My short attention span

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My attention span isn’t what it used to be. I used to like prog rock and David Lynch movies. Now I listen to 94.5 and give a thumbs up to Battleship (

I used to read giant books because they were part of the canon of literature and because I liked tackling them as projects. I read War and Peace (loved it) and Ulysses (mostly hateful), Remembrance of Things Past (liked it, didn’t finish it) and Crime and Punishment (liked it, didn’t love it).

Can’t do it anymore. I don’t know how long it would take me to get through War and Peace today, and I wouldn’t have the fortitude to wade through one chapter of Ulysses. Ten minutes reading anything but the most gripping, pulp page turner puts me to sleep now

Novellas are good. Mini novels, a hundred pages give or take. Publishers don’t like them much. I’m guessing they have a higher cost to page expense, which means when you ask consumers to bear that cost, sales become difficult. Five hundred pages for $20 is a better deal than 100 for $14.

But we’re talking about literature here, not Bulk Barn. Presumably what our money is really buying is an experience, and surely a great experience a few hours in length – reading a novella – is better than a tedious experience stretched over weeks slogging through a door stopper.

A novella can be read in a night, or on a plane trip. It’s a good length for a weekend at the cottage when you plan to spend more time in the water than on the deck.

It’s a good length when you can only read for 10 minutes before you start to nod off.

I’ve been thinking about accumulating a collection of classic novellas – the finest writing under 50,000 words – so it occurred to me I could get my employers to fund the time I spend researching this list online by compiling it at work and doing a post about it on my blog.

No, no, don’t call it dishonest or unethical. I prefer clever or efficient.

I should start with some of the ones I’ve read, of course:

The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad -

The Stranger, by Albert Camus -

The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane -

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway -

Animal Farm, by George Orwell -

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens -

A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess -

The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells -

Candide, by Voltaire -

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald -

I could go on: I Am Legend, The Mountains of Madness, The Uncommon Reader, Who Goes There?, The Mist, The Crying of Lot 49, Flowers for Algernon…but one runs into the idea of what constitutes a classic. Is Shopgirl by Steve Martin a ‘canonical’ novella? I haven’t read it – it may be wonderful – but it seems a bit premature to declare it a classic. I think Stephen King is a master of the form and a highly skilled writer, but I’d like his work to percolate a few more decades before adding the finest examples to the list above. Ridiculous, perhaps – Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness is older than A Clockwork Orange, for example – but it’s my blog post, so I get to be unreasonable?

So what should be on my must-read novellas list?

Of Mice and Men is the obvious:

 I haven’t read any Steinbeck, actually, but Of Mice and Men would be a good place to start.

I suppose Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a must:

I read In Cold Blood years back and thought it was terrific.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Solzhenitsyn would be on the list:

Should read The Man Who Would Be King, by Kipling:

I think The Dying Animal, by Philip Roth, is worth a look:

Seize the Day by Saul Bellow makes the cut because Saul Bellow is an awesome name for a writer:

I could go on, but this looks like a good start to a list. Not sure when I’ll get to it, though – I’m one of these readers with a backlog of books he wants to read. Hopefully, though, you found a title that piques your interest. A few of my favourites linked above would include The Stranger, War of the Worlds, A Clockwork Orange and The Heart of Darkness.

Read something and tell me – tell us – what you think. Eh? Hmm?

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