiana is instinctively wary, at times seduced, at times fooled by the trio. But by the time a murder has occurred, Viridiana has surpassed her employers in her ability to plot and manipulate.

As in "Mexican Gothic," Moreno-Garcia uses genre fiction to explore socio-economic class disparity and culture clash. But it is all done so artfully in her books that it is never preachy or heavy handed.

Finished: The Scarlet Plague by Jack London (1912, 91 pp)

I believe this was a serialized novella, which maybe accounts for some repetition and slow movement. Or possibly London was broke and drunk and needed the money. In any case, the book is set in about 2080, when the eponymous pandemic has wiped out most of the world's population. It makes interesting reading in These Times of the Coronavirus Pandemic, but London's weird brand of snobby socialism is quite dated, the characters are cartoonish, and the plot plods.

Finished: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (not a novella)

This is a needlessly gimicky novel that uses reincarnation or maybe alternate universes as a plot device, and includes a ridiculous plot to kill Hitler. These defects decreased my enjoyment of reading the novel by about 15 percent.

However, setting aside the failed experimental elements, the novel is a very good story of a middle class family during the two world wars in the English countryside told through the eyes of the youngest daughter, Ursula. In delineating the options open to young women in the early part of the century, the novel is a little like an English version of Mary McCarthy's The Group. Except everyone in The Group is the same person.

81nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 4, 2020, 1:58pm

Finished: The Great Man by Kate Christensen (not a novella)

Plot: Painter Oscar Feldman, who built his career on representational portraits of the female nude, has died. His long-time mistress, lesbian sister and painter in her own right, and wife are visited by two biographers who want to write Oscar's story. The novel is the story of the women in Oscar's life.

I enjoyed Christensen's first novel, The Epicure's Lament, whose dreadful, hilarious, drug-addled, and pathetic protagonist was obsessed with food, getting laid, smoking cigarettes, and his pain pills. Not always in that order. Other novels and a memoir about food have been less successful, but always interesting.

Assessment: In "The Great Man" Christensen has hit her stride. The novel is bracketed by Feldman's obituary and a review of the two biographies that have been written by the end of the novel. It's a very nice touch that invites the reader to imagine all the untold (and perhaps unspeakable) elements that make up a life. And it pointedly references the filters we all use to in assessing those lives. Lots could be said about the novel's commentary on memory, perception, and the human need to make sense out of life.

(Fun pandemic activity: Write an obituary for all of your family members and have them do the same. Compare and contrast. Well, maybe not ...)

Between the news accounts of Feldman's life, the three elderly women closest to him rattle around, reminiscing, arguing with each other, drawing battle lines, and retrenching. Alliances shift. Feuds are confronted. Each of the women: Maxine, Teddy, and Abigail, are drawn with great affection and detail.

What marks this as a more mature and thoughtful novel among Christensen's works are observations about women and aging. For instance, Maxine, the painter and sister, in her early 80s, is easily irritated with interruptions as age makes concentration harder:

"Being dragged from the world of painting back into the world of life was as difficult as forcing herself from the world of life back into the world of painting. A thick but permeable membrane separated them. Going from one to another required a shape-shifting in the brain. She was never entirely safely ensconced in either world; the demands of the other one could be heard, muffled, from whichever one you were in, so no matter where you were, you felt a tug of anxiety that something might go wrong in the other one in your absence, something you'd failed to account for before you left."

And Abigail, talking with a friend about one of Oscar's many nubile subjects and conquests of whom she is, oddly, not jealous, offers this:

"I remember when young girls looked so delectable to me suddenly. It wasn't a sexual thing, I don't think; it was just getting on to the next phase of life. If we'd lived in a primitive sort of tribe or something, we'd have been elevated to wise old crone status, helping the young girls mate and raise their young. There must be a biological component to that feeling. It's like lust, in that it's a kind of sensual fascination, but it isn't lust. But it makes us love to watch them all the same."

