Books That Are Short And Good

Fourteen months ago I wrote a piece (click here) about my successful attempt to re-enter the world of book-reading after a two-year hiatus from same. I’d taken baby steps, no doubt about it, but the two books I’d read at that point during 2017 (Henry Beston’s The Outermost House and Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Means Of Escape) had me bursting with pride at my accomplishment. I was back in the saddle!

One major reason for my choosing to read those two works was that they were très compact. As were nearly all of the five subsequent volumes that passed before my eyes in 2017. I don’t know, my attention span has shrunk like an icy dick in somewhat recent years. So, any book I’m apt to tackle is going to be on the easily consumed side in terms of page count and likely blessed with nice, big print. The days of possibly giving Ulysses or The Brothers Karamazov a shot are gone, baby, gone. And I can live with that! Happily.

Well, I’m here to report that consistency continues to reign in my book selection process. So far this year I’ve etched three notches on my literary belt, and the books for which the notches were created average around 200 pages in length. Short, in other words.

Good books they are, too. And although dubbed novels, two of them come awfully damn close to being memoirs pure and simple. As for the third, also a novel, it’s a memoir at its core despite its many flights of fancy.

The first one that I took on, Big Sur (by Jack Kerouac), is a mass of jagged and breathless energy. It recounts Kerouac’s efforts, three years after 1957’s publication of On The Road made him famous, to get away from the fans and from the media attention that he felt were dragging him down. To a cabin in California’s idyllic Big Sur he retreated, soon to discover that he couldn’t escape his alcoholic and highly unsettled self. In Big Sur’s pages, Kerouac tears into himself pitilessly. The public might have thought of him as a cool guy, a free-flying bird. But in reality, uh-uh. The so-called and supposed King Of The Beatniks, Kerouac wasn’t destined for many more years on our orb. He passed in 1969 at age 47.

Next up was Portrait Of The Artist, As An Old Man. Joseph Heller, of Catch-22 fame, completed it shortly before his demise, at age 76, in 1999. Catch-22, which entered the world in 1960, was Heller’s first and most popular book. I’d say that Portrait, of whose existence I was unaware until noticing it sitting all lonesome on a library shelf in March, deserves to be a lot better known than it is. This is the book that I mentioned above wherein flights of fancy flourish.

I tell you, this book made me squirm, not because it’s creepy or weird in any way. No, this is Heller’s account of a novelist (himself with a fictitious name) whose muse has bolted south. But needing to write (“He had nothing better to do with his leisure than to try writing another novel . . . ” Heller notes in one of many permutations on the notion throughout the book), our hero keeps coming up with one lame or unworkable story idea after another. Man, I can relate! Funny, human, almost adorable, Portrait is a satiric picture of a man determined not to give up, for lack of anything better to do, come what may.

I’ve known of Charles Bukowski for eons, but never read a word of the zillions he put to paper until I decided to give Post Office a spin. It’s Bukowski’s telling of his career during the 1950s and 60s as a mail carrier and letter sorter with the U.S. Postal Service in Los Angeles, and of his life during the hours when he wasn’t on the job. Crazy anecdotes and bushels of nastily humorous lines fly from Bukowski’s pen. It doesn’t take long for the reader to realize that Bukowski wasn’t cut out to work within a bureaucracy. A model employee he never was nor ever wanted to be. A hard-liver, a heavy drinker, a denizen of society’s underside, a street poet and a true character, it’s amazing that he hung onto his job for as long as he did.

Bukowski was and remains a cult literary figure, primarily known for his poems. I get the feeling, though, that quite a few millions of folks are into his work. That’s a big cult. I might relax with another of his “fictional” novels one of these days, because rapid-paced Post Office pleased me. Apparently totally at ease with his drinking, race-track frequenting and disheveled lifestyle, Bukowski comes across as a guy I’d probably have enjoyed talking to, but maybe for not too long. His energy would have swallowed me whole. Despite holding the antithesis of a holistic orientation, Bukowski hung around for a decent amount of time, his tenure ending at age 73 in 1994.

Okay, that’s enough about those three guys. It’s time to get back to what this publication mainly is all about. Me. Hell, if I don’t write about myself, who the f*ck will?

