As always, I encourage you to read Cathy’s and Rebecca’s reviews. I’m down to the wire here so this will be a short comment on a short book that needs no introduction. This is the fourth and final #NovNov buddy read, and I’d like to thank hosts Cathy and Rebecca for doing a bang up job. The buddy reads were a great idea! Check out all the posts linked here.
Ethan Frome is sometimes seen as a departure from Wharton’s other works, though in the Everyman’s Library edition I read, Hermonie Lee makes a case for linking Ethan Frome, Summer, and Bunner Sisters in one volume, and not just because they’re short. They’re also about working-class heros and heroines. There’s none of the social climbing (and falling) that mark The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth, and The Custom of the Country. Unrelenting poverty is the driving force of this story. Zeena and Mattie end up at the farm because they are both poor relations with nowhere else to go, and Ethan can’t leave even if he wanted to (and he sure does by the end) because he’s running the farm into the ground and couldn’t raise $50 if he tried (and he sure does try.)
It’s also about isolation and revenge. I was struck by the parallels between it and my all-time favourite book, Wuthering Heights. The framing device, the stark landscapes, the isolated house, the use of dialect, and most of all, the people, tied forever to the land and to a never-ending cycle of blame and regret.
The last line even echoes Wuthering Height’s iconic ending. I have a personal aversion to quoting last lines, but these are both so good, and I’m hardly spoiling anything. Feel free to stop here if you haven’t read one or both.Continue reading
I expected this novella to land as lightly as the cover treatment – like diffuse and gentle morning light. It hit me more like a bright midday sun beam.
It’s a rare book that conveys the frustration, boredom, and drudgery of early motherhood without veering into gross-out humour or sentimentality. I don’t relate to any of the particulars of this story – I became a mother in another millennium, on another continent, and by the time my oldest was turning three, I already had another baby – but the parent-toddler struggles, at the park, at a festival, at daycare drop off, during middle of the night wake ups, are instantly recognizable.Continue reading
I was briefly obsessed with Helen Keller as a child. Is this still a phase girls go through in elementary school? There was one book in particular that I read over and over, maybe in grade three or four. I don’t know which book it was (plenty to choose from), but it wasn’t this one.
I was taken with Helen’s childhood: the illness that left her blind and deaf, the wild tantrums of her early years, and her sudden awakening to the world on the arrival of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. So taken that I “borrowed” a few phrases from whatever book I was reading and used them in an assignment, and got called out by my teacher. My memory is not as good as Helen’s, so I couldn’t tell you all the particulars, but I remember the phrase I used was something that ended in “she bolted from the room”. My teacher said it sounded like I copied it, which I did, but I was very indignant; isn’t it okay to learn a new way to say something, and use it somewhere else? I remember the feeling to this day.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that Helen Keller was also called out by a teacher for plagiarizing, and that it was a pivotal moment in her life.Continue reading
With Novellas in November mere days away, it’s been brought to my attention that there are people who intend to read things other than novellas next month. And other people might get distracted by book prizes. The good news is that there’s a novella for just about every occasion. Here are some suggestions if you insist on participating in other types of reading in November.Continue reading
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
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?