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.