And wrap up, because it’s over!
Novellas read: 13
Goodreads Challenge: momentarily caught up, already behind again
Five-star reads: 2
Since my last update, I read eight more novellas. In the spirit of #NovNov, here they are, very briefly reviewed:
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
I thought this was a book about race, but it’s really about the relationship between religion and race and America, all in about 100 pages. Continue reading
I’m back in the saddle and my Goodreads challenge is officially ON NOTICE:
We are not quite halfway though #NovNov and I’ve read five novellas totaling approximately 700 pages. In other words, over five books, I’ve read nowhere near the equivalent of this year’s summer read-along, The Count of Monte Cristo. I think I got more out of these pages, though. Read on for appropriately brief reviews, also coming soon to Booktube.
Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq
Goodreads says this has 208 pages, but it doesn’t. It has 180 some and that’s including several illustrations and half-blank pages of verse. Split Tooth is a novel in the sense that Flights by Olga Tokarczuk is, in that it’s fragmentary, or like Han Kang’s The White Book is, in that it’s really poetry, and definitely reminds me of Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, in that as much as it’s a coming of age story, and universal, it’s nearly impossible to separate the art from the author here, and you wouldn’t want to. I’ve been advised that the audio book is essential, and when the book is read by the author, and the author is a Polaris Music Prize winning Inuit throat singer who’s collaborated with Buffy Sainte-Marie and Bjork, that almost goes without saying.
I’m also pretty sure this will be the best book I read in which a woman has carnal relations with the northern lights. Continue reading
“Novellas in November” was conceived of by Rick of Another Book Blog five years ago, in 2013. His original post is lost to the mists of defunct WordPress blogs, but you can read mine here. Over the years, others came along for the ride, notably our fellow Canadian book bloggers Naomi at Consumed by Ink and CJ at ebookclassics. I have probably been the most consistent participant, but I wasn’t really a host.
People have been asking (okay… one person asked and it was Novellas in November alum Rebecca) about the history of this event, and while I maintain that it has been sustained these past five years by the sheer power of alliteration, there is just a little more to it than that.
Rick wasn’t *quite* the first to pick up a novella in November. I can trace a “Novella November” challenge as far back as 2009. A blog called “Bibliofreak” seems to be the source, but it doesn’t exist anymore. Some past participants in this iteration include noted blogger, podcaster, Booktuber and Man Booker Prize correspondent Simon Savidge, new-to-me Lizzy’s Literary Life, and blogs I used to read, like Things Mean A Lot and Fleur in Her World. Continue reading
I’ve been posting daily videos for The Short Story Advent Calendar, and enjoying it so much that I made a video for Novellas in November. Check it out:
I read five novellas during the month. Here they are, in very particular order:
- The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrente
- Grandma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki
- Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
- Blue Skies by Evelyn Lau
- The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
And please do subscribe and like and all that on YouTube, so my children stop making fun of my stats.
Welcome back to the third edition of Novellas in November!
This event is so special to me, I stopped doing all other blog events. This year is super-special, because event creator The Book-A-Week Project is back, and is calling himself The Book-A-Week Project again.
How under appreciated are novellas? Well, how many times have you heard Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire referred to as his (900+ page) debut? Turns out, he wrote a novella back in 2008! No, I am not going to read it, as I already devoted weeks of my life to CoF, but you see: novellas get no respect.
It’s not all bad news. Giller Prize shortlisted Fifteen Dogs qualifies at 171 pages (and it’s freaking awesome,) and there are a couple of short story collections on there too – or baby novellas, as I like to call them.
Novellas are a great way to sample a genre or author you wouldn’t usually read, not to mention they’ll kickstart that Goodreads challenge as we approach year end. Wanna novella with us? See below for inspiration, follow me and #NovNov on Twitter, and let us know what you’re reading.
My 2015 novellas
- Ghosts by Cesar Aira (139 pages) Noted novella connoisseur Michael Hingston recommended this to me. I trust his recommendation so much that I dropped $14 on the ebook, which is a little hard to swallow for the length. It is creepy as hell so far.
- Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas (178 pages) Based on this intriguing review by JacquiWine.
- The Poor Clare by Elizabth Gaskell (60 pages) Because I wanted a super-shorty and because it’s Elizabeth Gaskell.
- The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (96 pages) Is this a novella? I don’t know. But it’s been on my shelf for a year or so.
- The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (183) Because novellas are short, not easy.
- Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey (119 pages) So I can watch the adaptation.
- Every Day Is For The Thief by Teju Cole(128 pages) Another one that’s been on the shelf far too long.
