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Archive for June 21st, 2011

What Are Your Favorite Short Novels?

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I asked friends on Facebook—writers, reviewers, critics, readers—what their favorite short novels were, short being less than *217 pages.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, was the best loved. Six people mentioned it, and that doesn’t include me. I try to read it every year.

Three persons chose William’s Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow as their favorite. Likewise, three persons chose Richard Bausch’s Peace.

Short novels by Steinbeck, Joseph Conrad, J. D. Salinger, Henry James, and Ernest Hemingway were popular, too.

Here are the responses:

Amy Holman:
Sitting in the Club Car Drinking Rum and Karma-Kola, by Paulette Jiles.

Lee K. Abbott:
So Long, See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell.

Ted Gioia:
Some of my favorites: The Spoils of Poynton (Henry James), The Black Swan (Thomas Mann), The Day of the Locust (Nathaniel West), The Great Gatsby (F.Scott Fitzgerald), The Gambler (Fyodor Dostoevsky) and Swann in Love (Marcel Proust).

Charles Baxter:
Ditto Lee K. Abbott’s choice: Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow.

Jan Eliasberg:
Couldn’t agree more—William Maxwell’s heart-breaking gem of a book, So Long, See You Tomorrow.

Robert Bausch:
Peace, by my brother Richard Bausch. After that, The Great Gatsby.

Allen Wier:
Ditto Bob Bausch—Peace and The Great Gatsby and R.G. Vliet’s Rockspring.

Rachel Helene Swift:
Peace is so beautiful, one of those perfect novellas that leaves you feeling like you’re clutching something precious.

Jill Jones:
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson.

Harvey Freedenberg:
There should be more of them, but here are four picks, three classics and one fairly recent (1) Gatsby; (2) The Old Man and the Sea; (3) Slaughterhouse Five; (4) Last Night at the Lobster [by Stewart O’Nan.] In the five years I’ve been reviewing, I’ve read more than a handful of novels that might have been better at fewer than 217 pp. than they were at their actual length.

To which I (Joseph Peschel) said:
I’d say that Bolano’s 2666 would’ve been better under 217 pages, but then I’d be hanged for heresy.

Stephen Fried:
A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean.

James Marcus:
Good Will, by Jane Smiley. Technically a novella, but what the hell. Also, The Beginning of Spring, by Penelope Fitzgerald, or just about anything else by Penelope Fitzgerald.

I (Joseph Peschel) asked:
What’s the difference between a short novel, a long short story, and a novella?

James Marcus:
A long short story is two anecdotes, a novella is three anecdotes, a short novel is four anecdotes and a car chase.

Jeri Kraver:
Franks Norris’s McTeague. Henry James’s Daisy Miller. Two terrifically teachable novels—so it might be the academic in me talking. Or Daniel Araon’s The Americanist.

Cynthia Haven:
Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier. And also C.S. Lewis’s less polished (but fun) The Great Divorce.

Ann Elizabeth Cavazos:
My taste is odd, admittedly. First choice would be Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, my copy from 100 years ago is crumbling but comes in at 177 pages. Now I will weep with shame and admit I have always loved S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, which comes in at 180. My copy of To Kill a Mockingbird just misses the limit. Because I read to my children, the short novels I’m aware of tend to be YA. Also love Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet.

John Orr:
Cannery Row, Steinbeck.

Chauncey Mabe:
Lots of gold to choose from in that stream. The Aspern Papers, by Henry James leaps to mind. The Snows of Kilamanjaro, by Hemingway. The Awakening, Kate Chopin. At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft. The Stranger, Camus. The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain. The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald. Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor (oops! Might be a tad too long). Siddhatha, by Herman Hesse… I gotta pick one?!?

which started the conversation below:

Why do you ask?

Joseph Peschel:
I noticed a GalleyCat question on Twitter about favorite long books. So, being the contrarian I usually I am, I thought I’d asked writer and critics about their favorite short books.

Joseph Peschel:
Sure, you can pick more than one.

Chauncey Mabe:
Thanks. You may have given me a blog subject for tomorrow.

Chauncey Mabe:
If I had to pick one, it might—might—be The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark.

Joseph Peschel:
Damn! I was gonna put it on my blog later!

Chauncey Mabe:
Oh, please, be my guest. There’s no end of things to write about.

Joseph Peschel:
There’s no reason we both can’t post this stuff on our blogs, is there? The more…

Chauncey Mabe:
True. Then we can compare misperceptions.

Joseph Peschel:
Should we count the small-print version of War and Peace?

Chauncey Mabe:
Yes, absolutely. Ulysses, too.

Mark Wisniewski:
You can’t go wrong with Of Mice and Men. &, yes, people tend to hate Hemingway, but there’s a lot to learn about storytelling from the few pages in The Old Man and the Sea. Then of course there’s this awesome new novel due out this October that’s right around 217 pp, titled Show Up, Look Good—wait a minute, that’s MY novel!

Kelly Cherry:
Death Comes for the Archbishop, Cather; Death of Ivan Ilyich. Can we say that Crime and Punishment is a short novel? It’s at least relatively short. Family Happiness by Tolstoy.

Joseph Peschel:
You know Kelly that greater than symbol was a boo-boo, supposed to be less than.
I mentioned the small-print version of War and Peace to Chauncey Mabe. We agreed that it and Ulysses should be counted. So, I guess “Death Comes” and “C& P” are in—if and only if they are the small-print versions. Does anyone have a magnifying glass?

