A Case for Short Books

Short Books

I must begin by saying this isn’t a finger-pointing post meant to put down certain readers and their reading preferences. This is something I’ve been thinking about for years, and if you’ve ever been around my blog site, you may’ve seen me mention something about this before.

Audrey-Her Real StoryFirst, let’s consider, oh, short haircuts. Particularly short haircuts on women. Take a woman like the legendary actress Audrey Hepburn, whose short hairdo became a sensation in her time. Sure, she had longer hair at different periods of her life, but that didn’t mean her short ’do was missing something—namely, more hair. No, her short ’do was specifically meant to be short, and it was lovely that way.

Or, let’s take short people, for another example. Just because someone shorter may not have the height of someone taller doesn’t make the short person incomplete or “less complete” than a tall person. No, complete, quality human beings come in all different shapes and sizes, and they’re meant to be that way.

Author Suzanne D. Williams heads a group on Facebook called Novella Faith Writers and Readers, and one of her posts in the group says, “Removing the stigma, one short story at a time.” I myself wasn’t aware of the stigma short fiction carries until pretty recently. I didn’t realize how strongly some readers dislike novellas, or that some readers purposely stay away from them, until I “listened in” on a chat in a Facebook group of Christian Fiction readers. Some said they couldn’t stand novellas, and others said things like, “There isn’t enough time in a novella for good plot and character development, like in a novel.”

I guess I should mention here that novellas aren’t something substantively different from or lesser than novels. A novella, by technical definition, is a short novel. The terms “novel” and “novella” are meant to indicate differences in word count or structural elements, but not in substance or significance. The same goes for novelettes.

Writing FictionAnywho. There’s plenty of time for the plot and characters in short fiction to be well-developed. An author of short fiction just has to use that time wisely—as the author of any length of book has to. Yes, there are some novellas where the plot and character development may be lacking, but the same thing often happens in longer books. Yes, there’s an art to writing short fiction well, just as there’s an art to writing long fiction well.

I think much of the assumption that a work of fiction has to be a particular length in order to reach a certain level of quality comes from readers’ conditioning. If a reader is used to reading fiction of a particular length most of the time, that very well may feel like the length that fiction “should be” to that reader, and anything longer or shorter may seem too long or too short.

But consider classic works of fiction like Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Orwell’s Animal Farm, and Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. These books are short. Novellas. They tell the stories they’re meant to tell, they tell them well, and the books aren’t missing something simply because they don’t have more pages. And by no means are they the only short books like that.

 Of Mice and Men  Animal Farm  A Christmas Carol

Then there’s Edson’s Wit, Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and any number of other plays that aren’t an average novel length, and yet they further exemplify superb, powerful storytelling in a relatively small number of pages.

 Wit   A Raisin in the Sun

Of course, all readers are entitled to their preferences, their likes and dislikes and what they choose to read or not to read. I just want to emphasize that not all fictional stories, even excellent ones, are meant to be long.

So, I’d encourage readers not to assume that short books are incomplete or lacking something merely because they’re short, or that they “should be” longer. It doesn’t always take a lot of words, a lot of pages, for an author to say something meaningful, memorable, and effective—for a story to be enough, in all of its distinctive shortness.

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Note: the biography I have pictured by Alexander Walker isn’t featuring that book as a short one. It’s only featuring a side view of Hepburn’s short hairstyle. ;-)

The Last Con by Zachary Bartels

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. BookLook Bloggers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.
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The Last ConThe Last Con by Zachary Bartels

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

The Last Con, a suspense novel by author Zachary Bartels, deals with some pretty dark themes, but the book manages not to feel overly dark, particularly where bits of humor are mixed in. Fletcher Doyle, a Christian and a former con man now on parole, needs all the skill he once wielded in the game to handle a new con job he’s been blackmailed into, especially when the safety of his wife and daughter are put at stake.