More novella TBR inspiration
- Check out my Goodreads Novellas in November shelf
- My 2013 novellas
- My 2014 novellas
- The Wandering Bibliophile’s posts from last year’s event
- The Book-A-Week Project’s intro post
You know what I’m missing? CanLit. Where my Canadian novellas at?
Santa Rosa and North East by Wendy McGrath
My rating: 2.5/5 stars
I’m new to verse novels and I don’t think they’re my thing. I enjoyed Karma by Cathy Ostlere, which was very structured and straightforward, but I struggle with books like these, or, like Corey Greathouse’s Another Name of Autumn, which tend more towards stream of consciousness. Kind of verse, kind of not. I can’t find the right pace for reading and I lose track of the story.
The subject matter, and the characters, and the setting, are all of interest to me. In Santa Rosa and North East, we witness the crumbling of a marriage and an Edmonton neighbourhood through the eyes of a five year old. Child narrators are tricky. At times Christine seemed too savvy for her age, too empathetic maybe. I can’t help but compare to my own five year old. Maybe there are depths to him that I don’t see yet.
There is a third book coming, to complete the trilogy. I will probably read it, as the story is compelling enough that I want to find out what happens to Christine (I already know what happens to Santa Rosa; the neighbourhood isn’t there anymore.) I found North East a smoother read than the first, so maybe I’ll hit my stride at last.
Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville
My rating: 5/5 stars
Hypothesis: Bartleby the Scrivener is the inspiration for the classic 1999 film Office Space.
- Bartleby “would prefer not to.” Peter Gibbons’s “just not gonna go.”
- Bartleby regularly stares out the window (which looks out on a brick wall.) Peter “spaces out” for about an hour every morning. “It looks like I’m working, but I’m not.”
- The less Bartleby and Peter do, the more their respective workplaces do for them. Bartelby’s boss assumes there’s something wrong with his eyes, and tries to be compassionate. The Bobs deem Peter a “straight shooter with upper management written all over him.”
- Bartleby’s quirky colleagues would totally take out a printer. “PC Load Letter? The fuck does that mean?”
- Bartleby also has much in common with Milton. Once fired, he simply won’t leave and hangs about in the stairwell. Milton ends up in the basement taking care of that little cockroach problem.
- Oh, and Bartleby works in what may be the first cubicle ever. “I procured a high green folding screen, which might entirely isolate Bartleby from my sight, though not remove him from my voice.” As Peter says, “Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements!”
Both the book and the movie are a meditation on doing nothing, but end very differently. There’s no “fuckin’ A” coming for poor Bartelby. I don’t know what else to say; this book was amazing. Hilarious and weird and sad and strangely relevant to all the office drones out there, 160 years later.
I seem to have run out of November! I finished one more novella and aim to review that in the coming days. Tell me, whether you read along or not, what’s your favourite novella? Or, what’s your favourite line to quote from Office Space? Mine is “this place… is nice,” which is great for breaking an awkward silence.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
My rating: 4/5 stars
I had high expectations for James Baldwin after some coverage of his book Another Country on Booktube, and Giovannis’ Room did not disappoint, but, my enthusiasm waned near the end of the book. It was such a strong start, with a voice and a character who was so immediate and believable but still somehow removed – David’s name is hardly ever used in the book, and I would often forget his name altogether – and the back story about his family is so touching. Somehow, the sordidness and violence that come later just didn’t do it for me (and I appreciate sordidness and violence in fiction!)
I would compare Giovanni’s Room to The Great Gatsby and Bonjour Tristesse in both form and content. All three pack so much into so few pages. All three have captured their home countries’ imagination. All three are about sex and class and people who are never quite enough. This won’t be the last Baldwin book I read.
Oh, and I learned that France only stopped executing people by guillotine in 1977. I thought the references to the guillotine were symbolic or metaphor or something at first. Yikes.
Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving
My rating: 3/5 stars
Rip Van Winkle is a cute story. I chose it because it was the basis for a plot arc on Classic Alice, but I didn’t get much out of the story or those episodes of CA. It’s good knowledge to have though; how many people know anything about Rip Van Winkle other than he slept for a long time? I thought he was supposed to have slept for a hundred years or something, but it was only twenty. The whole thing was about the American Revolution. Also, there were ghosts getting drunk and bowling. I did not know that.
I would recommend it to anyone interested in this time period, or American literature. Check out a free version. It’s funny and very short.
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore
My rating: 4/5 stars
Sometimes I wonder if teenage pregnancy is a very common topic in literary fiction, and that’s why it comes up in books I read so often, or if I’m somehow drawn to these books. Either way, these stories tend to work their way into my heart. This one sure did.