Michael Shapiro:
Paar Lagerkvist’s The Sybil.

Leora Skolkin-Smith:
The Lover, by Marguerite Duras.

Paul Lindholdt:
Henry James, What Maisie Knew.

Dawn Tripp:
An Imaginary Life, by David Malouf; The Stranger, by Camus, Snow Country, by Yasunari Kawabata; The Lover, by Marguerite Duras; Ransom, by David Malouf; The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with The Sea, by Yukio Mishima; Emily L., by Marguerite Duras. (Ransom, by Malouf, is the only one that bends your rules a bit—comes in at 224, but e-x-q-u-i-s-i-t-e.)

Stephen Kiernan:
Pan by Knut Hamsun.

KC Bosch:
The Moon is Down Steinbeck.

Laura Orem:
Gatsby. It’s like holding a gem up to the light every time I read it.

Henry Cabot Beck:
Conrad, Billy Budd, Salinger’s novellas; Baby is Three, by Ted Sturgeon; Henry James’s Turn Of The Screw, & Washington Square.

Rick Carroll:
Silk, by Alessandro Baricco.

Otto McCarthy:
The Heart of Darkness, Conrad.

Sharon Nelson:
Tuck Everlasting (by Natalie Babbitt), even though a fantasy novel for youngsters, still pulls at my heartstrings.

Bill Harrison:
Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman

Kelly Cherry:
I need to second The Beginning of Spring, by P. Fitzgerald; it’s one of my favorite books. There is also a short novel by Michael Frayn, maybe titled The Translator, or something like that, and it, too, is wonderful.

I (Joseph Peschel) said:
Could it be Russian Interpreter?

Kelly Cherry:
That’s the title, Joseph! Thanks. I’m happy to have it restored to me memory.

Lora Soroka:
Salinger’s Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters! Since youth…

Lionel Beasley:
Death in Venice, Thomas Mann.

Tija Spitsberg:
The Aspern Papers, Henry James.

Bill Ransom:
Ballad of the Sad Café, Carson McCullers; or Of Mice and Men (can’t decide).

Dan Linke:
In Another Country, by Susan Kenney and alluded to in a Lee K. Abbott short story.

Steve Vivian:
My favorite: Miss Lonelyhearts, Nathanael West.

Toby Tucker Hecht:
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf.

Tija Spitsberg:
Also, Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton.

Renée Roehl:
Flight, by Sherman Alexie.

Christopher Purdy:
Firmin, by Sam Savage.

Jessica Blau:
Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. That’s short isn’t it? I haven’t read it for years but have been thinking about Pamplona lately!

Terry Hummer:
Marguerite Yourcenar’s Coup de Grace.

Sarah Otto Deacon:
Sold, by Patricia McCormick. Yeah, it’s a young adult novel but our book club just read it anyway. Beautifully written, poignant, riveting and important subject.

Chris Gavaler:
Henry James’s Turn of the Screw.

*I arrived at 217 pages after garnering some rather promising statistics, working out a few hours of trivial calculations, and writing a C program to give an absolute and unassailable answer. After my code choked in the compiler, I decided that 217 sounded like a really good number.

Below are the results:

A River Runs Through It 1 Siddhatha 1
Always Rings Twice 1 Silk 1
An Imaginary Life 1 Sitting in the Club Car Drinking Rum and Karma-Kola, 1
At the Mountains of Madness 1 Slaughterhouse Five 1
Baby is Three 1 Snow Country 1
Ballad of the Sad Café 1 So Long, See You Tomorrow 3
Billy Budd 1 Sold 1
Brave New World 1 Swann in Love 1
Cannery Row 1 The Americanist. 1
Conrad (unspecified) 1 The Aspern Papers 2
Coup de Grace. 1 The Awakening 1
Crime and Punishment 1 The Beginning of Spring 1
Daisy Miller 1 The Black Swan 1
Death Comes for the Archbishop 1 The Day of the Locust 1
Death in Venice 1 The Gambler 1
Death of Ivan Ilyich. 1 The Good Soldier 1
Einstein’s Dreams 1 The Great Divorce. 1
Emily L. 1 The Great Gatsby 6
Ethan Frome 1 The Haunting of Hill House 1
Family Happiness 1 The Lover 1
Firmin 1 The Moon is Down 1
Flight 1 The Old Man and the Sea 2
Good Will 1 The Outsiders 1
Hatchet 1 The Postman 1
Heart of Darkness 1 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1
In Another Country 1 The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with The Sea 1
Last Night at the Lobster 1 The Snows of Kilamanjaro 1
McTeague. 1 The Spoils of Poynton 1
Miss Lonelyhearts 1 The Stranger 2
Of Mice and Men 2 The Sun Also Rises. 1
Pan 1 The Sybil 1
Peace 3 To Kill a Mockingbird 1
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters! 1 To the Lighthouse 1
Ransom 1 Tuck Everlasting 1
Rockspring. 1 Turn Of The Screw 2
Russian Interpreter 1 Washington Square 1
Salinger’s novellas 1 What Maisie Knew 1
Show Up, Look Good 1 Wise Blood 1

Written by Joe Peschel

June 21st, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Posted in News