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Apr 24, 2006



An interesting thought... I tend to like long novels, because I read pretty fast (not speed reading, but fast anyway). Short novels often go by in less than an evening, and that's too little time, except, perhaps, for mysteries.

However, I've recently started appreciating shorter novels, though not because I want to re-read them, but rather because I see them as long short stories. I read Goodbye, Columbus the other night, and found it interesting to read an entire "work" in the time it would take to watch a movie. Perhaps it's movies that influence me? I certainly am more than hesitant about committing myself to 4-hour movies.

Anyway, back to Letting Go (this ones' over 600 pages), later in the same Library of America volume of Philip Roth...


They are two distinct pleasures, aren't they? I'm a slow reader and it's fun to live in the world of a long book for days--or weeks, embarrassingly enoug--at at time.

But a short book like Ticknor is a great pleasure, too for all those "you can hold it in your head" reasons. Also, because, dull Yankee that I am, I get that satisfaction of adding another book to my (imaginary) "read that" list.

What I want to know is this: did men really bring pies to dinner parties in antebellum Boston?


Kirk, you remind me of another dimension to this topic: short-book authors vs long-book authors. I'd venture to say that most authors go one way or the other. Toussaint, for example, has written four or five novels over 10 years, none more than 200 pages in length. By contrast, I'd be greatly surprised if we ever see a sub-200 David Mitchell novel. Roth is an exception. Bellow, now that I think if it, was an exception too, though his short books came only early and late in his career.

Anne, I'm definitely with you on the pleasures of "inhabiting" a novel for days or weeks at a time. Johnson famously said about Milton's long poem Paradise Lost, "No one ever wished it longer," but often at the end a good long novel I am sorry to see it end. Just because I've become so engaged with the characters and the time and the atmosphere of the book, I hate to become simple me again.

About pies, I don't know. I take it from Ticknor's comment "if the pie had been ready sooner" that he baked it himself, which is even odder and sadder, in a way.

Not that I haven't baked a pie or two myself.


Toussaint is published in France by Les Editions du Minuit, who, interestingly enough, rarely publishes long novels. (There have been a few execptions, such as Claude Simon's Les Géorgiques, if I'm not mistaken, but not many.) Jean Rouaud's novels are mid-length, but most of their authors do write short, starting back in the days of the nouveau roman. Could this be that they only publish short works, or that "short" authors are attracted to them for other reasons?

Looking through my collection, none of my Minuit books are long; the longest being, perhaps, the Beckett novels. All the others are short. This, of course, may mean nothing, but is merely an observation...


I'm a slow reader, and with most of my non-reading spare time being devoted to my family and my own writing, I'm definitely biased towards shorter novels. 300 pages is about the ideal. Once I start getting beyond 400 pages my mind starts to drift, no matter how good the narrative is. (And, no, I've never been diagnosed with ADD.)

As for re-reading, my fave is Knut Hamsun's "Hunger", which I've read at least ten times. The language is spare but vivid, and every time I catch something I never noticed before. I doubt I would have read this great book more than once if it was 400-500 pages.


The more pleasurable the short novel, the more I wish it was a longer novel. I usually prefer the short story for those small spaces (made small by life's other responsibilities) - something I can squeeze in. Otherwise, someone get me a "Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" or similarly long, fantastic book.


Kirk, you are tempting me into territory I've been saving for our Toussaint discussion in a couple of weeks. I hope you can come back for that, as one of the rare people I've encountered who've read JPT.

I never considered the fact that most Minuit books are short, although now that you draw it to my attention I realize that I must have picked up on that somehow, since I have til now misread Minuit as "small" rather than what it really means, which is "midnight." (Walker Percy has a great essay on similar blunders, which is called "Metaphor as Mistake.")

Pete, you remind me that Hamsun is another writer who went both long (Victoria) and short (Growth of the Soil).

Condalmo -- and I mean this in the nicest possible way -- you're such a freakin' guy! You remind us all that gender probably has a role here too. At a minimum, there is a particular kind of big book that appeals to guys more than women.


Yes, Minuit is midnight - Midnight Editions, would be the translation.

I have lived in France for more than 20 years (though I'm a native New Yorker), and worked as a bookseller for 3 of them, so know Minuit's production very well. I am also a big fan of Beckett and Pinget, and have all their books.

As for Toussaint, I read one many years ago (perhaps the first) and it didn't move me. But I may pick up this one and join in the discussion when you get around to it.


Pinget I have not read. Modiano is my recent obsession. Re Toussaint, the first was "Monsieur." I think it's his only novel written in the third person, which gives it a different feel from the later books. Still my favorite, in fact.


Yes, Monsieur is the one I read. It was made into a movie at some point.

Pinget was a genius. He was very close to Beckett - both socially and artistically - but his work is much more humanist. I first discovered his novels in English translation, published by Red Dust (I wonder if they still exist...), then when I came to France, read everything he wrote. An amazing body of work, one that takes place in an imaginary area, with some characters and events that re-occur.

It is pure nouveau roman, though - some of his works, especially the early ones, are almost didactic, as though attempting to posit a specific style of writing. But later works are warm and humorous. Definitely worth reading.


Just noticed that Dalkey Archive in the States has three Pingets in their catalog:

Off to get some Pinget. Thanks for the recommend, Kirk.


The Inquisitory is Pinget's longest novel. It is, as the description says, a question/answer story, about a crime that you never really figure out. If you've ever seen Peter Greenaway's early film The Birds, I think the latter was influenced by this book.

Mahu is closer to Beckett's Murphy, with the same kind of humor. And Trio has three very good short works, which may, in fact, be a better intro to Pinget's work overall. Passacaglia is an especially fine short work.

Enjoy! I'm happy to have helped someone discover Pinget, who is pretty much unknown in English, in spite of a handful of translations. He is one author I would love to translate myself, but, as you know, most US publishers aren't even interested in translations any more... Sigh.


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