Archive for July, 2011

Just Not Short Enough

Monday, July 25th, 2011

To continue from last week, I imagine that the publishers felt the need to label The Imperfectionists a novel because short stories don’t sell as well.  This, in the age of text and tweets, is surprising.  I would have thought that short would be all the rage.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps the average short story is just not short enough.  Perhaps at 8000 words, they’re simply too long to appeal to all those enamoured with sound bites, slogans and catchphrases .  The last few years did after all see the advent of the “postcard story”.  Perhaps such stories are not just a creation of short story contests whose judges were only willing to read a limited number of pages in total.  Perhaps the contests and judges were simply reflecting the prevailing preference for even shorter narratives.  To further provide evidence of this possibility, I recently read of  “hint fiction”, stories that are 25 words or less.  And while this might sound short enough – it is after all just about the perfect length for a tweet – it has nothing on the one-word poetry contest.  The winner of which was, by the way, “despite”.  Which, I have to admit, I quite like.  Although.

This Is Not a Novel

Monday, July 18th, 2011

I recently read The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (another book club selection).  I greatly enjoyed the book, which has generally been critically acclaimed.  It has some exquisite character portrayals, some terrific lines (I particularly liked one describing someone eating his soup as if he were searching for his cufflink ), and the odd interesting situation.  But it is not a novel.  It is a collection of short stories about a bunch of people loosely connected through their place of work, an English-language newspaper published in Rome.  This is the case even though the book is often described as being a novel about the paper itself.  It is not.  Their place of work is largely relevant only in that it provides a setting for a bunch of expats.  The tight deadlines of newspaper publishing combined with declining readership adds some pressure on some of the characters’ work experiences but if it weren’t a newspaper, it could have easily been some other place of business.  This, I think, is a good thing.  I for one am not particularly interested in a book where the protagonist is a newspaper or, really, any inanimate object.  What is interesting about The Imperfectionists not being a novel is that it says it’s a novel right on the cover.  And if there were any doubt, Amazon (and I am sure other sites) has it listed as The Imperfectionists: A Novel.  I was happily duped but duped nonetheless.  From now on, I will look with greater on suspicion upon books where the publisher feels the need to emphasize what I would otherwise have taken for granted.

The Power of Three

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Three blind mice sat in three bears’ chairs and found the third one just right.  Or have you heard of the one about the physicist, the engineer and the economist?  Or how about the three musketeers who found that three’s already a crowd so didn’t bother including the fourth in the title?  Three is the mainstay of writing.  Perhaps even storytelling.  As Wikipedia notes in reference to the “rule of three”, “things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.”  Which would explain why Dumas didn’t feel the need to include poor d’Artagnan, his protagonist no less, in the number of his title.  In comedy in particular, it would seem that three is the number where it “bends” rather than “breaks”.  But this doesn’t explain The Simpsons, and after 23 seasons something should.  The Simpsons regularly break the rule of three in favour of the “overly long gag”.  In fact, the creators may have invented this particular form of comedy in the “Cape Feare” episode where Sideshow Bob endlessly (well, nine times) steps on rakes so that, or so I am told, stepping on a rake becomes funny again rather than just annoying.  Personally I don’t find it surprising that this was added because the episode ran short.  Give me the three little pigs behind door number three instead any day.