But, appropriately, I’ll keep it short. Getting back to my short attention span, I wouldn’t mind knowing exactly when and how it developed. Maybe it settled upon me as a result of societal osmosis, since cultural analysts and pundits have been saying for 20 or so years that most peoples’ attention spans are skimpy. Whatever the reasons may be for the state of mine, I’m not sure if I can or want to elongate it, to bring it back to where it once was during the decades I spent in the academic and paid-employment worlds.

But hey, maybe I just stumbled upon the key. It could be that when I hung up my career spikes in 2009, when additional hours each day became mine to deal with as I chose, my ability to stay focused began to slip. Now I kind of flit from one thing to another. Not that I mind flitting, to tell you the truth. I’ve gotten used to it and maybe even like it. In fact, in a day or two I’m going to flit over to a local library and scour its racks for a shorty. It’s time to etch another notch on my literary belt.

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53 thoughts on “Books That Are Short And Good

  1. barrydjd May 18, 2018 / 12:13 am

    Read Big Sur just after it was published. Still have a copy. Also have a copy of Being and Nothingness. Still unread. Still have the lingering headache from trying to read it years ago. Waiting until it is published in injectable form.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 9:10 am

      You know, I think I might have read Being And Nothingness in college. If I did, I remember zero about it. These days, there’s no way in the world I’d try (or want) to read it.

      Like

  2. Audrey Driscoll May 18, 2018 / 1:41 am

    I love The Outermost House, as well as another classic by Beston, Herbs and the Earth. But that’s about growing herbs; may be of interest mostly to gardeners. Have you read Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey? He was another one of those 1960s free-wheeling guys. The book isn’t very long, but I’m not sure how many pages. It’s about his time as a park ranger in the Four Corners region. Abbey also wrote The Monkey Wrench Gang, which is a full-length novel, but quite a lively one.

    Liked by 2 people

    • greenpete58 May 18, 2018 / 7:51 am

      I read “Desert Solitaire” a few years ago and loved it (I wrote about it on my blog). Abbey was something else, way ahead of his time. Hope to read “Monkey Wrench” eventually.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 9:13 am

      Hi Audrey. Haven’t read Herbs. I’m not sure if I ever read anything by Abbey, but he’s someone I’ll put on my list. Thanks for the recommendations.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. andrewcferguson May 18, 2018 / 2:21 am

    I’m not so sure your short attention span is to do with you retiring Neil, I think it’s a societal thing! Good recommendations – and I’ll keep an eye out for commendably short works. Have you ever read The Prim of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark? It’s short – and a classic: far better than the film.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Anabel Marsh May 18, 2018 / 2:55 am

    I used to read several books a month but that has also decreased over the last few years. I’m still reading, but I have a lot of blogs I like to get round! Maybe it’s easier for ageing attention spans to read in short chunks. Also, it’s quite sociable. Having said that, I read a reasonable number. The first year I counted was 2015 when I read 19 – I’m up to 19 already this year. Hang on, that is several books a month! Maybe I am back to “normal”.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. charliecountryboy May 18, 2018 / 3:01 am

    Great post and I have to agreed with Andrew in regard to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, but cannot let a post about short books slip by without mentioning one of my favourite books ever, The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway 😀😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 9:18 am

      Hi Charlie. I think that Old Man might have been Hemingway’s final novel. In any case, like you say, it’s really good.
      Thanks for stopping by. Appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. roughwighting May 18, 2018 / 6:49 am

    This is a fun post – I like your ‘voice.’ Natural, a bit self-effacing. And yet, the books you have chosen to read are not for sissies. I’ve read some of Heller, but not his Portrait. That one looks like I better pick it up. I love Big Sur, and not sure I want to sully my memory of it with Kerouac’s perspective. ;-0

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 9:19 am

      Hello there. Good to hear from you. I think you’ll like Heller’s book. He created a novel out of his own difficulty in writing a novel. Pretty cool.

      Liked by 1 person

      • roughwighting May 18, 2018 / 2:38 pm

        Very cool. I just passed on your recommendation to students in my creative writing class. THANKS.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. As much cake as you want May 18, 2018 / 6:52 am

    I can relate! Graphic novels can be great (shortish) reads – there are a bunch of memoir type ones like Persepolis, Fun Home and the Essex County Trilogy – I get them through my library too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 9:21 am

      I should give graphic novels a try. They’ve become very popular, I think, over the last 20 or so years. Thanks for pointing out some of them. See you —

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Alyson May 18, 2018 / 7:04 am

    Good to hear you’re enjoying book reading again – I’m afraid that since discovering blogging, my quota of books read per year is much reduced but trying to right that wrong at the moment. The key thing with a book however is whether you are gripped – Even if it’s very long, you won’t notice if the pages are being turned in anticipation ever minute or so. Can get quite emotional when you reach the end of the last book written by an author you really enjoy as you know it could be quite some time (or never) before you get to read something by then again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 9:23 am

      I don’t know — for me, at this point, any book over 350 pages would be a struggle. Maybe some day that’ll change, but I doubt it.
      See you, Alyson. Have a real good weekend.

