Taking Little Novel(la) Risks…

I am deep in the middle of reading Man Booker longlisted novels for We Love This Book and also the submissions for the Green Carnation Prize and it’s made me realise, and often without those two excuses, that I do tend to read a lot of contemporary fiction. In fact looking at my reviews most of them now veer towards books published in the last year or soon out. I have started to feel I am missing out on books pre-2010/11 and I think I need to combat that.

I also worry I’ve not read enough of ‘the greats’ either. I’m not just talking about Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens (seriously I haven’t read them, I shouldn’t call myself a lover of books should I?) but also writers like Somerset Maugham or Forster and what about modern-ish classic writers like Philip Roth or Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Well the other day I had a slight epiphany.

Going to the library one lunch time this week (as I don’t already have enough books do I?) I saw ‘Lesley Castle’ by Jane Austen. It was very short, it would be a taster of her writing. I had a brainwave, why not search the shelves for some authors I have meant to try/heard are masters from all eras and find the shortest books by them too? This is the collection I pulled off the shelves…


I wanted a real mixture from all eras, areas of the world etc and so I ended up with ‘Lesley Castle’ by Jane Austen, ‘Claudine in Paris’ by Colette, ‘Memories of my Melancholy Whores’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, ‘The Lady and the Little Fox Fur’ by Violette Leduc (which Simon T has mentioned), ‘Up At The Villa’ by W. Somerset Maugham and ‘Anthem’ by Ayn Rand. What a collection!

I am going to read them randomly at whim, well I have already devoured two on trains in and out of town this week, but I like the idea of slowly upping my classics in take and being introduced to new older authors between more ‘current’ reading.

What do you all think of this idea? Do any of you do all this already? How do you try and keep a more stable reading diet combined with a whim routine? Or do you not?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness, Taking Little Novel(la) Risks

27 responses to “Taking Little Novel(la) Risks…

  1. Have you read the excellent “My Mistress’ sparrow is dead”? It’s a collection of long(ish) short stories (I hope that makes sense) all on the theme of love. The crux, however, is that they’re all little known works by otherwise very famous writers from the last several hundred years – I mean heavyweights: Chekov, Nabokov, William Faulkner, Raymond Carver etc. etc.. It’s a great way to dip in and out of ‘classic’ writers without having to commit to novel-length pieces. It’s edited by Jeffrey Eudinides – check it out! it’s really awesome!


    • Oh Tomcat that sounds like a brilliant recommendation, I have noted the collection and will be adding it to my wishlist, or seeing if the library has it – in fact that will be my first port of call. That sounds like it could be quite the find and I think short story collections are things I need to be paying more attention to… I have just read a corker.

  2. MJ

    I’ve been wanting to read ‘Memories of my Melancholy Whores’ for awhile now. I’ve read one Marquez novel, and a few short stories, and I really enjoyed them.

    I like your new method, and hope it works for you. My reading tastes tend to skew towards older works, and I have to make an effort to read more contemporary fiction. I’ve currently got three of the Booker longlisted titles checked out from the library.

    • You see if I had an issue with contemporary books then I would do what you are doing and head to the Man Booker and Orange longlists, though I would say the Orange was a much stronger list overall. The Booker is interesting, but not the best contemporary selection in my humble opinion.

  3. My reading tends to be within the canon – an English Lit degree steered me towards these authors years ago although there are still so mant ‘great’ authors I haven’t tried. I like the novella idea. I read Anthem last year and loved it, then devowered her mamouth novel Atlas Shrugged this year, again a fantastic read.
    I thought I had read all of Austen but have never heard of ‘Lesley Castle’. A great idea

    • You see I got a bit miffed as when I went to go and check these out I couldnt take every single one. Anthem stayed in the library but I will be swapping them this week. Oops does that mean I falsly advertised this post? Hahaha.

      No one seems to have heard of Lesley Castle, how bizarre.

  4. A good way to introduce yourself to the classics… I have been adding various classics to my reading list over the last couple of years. I read a lot during grad school, but then let them slide for “easier” reads. Plus, I also wanted to read a lot of the children’s classics that people mention but that somehow slipped through my childhood reading net. So – that might be another avenue to pursue. (Classics such as Tom Sawyer, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Alice in Wonderland, Robinson Crusoe et al.) Plus a lot of the classics are available for free download which makes it even better and easier to access them.

    Will be interested to hear about your foray into short stories and novellas. I just checked out an Elizabeth Gaskell book of short stories yesterday, and will be delving into that over time.

    Enjoy your blog, btw.
    liz in texas

    • Thanks for the compliment Liz, sorry its taken me a while to respond.

