Sunday, January 26, 2014

More Baths Less Talking by Nick Hornby (Believer Books 2012)

In the interests of full disclosure, I should add that I am a literary fattist anyway; I have had a resistance to the more amply proportioned book all my adult life, which is why the thesis I'm most likely to write is entitled "The Shortest Book by Authors Who Usually Go Long." The Crying of Lot 49, Silas Marner, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man . . . I've read 'em all. You can infer from that lot what I haven't read. And in any case, long, slow books can have a disastrous, demoralizing effect on your cultural life if you have young children and your reading time is short. You make only tiny inroads into the chunky white wastes every night before falling asleep, and before long you become convinced that it's not really worth reading again until your children are in reform school. My advice, as someone who has been an exhausted parent for seventeen years now, is to stick to the svelte novel—it's not as if this will lower the quality of your consumption, because you've still got a good couple of hundred top, top writers to choose from. Have you read everything by Graham Greene? Or Kurt Vonnegut? Anne Tyler, George Orwell, E. M. Forster, Carol Shields, Jane Austen, Muriel Spark, H. G. Wells, Ian McEwan? I can't think of a book much over four hundred pages by any of them. I wouldn't say that you have to make an exception for Dickens, because we at the Believer don't think that you have to read anybody—we just think you have to read. It's just that short Dickens is atypical Dickens—Hard Times, for example, is long on angry satire, short on jokes—and Dickens, as John Carey said in his brilliant little critical study The Violent Effigy: A Study of Dickens' Imagination, is "essentially a comic writer." If you're going to read him at all, then choose a funny one. Great Expectations is under six hundred pages, and one of the greatest novels ever written, so that's not a bad place to start. 


Stuart said...

"Great Expectations is under six hundred pages, and one of the greatest novels ever written, so that's not a bad place to start."

Hear, hear!

Darren said...

I had the misfortune of having to read it for school (and Oliver Twist). Those scenarios never work out well.

I have to read some Dickens again, but I'm torn between Pickwick Papers and Hard Times.

Stuart said...

Hard Times is the only one left I haven't read, so can't help you with that decision I'm afraid! It's hard to recommend just one if you're as big a fan as I am. But Bleak House? Every one loves that. Or Tale of Two Cities – very short, and you can cheer as aristocrats get their heads lopped off.

Darren said...

I tried Tale of Two Cities a couple of years ago. Those never ending paragraphs made my head spin.