From The Guardian:
n recent weeks and months, more by chance than planning, I’ve been reading more much shorter books than I usually do. A slow and careful reader, I take on average a week to finish a 300-page novel (I once read that most adult novels are between 70,000 to 120,000 words). Nonfiction books usually take me significantly longer.
I recently took six weeks to finish Mister Mister by Guy Gunaratne (374 pages) for a review – but that had as much to do with my walking away after every 20 or so pages, sometimes for days, to contemplate the provocation of this fine novel.
But the more concise book – the novel of 55,000 words, the novella of, say, 35,000 and the extended essay of 30,000 words – has really been grabbing me lately.
We – I – do live in a binge culture. We’ve been primed to want it all now. Every episode of each series of a made-for-streaming drama in a weekend. Give it to me. The entire audiobook on a road trip or sleepless night. Now please. All episodes of that fantastic podcast on a long flight.
All of this, of course, challenges our attention and fragments our concentration when it comes to the written word. Especially in the form of a book, best read when the device is in another room – or the fridge.
But the shorter book may be something of an antidote to this. So allow me to tell, briefly, of its virtues.
To sit after dinner one evening, start a book and finish it by bedtime without moving is an unbridled joy. Or to read half a book in 45 minutes one evening, to go to sleep thinking about it and wake up excited at the prospect of reading the rest before work, feels like such a guilty and rewarding pleasure.
Recently, while immersed in both Mister Mister and the divisive Bret Easton Ellis’s The Shards (rollicking, unsettling and brilliant, in my view; 177,905 words, 608 pages), I reread – for the fourth, maybe fifth time – Kenneth Cook’s classic Wake in Fright (56,000 words, 224 pages) in a few hours one night. It’s a masterful work of very skilful brevity; a thoughtful, fast-paced ride into a boozy, macho, violent, misogynistic national interior – an antipodean Heart of Darkness. It followed me into my dreams. I woke, if not quite in fright, then certainly with it front of consciousness.
In for a penny: given I was already in that headspace, a few days later I reread, in a sitting, Joseph Conrad’s actual Heart of Darkness (38,000 words, 109 pages).
On the nonfiction front, earlier this month in two 45-minute sittings, I read Jeanne Ryckmans’ tense, elegantly written (and disarmingly black-humoured) Trust. At 30,000 words and 119 pages, it is a hang-on-tight rollercoaster of emotion and foreboding.
Link to the rest at The Guardian