Berie and Sils were too young for all the good stuff that happened in the late 60s, and are stuck coming of age in the time of Vietnam and Nixon. They’re just the same age as my parents, actually, and I too relate – my parents just missed Woodstock, and I just missed Woodstock 94 (the latter’s probably a good thing.) The struggles are the same, though – I kept placing the story in the 90s, rather than the 70s, because it felt so immediate and relevant to my teenage years.
This is a coming of age story, but we get a glimpse of Berie as a young adult, reunited with Sils at their 10 year high school reunion, and another look, just a flash, really, of Berie as a middle aged woman with an unfaithful husband. There’s a sense of disconnection between these three version of Berie, but the story never feels disconnected.
I hesitated when rating this book 4 stars. It’s really a 4.5, or a 4.9. I love that moment when you read a big name author for the first time and you GET IT immediately. Lorrie Moore is the real deal. Highly recommended.
Tell me, are you Novella-ing this November? What are you reading?
If you’ve been browsing round the bookish internet lately, you’ve probably heard a lot about what you should be reading in November:
Obviously these bloggers are all wrong. How can November be for anything other than Novellas? Alliteration doesn’t lie.
Last year, I had a blast reading classic and contemporary novellas all month. I even made a video. Maybe this year I’ll do one as a wrap up? It’s unlikely, now that I know what good book videos look like.
Anyway, on to my novellas!
- Tumble Home by Amy Hempel: based on the review here. “Reading it or any of her work is the surest way I know, besides having/watching a baby, to make life separate into moments.” Okay. Let’s see.
- Santa Rosa by Wendy McGrath: local author, local setting, sequel published a week ago, and this month’s #yegbookclub pick. No brainer.
- Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. My favourite novella last year was Bonjour Tristesse. This is another coming of age story set in France, and 19 pages in I’m already predicting 5 stars.
- Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore. For the title, obviously.
- Varamo by Cesar Aira. He seems to be the guy to read if you like novellas.
- Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville. I don’t know what it’s about, but the oft-quoted line “I would prefer not to” really speaks to me.
- Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving: it’s the current read on Classic Alice. I love Classic Alice even though none of these actors appear to be college age, and despite the fact that Alice and Andrew would have humped by episode 3 in real life. It’s like if Felicity was even more repressed. At least Alice doesn’t wear those awful sweaters.
Please comment below with your novellas recommendations, reading plans, or favourite episodes of Classic Alice or Felicity. I’m going to have to think about that one.
November is over so in the interest of time, these are going to really short reviews of really short books! Lost? Check out my previous posts:
- Novellas in November: Introduction
- Novellas in November Update #1: Summer, The Pearl, The Night Before Christmas, and Bonjour Tristesse
- Novellas in November Update #2: Memories of my Melancholy Whores and a Vlog
The Suicide Shop by Jean Teule
My rating: 4/5 stars
With the twenty-first century just a distant memory and the world in environmental chaos, many people have lost the will to live. And business is brisk at The Suicide Shop. Run by the Tuvache family for generations, the shop offers an amazing variety of ways to end it all, with something to fit every budget. The Tuvaches go mournfully about their business, taking pride in the morbid service they provide. Until the youngest member of the family threatens to destroy their contented misery by confronting them with something they’ve never encountered before: a love of life.
This book is like The Addams Family: morbid, cheesy, campy, and ultimately harmless. I was reminded of my years working in a haunted house – the one located under the roller coaster in West Edmonton Mall, which is supposedly haunted by the people who died in the derailing in 1986. We had a Addams Family “electrocution test” machine which supposedly tests your ability to withstand electric shocks conducted through two metal rods that you hold onto, but the rods actually just vibrated. But I digress. This book was weirdly great. It was all those things the Addams Family are – cheesy and campy in the extreme – but somehow it worked. It’s a futuristic fairy tale with a strong moral message at the end, and usually I hate that, but I don’t know, I guess my 90s nostaligia got the better of me. What can I say, I really loved laughing at dumb tourists who paid $2 to hold on to what were essentially a couple of vibrators.
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
My rating: 5/5 stars
Provocative, haunting, and indelible, Colm Tóibín’s portrait of Mary presents her as a solitary older woman still seeking to understand the events that become the narrative of the New Testament and the foundation of Christianity.
I’m not going to do this book justice in a short review like this, so I will direct you to Another Book Blog and urge you to read it and I will quote this passage, which says absolutely everything:
‘I was there,’ I said. ‘I fled before it was over but if you want witnesses then I am one and I can tell you now, when you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it.’
