For the love of novellas

I can’t praise myself as a prolific reader for the simple fact that I am extremely busy. I dream of a time beyond thesis writing and TA jobs and RA jobs when the snow will melt and books will once again be read. That day may be soon at hand, but for now, I remain busy and cold.

This leads me to consider now a suitable moment to harp on my love of the novella. A literary art form that is currently in the early stages of a revival, a novella is somewhere between a short story and a novel. They’ve never fully gone out of fashion, that is true — you’d be surprised how many of your favourite classics actually fall under the category of novella (The Little Prince, Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm). But in a world of epic novels and online shopping I think the novella became somewhat displaced. Those looking for them can’t easily distinguish the length of book from a cursory glance on Amazon. Finding them — and then hoping for a good story, too — is a challenge.

I became interested in the style from the Melville House series The Art of the Novella, where they were publishing the shorter works of famous authors (and a few contemporaries) in a stylistically simple format. I was in a bookshop while passing through Ottawa a few summers ago when I bought Scott Fitzgerald’s A Diamond as Big as the Ritz, from this series. It was just the right length for a day of driving in the car, which was invariably interrupted by pit stops, bathroom breaks, and shifts driving. I was amazed at the impact that a book of such a short length could have. I suspect this was the start of my more recent appreciation for concise and clear writing. I like stories that go somewhere at a reasonably quick pace, and are wrapped up without too much winding.

That’s not to say I don’t love a full-length novel; hell, I’ve written one. They’re great. But they are more of a commitment than I can undertake on a daily basis right now. My best finds are in the second-hand bookstore downtown, where they have a miraculously wide collection of novella-length publications from the seventies that I adore. The stack on my shelf will last me a while yet, I think.

I think there’s something to be said for the satisfaction of finishing a book in a single session. Being able to percolate the story in one go is a rare treat, like a snack-sized version of a luxurious day doing nothing but lounging about with a big novel. The novella is there for us busy book-lovers, waiting for a single free afternoon, a particularly long bus ride, or a bout of insomnia to entertain us all in one marvellous act. Aren’t we lucky?

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