One has to laud this kind of careful, respectful, and insightful treatment about the thoughts of women past menopause who are not twisted with regrets, repression, or self-deception.

If the novel has bits that don't work perfectly--the two biographers seem hardly worth drawing out, there is a mysterious bet between Oscar and his sister Maxine that is revealed perhaps a bit too early, and the book might have benefited from being pruned by 25 pages or so--I didn't really mind because the characters were so real.

82avaland
syyskuu 5, 2020, 11:27am

Excellent reviews, as always. Might have to put the Kate Christensen on a list somewhere. I find your "fun pandemic activity" a bit creepy, but I get where you are going with that.

83nohrt4me2
syyskuu 5, 2020, 1:13pm

>82 avaland: I have a fairly mordant sense of humor. I'm used to people not wanting to play Obituary at parties. I sounds like the set-up for an Edward Albee play.

84nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 8, 2020, 5:22pm

Finished: Washington Square by Henry James (not a novella, but a shorter novel, 266 pp.)

Plot: Catherine Sloper, the plain daughter of a doctor whose brilliant mother died in childbirth, is courted by a fortune hunter, Morris Townsend. (I may have names sp incorrectly because I listened to this book.) Dr. Sloper and Mr. Townsend take turns tormenting Catherine and beg the question: Is it worse to have a sadistic father happy to learn that he is right about Mr. Townsend's motives? Or an insincere and predatory suitor? There is also a ditzy middle-aged aunt, a character James often uses to provoke revelations and actions.

Assessment: I was moved to re-read this after watching "The Heiress" with Olivia DeHavilland and Montgomery Clift as the lovers. Ralph Richardson is Dr. Sloper. The movie is an interesting treatment of the story. Dr. Sloper is less sadistic, merely arrogant. Rather than forming a third side of a grotesque love triangle, as he does in the novel, he stays at the background, though Richardson is very good in the role. And Mr. Townsend of the movie is more ambiguous, and seems to have some real affection for Catherine.

As the movie progresses, we see a Catherine who is more capable of expression and more alert to the slights of both father and lover than her counterpart in the novel. Perhaps this is the influence of playwright and screen writer Ruth Goetz, who, in 1947, didn't think that the Catherine of the novel would play very well 60+ years after it was written.

What the movie does lack is the psychological subtlety by which Catherine is manipulated by her father and her fiance, and the way she learns, through passivity, to turn the tables on both of them. The Catherine of the novel is less bitter and, in many ways, more self-directed. She arranges a life as a spinster for herself that is described often as "peaceful," though it is quite dispassionate, and we must assume that she has paid dearly for that peace. It is clear in the novel that she knows exactly why her father dislikes her--because her mother died and left her father with herself as inadequate consolation--and the reader must assume that, at some point, she has caught on to Morris Townsend. While Catherine never defies her father's wishes, she does detach him from his power over her. She does the same with Mr. Townsend.

Most of Henry James works adapted to the screen are beautiful inadequacies, lushly filmed, but unable to capture much of the psychological interplay among characters (thinking especially of the Nicole Kidman version of "The Portrait of a Lady. An exception might be the "Turn of the Screw" with Michelle Dockery, who is very good and has an excellent supporting cast to rely on.)

I think that in choosing to use James's characters to write a screenplay more loosely based on the novel, Goetz and her husband created a whole new and interesting work.

Both the novel and the movie are quite good, and the side-by-side comparison was interesting.

I love Henry James even more than Jane Austen. His are the books I would want to be stranded with if I were on a desert island for life. Though Austen would be my second choice, despite the fact that James hated her books. Possibly an idiosyncracy, but I find I get way more out of Henry James when I listen to a good reader of the work. My reading speed is quite fast, and I think I may race over things and miss subtle shadings in tone, which often veer off into a very dark humor.

85baswood
syyskuu 8, 2020, 6:47pm

Enjoyed reading your review of Washington Square book and film.

86nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 8, 2020, 7:12pm

The movie is on YouTube free, or was when I watched it. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ad4hfSvbYTE

87avaland
syyskuu 13, 2020, 7:19pm

>84 nohrt4me2: Enjoyed the review. I read fast also. I agree about the adaptations of James's work; I have several on DVD. But, i haven't seen the newest with Dockery (hmm. or have I?) The one I have is from 2004 with Caroline Pegg, Colin Firth, and Jodi May. I see the Dockery version is 2009....

88nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 22, 2020, 6:32pm

Trudging through Michael Pye's non-fiction Edge of the World, about the contributions of the people around the North Sea region in the middle ages, primarily. Interesting guesswork from primary sources and entertaining/interesting arrangement of topics, but a timeline would be helpful.

Pleased to see the beguines and Anglo-Saxon scribes showing up.

All my ancestors were born on a line running from Ulster to Copenhagen, with stops in Wales, Yorkshire, and Amsterdam, so this is about them. I thought they were potato-eating flax pounders and cheese makers. Seems like they were also hardy, innovative, socially mobile, hard to control, and their women were quite scary. Yay, them!

89nohrt4me2
lokakuu 2, 2020, 2:15pm

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GROUCHO MARX!! Thank you for the movies, the letters, and some of the greatest one-liners of the 20th Century. I hope you are in Heaven singing all the Gilbert & Sullivan comic parts you can stand.

90avaland
lokakuu 2, 2020, 7:55pm

>88 nohrt4me2: The book sounds interesting. Mine also runs along the North Sea but from Scotland to Denmark/Sweden...but then it also covers most of England (including the islands), Wales and a touch of Ireland. While I am tempted, I think I will stick with the random histories I rummage through try to get some insight as to these people's motivations, culture...etc.

91nohrt4me2
lokakuu 30, 2020, 11:46am

Watching "The Haunting of Bly Manor," based on James's "Turn of the Screw" read earlier this year. Not as enamored of the production as this critic, but it is truly frightening and interesting. Spoilers: https://www.tor.com/2020/10/29/the-haunting-of-bly-manor-and-the-ghosts-of-henry...

92nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 8, 2020, 12:57pm

Finished April Witch by Majgull Axelsson, not a novella.

Three girls are raised by a foster mother who put her own severely handicapped daughter in an institution. The daughter is an "April witch" (big powers/weak body) who possesses others in order to torment her foster sisters.

I guess this book was big in Sweden, where policies re institutionalization of the handicapped in the 1950s and 1960s has become a national shame (though Desiree's treatment seems far more humane than the things I have read about such institutions in the U.S.).

The story of all four women is relentlessly sad and tragic.

While the novel is always compelling, and you care about the characters, structurally, the author doesn't really pull the threads between the foster sisters and daughter very tightly. The supernatural elements are interesting but ultimately seem gratuitous. They also serve to reduce sympathy for the institutionalized character who has quite a mean streak.

93nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 8, 2020, 1:01pm

Now reading Hell House by Richard Matheson (not a novella), which seemed like a nice distraction from the White House where the real horror resides these days. (Please God, the election results will be upheld and all that will be over in a few months so that we can get back to worrying about a global pandemic instead of a lunatic with the nuclear codes.)

I forgot how satisfying horror can be. I'm also struck by how little these novels have changed since The Castle of Otranto, though later authors have certainly improved on the genre. "Otranto" was one of the most boring books I was forced to read in 10th grade.

94nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 30, 2020, 6:56pm

Finished: Weather (225 pp, 2020) and Dept. of Speculation (192 pp, 2014), two novellas by Jenny Offill

Plots: In "Weather," the narrator walks a sad tightrope between enabling and caring for her addict brother and managing his effect on the rest of her family. In "Dept. of Speculation," a couple goes through phases of married life, from courtship to childbearing, to affairs, to reconciliation.