Speaking of the daughter, Ivy, she turned out to be my favorite character. It’s easy to make a child or preteen no more than a cute and crying victim when she’s put in a dangerous situation. Still, though Ivy isn’t invincible, she has spunk and uses her brain. Andrew, Happy, and Dante are more interesting characters in this spinning web where the reader is likely to be just as unsure as the characters are about who to trust. Some of the characters’ personal faith journeys are weaved in well, though in the end, I was more convinced about one character’s potential life changes than I was about Fletcher’s. The last fifty pages or so had me the most captivated.

Fletcher and Dante’s introduction to each other confused me somewhat. The narrator indicates that “Fletcher had never come across” Dante before once meeting him praying alone in church, but the two did indeed come across and speak to each other at a women’s shelter before that. I eventually took that to mean Fletcher didn’t recognize Dante when he saw him the second time. While I found the historical thread of the novel intriguing, I did get bogged down in some of the historical details filling the present-day characters’ conversations.

Also, there’s a bit of a “bad guy explains it all to them” technique used, which can be an easy way to tie up the loose ends of a mystery when the other characters couldn’t or didn’t otherwise figure the mystery out for themselves. However, while the villain does fill the others in on important details, I’m glad it didn’t turn into an all-out monologue.

Bartels is a new-to-me author I’d certainly read again.

When the Real Thing Comes Along by Faith Simone

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book from a publicist for an honest review.
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When the Real Thing Comes AlongWhen the Real Thing Comes Along by Faith Simone

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

I don’t consider myself to be a fast reader, but I finished the 500 pages of When the Real Thing Comes Along by debut novelist Faith Simone faster than I thought I would. Jacelynn, the heroine, doesn’t relish being caught between an old romantic flame, Taylor, and a current one, Jason, but the principal lesson Jacelynn learns through her ordeal is worth holding out for.

I essentially found the novel addictive, likely because the characters are so human, with believable strengths and flaws and quirks. They came alive for me chiefly because it felt so much like I could’ve met them all before. Even when I disagreed or became frustrated with them, I was so emotionally involved in the reading, I just had to keep turning the pages to make sure these folks would be all right. My favorite character is Jacelynn’s best friend, Kim, for the honest, opinionated, consistent support she gives her friend, despite the fact that Kim has her own problems to handle.

I did grow a little weary around the third quarter of the novel. Though I appreciated the characters being imperfect, it was like the main ones, particularly Jacelynn, were going around in emotional and behavioral circles after a while, and the “back and forth” didn’t always serve to take the plot anywhere deeper. Also, there are a number of inconsistencies and recurring errors in punctuation and mechanics throughout the book. The errors aren’t likely to ruin the story for most readers, but a tighter edit would have given the book more polish.

Still, the ultimate themes of grace and trust are what I found most satisfying as I ended the novel, and I’m sure there’ll just have to be a coming novel that continues Kim’s story…

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Note for my blog readers: while this is a Christian Fiction novel, it contains mature content appropriate for mature audiences.

To Capture Her Heart by Rebecca DeMarino

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.
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To Capture Her HeartTo Capture Her Heart by Rebecca DeMarino

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Like its preceding novel, A Place in His Heart, To Capture Her Heart conveys a strong sense of the period in early America as English settlers, with Native Americans and the Dutch nearby, are looking to carve out a new life of religious freedom. Most interesting to me is a question that arises concerning tolerance, whether settlers who fled religious persecution in England are becoming persecutors themselves in their treatment of the Quakers.

The novel is chock-full of historical detail, particularly in the characters’ day-to-day lives, which lends a lot of time for readers to “sit down” with the people from Book One of this series. However, I didn’t find those parts of the story to have the most engaging sense of plot, and even though I read the first book, there wasn’t much that stood out about most of the minor characters to help me keep all of them straight.

Also, the dual romances weren’t too convincing to me. The love triangle isn’t completely predictable, which I liked, but I didn’t sense much depth, tension, or passion on either side of it. (Can’t fault the way the cover beautifully indicates passion and tension, though. Just look at the faces of those two!)

Overall, I think historical fiction fans who appreciate the first novel in The Southold Chronicles can enjoy the second.

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The first book in The Southold Chronicles, A Place in His Heart.

A Place in His Heart