With 19 completed novellas out of the 42 that make up Melville House Publishing’s The Art of the Novella series, I officially surpassed the level of “mesmermized” (15 books) but came up just short of “obsessed” (21 books). I thought for sure I was going to get to 21 but yesterday worked out differently than planned.
Overall I had a very good time and I am glad Frances dared me into shooting for all 42. I read lots of authors I may not have gotten around to otherwise. I have to agree with some that the selection seems little on the sexist side. Lots of lusty old Russians and central Europeans don’t necessarily have gender equality on their minds.
Melville House makes a very nice book. Good design, nice paper, pleasant typography, etc. I do have to note that I spotted typos in at least five of the 17 that I read but nothing to make me less than enthusiastic about what Melville has put forward. As I read I kept thinking I should keep track of them and email the publishers but alas, I did not.
So to recap the month for me I decided to rank the seventeen books that I read. Using the verdict that I supplied with each “review” I give you my list in ascending order, from least favorite to most favorite.
19. Mathilda by Mary Shelley: Hated it for so many reasons. Go read Frankenstein instead, fewer monsters in that one.
18. The Man Who Would be King by Rudyard Kipling: I can appreciate this for what it is, but I didn’t enjoy it for one moment. I don’t see much Kipling in my future unless it comes in cake form.
17. The Horla by Guy de Maupassant: I was intrigued by the very real seeming descriptions of the descent into madness.
16. A Sleep and a Forgetting by William Dean Howells: I didn’t like this one very much because it was unhelpfully opaque.
15. (tie) The Dialogue of the Dogs by Miguel de Cervantes: While it didn’t knock my socks off, this novella included many interesting stories with moral messages that never got preachy.
15. (tie) Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson: I enjoyed reading this adventure tale, but upon reflection I think it could have been more interesting if Rasselas had gotten his…um…hands a little dirty.
13. The Duel by Giacomo Casanova: I quite liked this story when I read it, but it seems to be more than a little forgettable.
12. The Duel by Heinrich von Kleist: I was fascinated by this one because of its depiction of a duel being “indicative of God’s judgement.”
11. Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville: While I quite enjoyed reading Bartleby this time round, I am not sure I am any wiser for the experience.
10. The Devil by Leo Tolstoy: I liked it for its storyteller-ish quality.
9. The Duel by Anton Chekov: I enjoyed this one for the cringe-worthy jam that Laevsky and his mistress find themselves in. Kind of enjoyed their misery because it wasn’t mine.
8. Adolphe by Benjamin Constant: I liked it because it kept me in suspense as to how such a mind-f*** would end.
7. May Day by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Didn’t want to put it down. Almost missed my train stop.
6. The Touchstone by Edith Wharton: Wharton is always worth reading.
5. Tales of Belkin by Alexander Pushkin: I liked this one because it contained five well-plotted, often touching, short stories.
4. Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist: Despite the sad ending and the violence (which I don’t condone), I loved how this book expressed Kohlhaas’ rage.
3. A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert: I found Félicité’s simple heart and her simple life to be intensely moving and really enjoyed this one.
2. Lady Susan by Jane Austen: A total pleasure.
1. The Dead by James Joyce: Much to my surprise I really liked this novella. Up to this point I had sworn off James Joyce. I think The Dead has me reconsidering that.
Two things surprise me about this list. One, that I liked James Joyce. And two, that the Flaubert made it into such a high spot. It is one that I like better and better the more I think of it. There were others that were more enjoyable to read, but A Simple Heart has stuck with me.
I've always been deathly afraid of James Joyce but read The Dead for a college literature course and liked it. If I recall we read the novella and then watched a movie that John Huston directed that was based on the story. You might look out for it if you enjoy film.
I know that I have read The Dead, because I read all of Dubliners, but I remember nothing at all of either that story or any of the others in the collection. I also gave up halfway through the film. I think Joyce and I are never going to get on.
I think one of the great things about novellas is that they can introduce a reader to an otherwise daunting author. I might not think to dive straight into Ulysses, but reading The Dead (particularly with your recommendation) does not seem quite as intimidating. Seems like you had a good experience with the series, even if not all the books were perfect. And re: Mary Shelley, I've personally never been able to get through even Frankenstein!
I only managed to read ONE but I did love it — Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. I already checked out the sequel from the library. I did try to read several others but they just didn't grab me, or I ran out of time. Or both.
I'm intrigued by this series which I can't find here. I'm including some of your favorites in a list I'm compiling of short books for book clubs. If you have other recommendations please drop by my blog. Looking for books <250 pages worthy of discussion.
OK, so I'll skip Mathilda. Our Number 1 and 2 choices are reversed, but A Simple Heart is now officially added to my list. This been such a great challenge!
“May Day” is one of my all-time favorites. And yes, you should read Dubliners — much more accessible than anything else by Joyce, and some real gems.
I think I'll have to check out “A Simple Heart” based on your praise for it. I've never read anything by Flaubert. Novellas may be a good way to get into authors whose names I know, but whose books I have never read.
The only one of these I've read was the Joyce, which I also liked (though I wasn't surprised by my liking it, most likely because I have not read Ulysses… yet). I actually enjoyed all of Dubliners. I'm intrigued by some of the others on your list.
19 is quite a lot! Very impressive. I used to be terrified of James Joyce but I re-read Portrait of the Artist several years ago and found I actually liked it. I am currently reading Ulysses. I expected it to be hard and a slog but while it is hard, I am really enjoying the book. Perhaps enjoying The Dead is your first step toward becoming a Joyce fan ;)