Observations about Offill's work and the novella generally: Muriel Spark remains my go-to author for delineating how the modern novella can be a different kind of work than a novel. For instance, Spark's style is spare. She uses lots of dialogue--at times her novels read like plays. She includes abrupt narrative gaps to interesting effect. A section may end in one place and open abruptly in a different time, place, and with different characters--again like scene shifts in a drama. The scene shifts require more reader attention to follow the narrative, leading to a more intense experience. (Kingsley Amis, FWIW, uses these gaps in "The Old Devils," and the effect is exhausting, at least to me, in a longer work.)

Spark is also a master at character revelation of awful people. Their awfulness is intensified because it is revealed over the course of fewer pages than a full-length novel. You can take in the whole shebang in one sitting, which means that the payoff comes quick and fast in one sitting. Good short stories do something similar, of course, but they give the reader much less information about a character's development. Examples: the narrator in Poe's "The Telltale Heart" and the freak show of misfits in the short stories of Flannery O'Connor. I'd argue that Olive Kitteridge is more a novella with a few side-tracks than a short story collection.

Maybe this analogy works: A novel is a mural with a sweeping scope that necessarily distances the reader because of its long view. A short story is a close-up of a figure, a head, or even just a pair of hands, sometimes so close as to distort the view. A novella gives you the close-up (sometimes uncomfortably so), but expands the view to show how the subject affects the world around him.

Under normal circumstances, I'd do more research about this, but, honestly, my focus and concentration levels this year have been off. But if you buy any of the half-baked observations above, Offill's works are really good novellas in that they aren't just mini novels.

"Weather" is an extended monologue by one character, and the scenes change frequently, almost like diary entries. "Dept. of Speculation" shifts POV from first to third person, but essentially focuses on the wife throughout.

Ofill's paragraph structure in both novellas is especially interesting. They follow a specific rhythm, several sentences of description or observation ending with a sentence of revelation. Each of these paragraphs are, in themselves, little self-contained stories. Here are some excerpts from "Dept. of Speculation":

My husband comes into the bathroom, holding a hammer. He is talking, reciting a litany of household things. "I fixed the wobbly chair," he tells me. "And I put a mat under the rug so that it won't ride up again. The toilet needs a new washer though. It won't stop running." This is another way in which he is an admirable person. If he notices something is broken, he will try to fix it. He won't just think about how unbearable it is that things keep breaking, that you can never fucking outrun entropy.

Sometimes our daughter plays a game now where she scatters her stuffed animals all over the living room. "Babies, babies," she mutters darkly as she covers them with white napkins. "Civil War Battlefield," we call it.

How has she become one of those people who wears yoga pants all day? She used to make fun of those people. With their happiness maps and their gratitude journals and their bags made out of recycled tire treads. But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.

This rhythm might be tiresome in a longer work, but it works really well over a short work of fewer than 200 pages.

95nohrt4me2
marraskuu 30, 2020, 12:54pm

Now reading: The Book Collectors by Delphine Minoui (nonfiction)

Minoui is a French journalist who covers conflict in the Middle East. She writes about a group of Syrian resistors of the Assad regime in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, who start a lending library that serves as a place of reflection and refuge as their government wages war on them.

The resistors are committed to democracy and human rights. One of Minoui's objectives is to show how the resistance tries to stave off radicalization in their group through reading, documenting their lives, and with spontaneous lectures and debates.

Minoui's style, sadly, is somewhat irksome. She is rather ardent and overuses exclamation points. She also writes a lot about her own fears and anxieties for the resistors, with whom she can communicate only through spotty internet connections, and this detracts somewhat from the terrors and exhaustion her subjects experience. More journalistic distance would clarify the story of the men and their library.

Nevertheless the story is compelling, and Minoui's sense of mission in telling it is laudable.

96baswood
marraskuu 30, 2020, 6:27pm

>94 nohrt4me2: enjoyed reading your thoughts on Novella's and short stories.

