Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Short vs Long: The Story Is The Thing . . . Musings on The Kinds Of Books I Like To Read

Well, the first week in August is almost past, and I was thinking about some things that keep popping up as I read and review books, not only for this blog but one or two other blogs. I suppose these come under the rubric of "pet peeves" but actually that is only a part of it. So as I get the old book bag out and look at what is there, I realize that I am still facing some of these issues.

Short stories and novellas: I have never really liked short stories!! Years ago when I first began my love affair with books, I decided that short stories may have been fine for the author but they just didn't please me at all. Too short. Too little information about the subjects, characters, protagonists, etc. And it always seemed that the stories ended before I was ready to have them end. I have to admit that that opinion hasn't changed very much. Now I realize that short stories are not easy to write, that they do indeed pose a particular problem of the brief format that challenges a writer to be concise, efficient with word use, etc. Yet, it still seems that most short stories don't finish the story. It seems that just as I am really getting into the story, figuring out what the characters are doing, what kind of people they may be, the story ends. It may be a piece of brilliant writing, but somehow I am almost left unsatisfied.

A novella is a bit better--there are a significant number of additional pages and most of the time the stories are more fully expanded, the plot and story line more fully developed, and the crisis has more pages to play out. Yet there is often a sense that I need to know more, get to know the characters better, and really get involved in their experience. This is especially true when the writing is really good, when the characters really jump off the pages, when the action of the story is such that the reader--me--feels almost totally absorbed in the story. So it would appear that these feelings about the length of a literary piece are more about me than the format--it is just my own difficulty when I want books and stories to keep on going.

The cost of novellas and short stories: Here we are touching a sore point with me. I know that publishers need to make a profit and authors need to get paid for their work. That is the way the system works and I certainly support that wholeheartedly. My beef is that with the advent of electronic books, publishers have greatly reduced costs--not printing, paper, binding, and distribution costs like when print books are involved. Just press a button, make sure the credit card goes through, and the online purchase is over. Yet when a publisher charges the same price for a novella (15,000-25,000 words) that they do for a print novel I find in a store, I get a bit irritated. I started with some series from a particular publisher and realized that each segment of that series was only a novella. So I have finished those series but have refused to spend that kind of money since then. I don't know if others have these same issues, but I buy lots of books and find myself insisting more and more on value as well as wanting the latest book from writers.

Anthologies: I never used to read anthologies. In a number of cases, I read the part written by a favorite author and found that the others stories in the collection just didn't seem to resonate with me at the same level or intensity. I have to confess that such has not been my recent experience. I have found several anthologies recently that have been a total joy and I have really liked all the stories. Perhaps I am mellowing in my old age, but I find that I am more open to reading collections that contain writings by authors I have not previously read. It also may have something to do with the fact that I have read and reviewed novels by new authors and have discovered some who really "push my buttons." So, in the final analysis, anthologies may not be quite so bad or unwelcome as in previous times.

Novels and Super Novels: Now you're talking!! Give me a book with lots of pages, lots of information about the context, lots of time to allow me as the reader to get to "know" the characters, to get the situation and crisis in the book straight in my mind, and to feel that I have had a chance to really enter into the world the book is presenting. My applause to authors who allow their imaginations create worlds, localities, situations that may be fictional but are unusual in more than one way. Perhaps that is why I like paranormal romance. Futuristic fiction is another matter--often the worlds are so complicated that I have to use lots of time and energy keeping the localities straight and then I seem to lose the story.

The bottom line: I really love to read and consume an amazing number of books and such. I just thought I would vent a little--hope you don't mind.


Tracy said...

I like shorts and novellas and some are done very well. Others..not so much.

Don't get me started on the price of ebooks. You can't tell me that it costs just as much money to produce an ebook as it does a print book. When the mmpb is 7.99 and the ebook is 7.99 I get annoyed. Even $1.00 less would be better! No paper, no distribution costs...oh I could go on and on. lol

Dr J said...

I absolutely agree, Tracy, and that is one of the pet peeves I have about novellas costing as much as some print novels in stores. Big profits for the publisher and not real good value for readers!!