      Childrens classics is another great idea, especially as I am still living with family and The Bookboy has the room next to me brimming with classics, that could be a great way of doing this too. I know there are loads and loads that I have missed. Brilliant idea.

  5. Veronica

    I find your choice of novella quite eclectic. That is a good thing and I think you will enjoy them. I read the V le Duc (though many, many years ago and I can’t abide Violet, a sincerely dishonest creature). I found it strange, not good, just strange. The image of a woman with what seemed to be a fur around her neck but which was actually a whole colony of fleas has stayed with me to this day. You will definitely enjoy all the others. Lucky you.

    • I wanted the choices to have a real eclectic feel because thats the way my reading, I hope, tends to be. I didnt just want to choose only classics, I wanted varying eras in the selection and hope I have got that. It seems the le Duc book is getting a lot of comments on its strangeness.

  6. That’s an excellent idea! A bit like a demo version. And I never would have thought you could get Lesley Castle in it’s own book!

  7. Marquez is fantastic! Enjoy it!

  8. I really tend to read on a whim and at the moment am knee deep in the Reacher books by Lee Childs and love them. I am binge reading I know. I have piles of review books waiting my attention but they will have to wait just a little longer. In the summer I tend to read lighter stuff and smaller books, have no idea why at all and I know that when the autumn comes I will love nothing better than to curl up in the warm with a huge stonking read such as Dickens or Trollope.

    My reading is so different Simon, as you know I read very little contemporary fiction – I sometimes feel I was born in the wrong era as I have always felt this way, even as a teenager, and now that I am NOT a teenager, it is too late to change. I do try however the odd confic but freely admit that the Booker is a closed Booker to me, though I have read quite a few of them.

    Short classics – may I recommend Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton? One of her slimmer novels, quite brilliant and dark and would fit your criteria nicely.
    George Eliot – Scenes from a Clerical Life. There are three stories in one volume so you can dip in and out. There are NO thin Dickens unless you could Edwin Drood and that is only because he did not finish it. Then Cranford by Mrs Gaskell, small and delightful.

    then there are so many children’s classics to read – I defy you not to enjoy The Secret Garden!!

    • I know what you mean about seasonal reading Elaine, I do that myself and I can almost feel the change coming with the weather at the moment.

      You read quite a lot of contemporary crime I would say Elaine, I think that counts. In fact some of your recommendations are winging their waty to me. The Booker is a funny old thing isnt it.

      I have heard Ethan Frome is incredible. I shall look for that and the Eliot in the library. I haven’t tried either of those authors, shame on me.

  9. The Claudine novels by Colette are a series and the one you’ve borrowed is the second of four so perhaps not the best to read. Claudine at School or Cheri or Gigi would all be good choices.

    Memories of my Melancholy Whores is not Garcia Marquez’s best nor his shortest (although I enjoyed it); Chronicle of a Death Foretold and In Evil Hour exceptionally good and shorter.

    I’m invested in a long series of books just now but interspersing reading of those with some shorter novels and novellas to break it up some.

    • I spotted that with the Colette ones and so put it back but illustrated my post nicely lol. I liked Melancholy Whores rather a lot so its nice to know that there are better ones out there.

      I think sometimes we just need to indulge in a series or an author, and why not?

  10. Pingback: Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez |

  11. cath

    A novella I really liked was The Ballad of The Sad Café by Carson Mc Cullers and 109 pages in my Dutch copy. I follow more or less the same procedure added to that, that each year I set myself the challenge to read one book from every decade 1890 onwards. This year I’ve only 1910/20 and 1920/30 still to go.

  12. OO Collette is fab I love her. I deliberately mix things up with my reading in terms of the classics to give myself even more variety though my boyfriend is obsessed with orange penguins and basically scoffs every time I pick up anything written after 1950….he thinks he should only read things once they have had time to ‘simmer’ (Decades??)

    • But Lucy, those Orange Penguins are just simply irrestiable though, can you blame him? I think that ‘simmer’ idea is an interesting one actually. Though I like the mix of the old and the new, I just read a little too much of the new.

  13. I read entirely based on whim, with a lack of current books only due to my self-enforced hold on buying new books until I get through more of the TBR. I definitely recommend the Colette from that pile, though you do realise that’s the second in a series, don’t you? The others I haven’t read but am sure will be great.

    • I did a year without buying any new books… this was admittedly only because I was getting sent so many books it was untrue, but it did make me think about what books I was missing and really wanted to read and increased my whimish moments through the TBR.

  14. Pingback: Up at the Villa – W. Somerset Maugham |

  15. Pingback: Anthem – Ayn Rand |

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