      Like

  9. Susanne May 18, 2018 / 7:15 am

    Wow. I’m in good company in my recent attractions to short books. I actually went to the library three weeks ago and headed into the fiction section and only pulled skinny books off the shelves. 2/5 were short story collections – go figure – and were keepers. Next time I think I’ll scan the shelves for skinny green spines and see what comes up. Its as good a criteria as any and eliminates reading snobbery. In my opinion, one can flit with intention as much as one can focus with attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 9:25 am

      Hi. Thanks for stopping by. I like your green spines idea. I do things like that at the library. There are so many good books out there, it’s fairly easy to stumble upon some of them.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Fictionophile May 18, 2018 / 7:41 am

    Here’s hoping that your literary belt will be full of holes very soon. 🤞😙📚

    Liked by 1 person

  11. greenpete58 May 18, 2018 / 7:57 am

    Kerouac’s “On the Road” was a bible for me (and many others) when I was younger. “Dharma Bums” and “The Subterraneans” are also good (the first is a pastiche of “On the Road,” the second a great example of his dark, urban, spontaneous writing style). Heller’s “Catch-22” is on my literary bucket list. I know of Bukowski, but never read him. I totally agree, Neil, that attention spans have waned in these days of instant media gratification. Keep reading those novels, and I’ll be contacting you in a few years for tips, when I retire!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 9:28 am

      Hello there, Pete. Here’s a recommendation: Marya. It’s by Joyce Carol Oates. Terrific novel, I thought.
      See ya.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. joyce hamilton May 18, 2018 / 8:04 am

    Didn’t read any of those books but enjoyed your description of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 9:29 am

      Thanks, Joyce. As always, I appreciate your dropping by. You’re a very loyal reader of my stories!

      Like

  13. Debra May 18, 2018 / 9:32 am

    Although not in the company of those books, how about the only 200 narrow pages of Murder to Scale by yours truly? :-} Or do mysteries require too much concentration?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 11:16 am

      Hi Debra. I’ve always been slow at getting to things, but Murder will be a notch on my literary belt before year’s end.

      Like

  14. Laurie Graves May 18, 2018 / 9:53 am

    I haven’t read any of those books. Right now I’m into long YA fantasy/epics. But should I need a break…Few pleasures can compete with flitting around a library. Good for the budget as well as the soul.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Still the Lucky Few May 18, 2018 / 10:52 am

    Kerouac and Heller I know, but Bukowski is new to me. Thanks for the introduction—I’m always looking for new authors. I don’t share your interest in short books though. It’s longevity or nothing for me! This is laziness more than anything, since I abhor trucking off to the bookstore and library too often!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 11:20 am

      Morning, Diane. I admire your ability to read long books. I used to read them too, but I just don’t have the focus for that anymore.
      Enjoy the weekend. Be seeing you —

      Like

  16. viewfromoverthehill May 18, 2018 / 11:47 am

    Now you’re really into one of my favorite things — reading. Did you know Kerouac’s heritage was French Canadian? His first language was French. (As a Canadian, I can’t resist telling you that.) I agree with one of your readers, I think ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ was Hemingway’s finest work. Welcome to the club of happy readers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 1:46 pm

      Hello there, Muriel. I’m pretty sure that Kerouac did a lot of writing in French. Maybe a novel or two — I’m not sure.
      Anyway, have a fine weekend. Be seeing you —

      Like

  17. cincinnatibabyhead May 18, 2018 / 12:36 pm

    You want short Neil? John D MacDonald, Ross MacDonald, Charles Willeford, Jim Thompson, Leonard, Chandler…you see a trend for CB here? Those three you read have my attention. I’m doing a take on one of my fave records (‘Hot Walker’ Tom Russel). Lots of first hand stories by Little Jack Horton (Little circus man) on Bukowski and some of those other characters you know. A great piece of Americana. Couldn’t recommend it enough.