97nohrt4me2
marraskuu 30, 2020, 6:57pm

>96 baswood: Glad it made sense. I went back and fixed the typos in case anyone else reads it.

98avaland
joulukuu 10, 2020, 6:40am

Oh, I seemed to have overlooked this thread for a time (I think it's because you don't have your 'name' in the thread title). I blame distractions.

Interesting comments on April Witch; it's been a long time since I read it.

What's your reading theme to be in 2021?

99nohrt4me2
joulukuu 10, 2020, 8:21am

Still thinking about it, but maybe Mexican lit. I have "The Luminaries" ready to go to end/start the year. I don't know much about it except that it's nearly 1,000 pages. Author Eleanor Catton did the screenplay for the latest movie version of "Emma." Script was great, cast a little uneven, but I enjoyed it. Great set design.

Listening to Indian Summer by William Dean Howells.

100avaland
joulukuu 10, 2020, 9:06am

If you decide on Mexico, I have an unread anthology of the Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction I'd be happy to send you. It's 10 years old now, so not quite so contemporary....(but free).

101nohrt4me2
joulukuu 10, 2020, 11:36am

Thanks! Would love it!

102lisapeet
joulukuu 10, 2020, 7:19pm

>99 nohrt4me2: I really enjoyed The Luminaries, even though it has a big astrology subtext and I'm kind of allergic to astrology. But it wasn't presented in a woo woo way—it's more of a scaffolding for the story, there if you want to engage in it but easy to just treat as another ingredient.

103avaland
joulukuu 11, 2020, 4:17am

>101 nohrt4me2: Excellent! Will send.

104kidzdoc
joulukuu 11, 2020, 5:46am

>99 nohrt4me2: Rachael (FlossieT) highly recommended The Luminaries to me in 2013, before it was longlisted for that year's Booker Prize, and I absolutely loved it. Lois will remember that she interviewed Eleanor Catton for the inaugural issue of Belletrista in 2009, after her debut novel The Rehearsal was published, and she briefly mentioned the next book she was working on in the last paragraph of that article, which ended up being The Luminaries. On the evening of the 2013 Booker Prize ceremony I and several British LTers attended a play at The Old Vic in London, and a day or two beforehand Rachael called and let me know that she wouldn't be able to attend, as she had received a last minute invitation to Eleanor's party. (It worked out well, as a friend of hers purchased her ticket, and Lesley and I became and have remained friends as a result.) I can't remember what play we saw, but I do remember turning on my cellphone at the intermission, and seeing a rather excited text message from Rachael, which informed me that The Luminaries had won the 2013 Booker Prize.

105nohrt4me2
joulukuu 11, 2020, 9:12am

>102 lisapeet: Astrology? That sounds woo-ey AND pretentious, not that I make snap judgments as an INFJ Virgo or anything ... :-) I'll give it a try, but if I have to read Linda Goodman's "Sun Signs" to understand it, it will get the axe. Don't tell me anything else!

106lisapeet
joulukuu 11, 2020, 9:52am

>105 nohrt4me2: Nooo, don't let that comment of mine scare you off! When I say subtext, it's more a sub-sub-subtext, and what's really interesting is the mystery, the portrait of Victorian Australia, and the shaggy cast of characters. No Linda Goodman required (which would have been a no-go for me too).

107nohrt4me2
joulukuu 11, 2020, 10:10am

>106 lisapeet: OK, thanks. I feel better now.

108nohrt4me2
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 17, 2020, 10:35am

Finished: Indian Summer by William Dean Howells (not a novella)

Nineteenth century romantic triangle. Middle-aged bachelor smitten with pretty young girl in Florence, Italy, whose widowed chaperone, an old acquaintance of the bachelor's, also loves him.

Wholly pleasant, the bachelor is satisfyingly clueless, and it all comes right in the end.

Last book of the year.

109avaland
joulukuu 18, 2020, 6:20am

>108 nohrt4me2: Hmm, I think I've read that pre-LT.