Okay, I will also say that this book reminded me of Emma Donaghue’s Room, which might seem odd, but they’re both stories of mother and son (or Mother and Son in this case,) maternal guilt, and the inability of parents to protect their children from the world. Even if he’s locked in a room. Even if he’s the son of god.
The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
I’m not done this one yet, but must note that I’ve been reading it to my (almost) four year old, and it’s been a delight. As readers, we get so excited about reading to our children, but we don’t realize that the first few years are torture – most baby and toddler books are awful. If it’s not super-schmaltzy Love You Forever, it’s some Disney marketing material barely disguised as a book. This is my first experience reading a real chapter book with my kids, and I get it now. Reading to your kids IS awesome. Especially when you get to read about messed up stuff like killer flying monkeys and opium-induced stupors.
Bonus: Some Novella Publishers of Note
So, you probably enjoyed this event SO MUCH that you want to read a bunch of novellas, right? Here’s a few publishers that specialize in novellas to get you started:
- Melville House: The Art of the Novella Melville House Books publishes a collection of novellas by the likes of Austen, Eliot, Proust, Dostoyevsky, and Mr. Melville himself. You can buy the whole collection of 52 novellas for a pretty decent price ($410 US) or you can subscribe and receive a novella every month. You can give this as a gift, too – like the Jelly of the Month Club, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. (Hint, hint to a certain sister of mine who is my secret Santa this year.)
- New Directions: Pearls Confession: I hate these covers. But it’s a great collection of classic novellas, reissued, and includes works by Fitzgerald, Gogol, and Borges. I am giving this collection the side-eye for not including any female authors, though.
- Black Hill Press: The only publisher on this list that deal exclusively in novellas, and American novellas in particular, this indie press doesn’t boast any big names, but wouldn’t it be cool to discover a new author through a novella? I’m expecting a review copy of Another Name for Autumn any day now.
Thank you Another Book Blog for hosting! Go check out his epic vlog wrap up – literally epic, it’s 45 minutes long!
Novellas in November continues! If you’re new to this concept, well, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Previous posts:
I was catching up on The Moonstone this week so I only finished one measly novella. And I vlogged! May I just say that I hate the word vlog?
Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Reminiscent of Love in the Time of Cholera but ickier due to 75 year age difference between the romantic leads, I’m not sure what to make of this book. Familiar themes of unrequited love, the passage of time, mortality, and love as disease and cure are here. Certain passages are so beautiful that they sweep away the reservations, but the reservations creep back in.
It’s not just that this 90 year old man falls in love and, well, sexually assaults a 15 girl old girl. It’s that the girl is an object, a thing to be projected on; to be named, and watched, and dressed and posed like a doll, and rejected and pined for. I am at once relived that the “Maestro” doesn’t consummate his passion (I don’t think he did, anyway) and disappointed that the girl is so loved but never gets to participate in any way other than as a passive… not even observer, because her eyes are always closed.
Someone suggested to me that this would not be a good choice for your first Marquez and I agree. Read Cholera first, then give this a try. Here are some quotes so you may judge for yourself.
Real talk, Marquez style:
I discovered that my obsession for having each thing in the right place, each subject at the right time, each word in the right style, was not the well-deserved reward of an ordered mind but just the opposite: a complete system of pretense invented by me to hide the disorder of my nature. I discovered that I am not disciplined out of virtue but as a reaction to my negligence, that I appear generous in order to conceal my meanness, that I pass myself off as prudent because I am evil-minded, that I am conciliatory in order not to succumb to my repressed rage, that I am punctual only to hide how little I care about other people’s time.
Not sure if this romantic or cheesy as hell:
Blood circulated through her veins with the fluidity of a song that branched off into the most hidden areas of her body and returned to her heart, purified by love. Before I left at dawn I drew the lines of her hand on a piece of paper and gave it to Diva Sahibí for a reading so I could know her soul.
Why you can’t resist those “OMG remember the 90s” Buzzfeed lists:
The adolescents of my generation, greedy for life, forgot in body and soul about their hopes for the future until reality taught them that tomorrow was not what they had dreamed, and they discovered nostalgia.
Vlog: Novellas in November Library Haul
One thing about having kids is you are almost never alone in your house, which makes vlogging rather difficult. I found myself alone for a couple hours on Friday and rather than do something rational like sleep , I decide to do this. Thanks for the inspiration, Fourth Street Review!
As always, thank you to Novellas in November host Another Book Blog! Chat with us at #NovNov on Twitter.