    Speaking of short, I’m reading Aunt Beulah’s book. Liking it a lot. Might be a balance read for Charles.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. JT Twissel May 18, 2018 / 12:54 pm

    I know what you mean about Bukowski – he’d probably burn out just about anyone! I’d rather read a short though satisfying novel than a long masterpiece.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Ann Coleman May 18, 2018 / 10:21 pm

    Personally, I love short stories! They tend to get to the point so much quicker than novels. And as someone who had to both read and write a few papers about Ulysses in college, I can say with great authority that it’s not really worth the time and effort in my opinion. Joyce also wrote Dubliners…much shorter, and much better!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 18, 2018 / 11:10 pm

      Hey there, Ann. Right, Dubliners is real good. I liked Portrait of An Artist, too. I’ll never read Ulysses at this point in my life, nor Finnegans Wake. I’ve heard that FW is even more impenetrable than Ulysses.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. selizabryangmailcom May 19, 2018 / 1:25 am

    Ha! This time I was smart about it. I did a search for “Brautigan” and it didn’t come up anywhere, so I know I’m not repeating something someone else said! Long story short: Richard Brautigan used to be one of my favorites. In Sombrero Fallout, he tosses a story he’s been writing into the trash, and the story takes on a life of its own after it’s thrown away. And…kinda short, if I recall. I think Bukowski and Brautigan have sort of been lumped together as similar sometimes. I think you’ve gotten a lot of reading suggestions, though, from everyone above. More than you bargained for, maybe………..? Happy reading. Happy writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 19, 2018 / 6:56 am

      Hi. I haven’t thought of Brautigan in a long time. Not sure if I ever read anything by him. He was really popular back in the day.
      You’re right about the reading suggestions. I hope to get to some of them one of these days.
      Many thanks for stopping by, Stacey. I’m always glad to hear from you.

      Like

  21. Isabelle May 19, 2018 / 10:45 am

    The novel “Post Office” by Charles Bukowski caught me, Neil. It somehow reminds me of the short story “Bartleby – the Scrivener” by Herman Melville, which was on the reading list when I was studing American Literature. I loved it. Will check out “Post Office”. Thank you. Isabelle

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 19, 2018 / 11:18 am

      Hello there. Yeah, give Bukowski a try. He’s pretty blunt in his writing style. Doesn’t go into long descriptions of things. I liked the book quite a bit.
      Always good to hear from you, Isabelle. Bye —

      Liked by 1 person

  22. alhenry May 19, 2018 / 3:40 pm

    “The public might have thought of [Kerouac] as a cool guy, a free-flying bird. But in reality, uh-uh.” Very interesting reveal on a legendary icon.

    As for Heller, his is (from a writer’s POV) a very tragic story–the secret terror of all authors: What do you do if the magic runs out? Because you’ve nailed the “needing to write” part spot on.

    So now I’m left with how to feel about my current read: The Alexandria Quartet” (Durrell). 900 pages of rather smallish print, packed into a used elderly edition so that page turning always threatens the whole. Durrell, as you may or may not know, has little use for structure and his plot, as such, is conveyed through semi stream-of-consciousness that meanders much more than a stream would.

    Still, he is a first-rate wordsmith and a haunting one at that, so I shall probably finish this book by Christmas–if it doesn’t fall apart first.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 19, 2018 / 4:52 pm

      Good choice — i.e. the Quartet. I read those 4 books long ago, probably in the 70s, and overall loved them. I think I liked the first and final books of the group the best, though I’m not positive.
      Anyway, have a good time with them. Like you say, Durrell is a haunting wordsmith.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Lynette d'Arty-Cross May 20, 2018 / 2:06 pm

    I love to read but my time for it is quite limited (and yes, I get distracted). I have a languishing stack that’s waiting for me …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 20, 2018 / 3:00 pm

      Hi Lynette. I used to keep a list of books I might read. That list has hundreds of entries. Twenty or so years ago I threw up my hands and stopped adding to the list.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Andrea Jones May 20, 2018 / 9:42 pm

    If it’s short you like, I’ll put in a pitch for essay collections by a single author. Bite sized pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger May 20, 2018 / 10:34 pm

      Thanks for visiting, Andrea. I like your idea. Will keep it in mind. Take care —
      Neil S.

      Like

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