One of the joyous things about being a parent is when your kid gets you up at an ungodly time of the morning and while they go back to sleep, all you do is toss and turn and decide 3 a.m. is the new wake-up hour. Thankfully on this morning, I managed to finish one of the novellas I had been reading and to take a breather I went online and scoured my library’s Overdrive pages for something new.
Let’s just say there are a LOT of novellas out there, which begged me to ask the question:
What is a novella?
The bookish world has been flooded with novellas in the past years; however, the majority of the novellas I found were supplements to larger bodies of work. These are stories that are about minor characters in series books, perhaps a Christmas installation, or prequel books to series, as well as entire series that consist of novellas. There are even non-fiction books of novella length, some of which read like fictional narratives!
According to Wikipedia, a novella is “a text of written, fictional, narrative prose normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, somewhere between 17,500 and 40,000 words.” There’s really no difference between a literary novella and a novella that supplements a series (which is basically the three mentioned above) which can be confusing to a reader – especially when they pick up a novella to read and realize that there are 10 other books in the series. I mean, does anyone want to make that kind of commitment? I almost feel like there should be some other name for novellas that are a part of a greater body of work versus a novel that stands on its own. I also think that short books in general – fiction or non-fiction – should be in the same category.
What do you think?
READING 5 NOVELLAS
As I mentioned, this morning my daughter got me up at 3:30 a.m. and then she went back to sleep while I finished a book and searched for new ones to read. I found many that I had already heard about, as well as a handful that were completely new to me. Since my kids both had school in the morning, I usually take that time to relax and read (I only get this two mornings a week) but I didn’t think I had the stamina to sit and read The Grapes of Wrath, of which I was 120 pages into. In order to keep myself awake, I thought it might be fun to pick out 5 novellas I had heard nothing about and read as many as I could in the morning with my tea.
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (110 pages)
Acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught everywhere from inner-city grade schools to universities across the country, and translated all over the world, The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero.
Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous–it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.
The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley (104 pages)
Somewhere away from the cities and towns, a group of men and boys gather around the fire each night to listen to their stories in the Valley of the Rocks. For when the women are all gone the rest of your life is all there is for everyone. The men are waiting to pass into the night.
The story shall be told to preserve the past. History has gone back to its aural roots and the power of words is strong. Meet Nate, the storyteller, and the new secrets he brings back from the woods. William rules the group with youth and strength, but how long can that last? And what about Uncle Ted, who spends so much time out in the woods?
Hear the tales, watch a myth be formed. For what can man hope to achieve in a world without women? When the past is only grief how long should you hold on to it? What secrets can the forest offer to change it all?
Discover the Beauty.
The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (64 pages)
A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the “psychic” visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it.
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (116 pages – 2hrs 22min)
Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions. It is the story of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century—an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime. Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West, this novella captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.
The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico (58 pages – 43min)
Classic storytelling from a bestselling author. Gallico’s most famous story, THE SNOW GOOSE, is set in the wild, desolate Essex marshes and is an intense and moving tale about the relationship between a hunchback and a young girl. THE SMALL MIRACLE is a contemporary fable about a young boy’s love for his dangerously ill donkey.
MY READING THOUGHTS
The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico (58 pages, Published 1941)
This was good, but not as good as everyone says it is. It has that fairytale-esque quality to it but it’s almost too short to really get into. It’s interesting that it was published during the war and there is something touching about the story. It’s been made into a few movies and maybe watching one of them would make me want to listen to it again.
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (114 pages, Published 1984)
Another okay read, this is a coming of age story of a Hispanic girl – I think it’s meant to be autobiographical. The introduction to this collection of vignettes was about 25% of the book, which seemed a bit overkill. I would’ve preferred it to be after the stories, honestly. There’s also a lack of quotation marks throughout, which drives me NUTS. This is apparently one of those books that assigned in school and I could see why, but just like my first read in this post, it’s not something that’s really going to stick with me.
The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (64 pages, Published 2014)
I was really excited to dive into this one because it was an author I had heard great things about but I had never read anything by her. I started to read this one and got to know about a women who makes money giving hand jobs, which threw me for a loop, but then the story creeps into thriller-ish territory and I will say that it was a bit of an addicting read. I mean, I wouldn’t say it was amazing but it’s one that has stuck in my mind – even if the ending was a bit lacklustre.
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (116 pages, Published 2002)
This book was quite different from a lot of what I listen to. It was pretty much about the life of a man as America changes around him. There were funny parts and sad parts, maybe one part that felt weird in the story to me, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all. I really enjoyed listening to the narration. Will Patton does a wonderful job of narrating the story and I almost want to carve out a couple hours to just sit and listen to it again. The writing was beautiful and it made me want to try out more of Johnson’s books.
The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley (104 pages, Published 2014)
I didn’t manage to finish this book in my morning while the kids were away, but I did start it in the evening when they went to bed and …. what the hell was that?!?! Honestly, if you do want to read this book don’t read further but I can definitely say that I do NOT recommend this book at all. So it starts with this colony of men. The women have died from some fungal disease and after they’re buried mushrooms start growing out of them. This is fine. Then the mushrooms become alive? They’re like people but not people, still mushrooms. Alright, that’s okay. Except whenever the men see the mushrooms they have this wild desire for sex and drop everything to fornicate. Okaaaay. And THEN the men get pregnant, which I guess is okay because someone has to repopulate with females, right? And just when I think the story couldn’t get any weirder, one of the men shows another that he feeds his baby from the same place he has sexual relations with his mushroom woman. WHAT. THE. FUCK. I mean, I feel like there was some sort of message or symbolism or something, but the story lost me along the way. This was a TERRIBLE story. And when I went on Goodreads I saw it was shelved as a horror novel? HORROR? I mean, the only horror is the fact that this was published AND that it has lots of good reviews. Nope. Nope, nope, nope.
As far as this little challenge went, to pick out 5 novellas at random from the library, I can’t say it was successful. I think I might just stick to books that I’ve at least heard something about – or actually check the ratings and thoughts of other readers. There is something to diving into a book that looks interesting where you know no one else’s thoughts, but it’s not something that should be done 5 books in a row.
How has your Novellas in November been? Have you read anything amazing? Anything really, really awful? Have you read any of the novellas I read this week?