AUGUST 13, 1997
+ i = n = k
Does Size Really Matter?
(A Book Length Pro & Con)
s ize counts.
It counts a lot, but this wasn't always the case. I read
quickly, and never had a problem with cruising through many books a week.
I believe in libraries after all, where I can eat free books like junk
going on weekend-long binges. College days were good days, when I had many
hours to devote to reading and I was awake enough to do so.
Little books were just fine when I moved to NYC, because I worked at a
really terrible book chain (need I mention any names?), the first job I
could get, and I was surrounded by every book I could ever want, pretty
much, and I could read those for free. The libraries in this city are
lame, and finding something that's both new and desirable is a matter of
pure luck, while finding something specific is almost impossible. (Yes,
the large, beautiful main library is neat, but they ain't serving up
Now that I'm employed in a soul-grinding,
10-6 "real job," I find myself wanting BIG BOOKS.
Books that I can live in for a while. Basically, I want a dependable
alternate universe; I want to know where I'll be when I get up and get on
the subway (before I start falling asleep halfway in to work), at lunch,
at night before I go to bed. I want some security, instead of that
what-do-I-read-next dilemma of your average-length volume. Basically, I
want to be consumed by my diversions.
I think it started
Jest. I loved that book. (I also fell in love with Mr.
Wallace, and had this dialogue
going on with him
in my head for the
longest time, especially after I read A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll
Never Do Again, but now that he's got that McArthur Grant, I'm
sure he'll never look at me.) I rushed through it because I was dying to
find out, well, everything, although I thought it would have been better
if the PGOAT's deformity had been extreme beauty, but really, I need to
read that thing again, and more slowly, except for maybe the tennis parts,
since I don't really dig sports all that much and they caused my eyes to
sort of glaze over. I didn't have to find a new book to read for three
weeks; my biggest problem was not going narcoleptic at night.
That was last fall, and now I'm reading Gravity's Rainbow (finally--I've
had it for something like ten years, starting it over and over, even
though I've read all of his other books, except for the short stories and
the new book). I find myself seeking out long, tasty books that let me
hide for a while. Next I might hit Ulysses for a
repeat read, or maybe V., although I'm afraid that too
much Pynchon at one time might make me crazy, and that book isn't all that
long. Maybe I'll even dive into Remembrance of Things
Past, which isn't long in absolute terms, but it seems that
Do I have abandonment issues? Sure I do. I want a
hearty meal, a stable partner, a trusty sidekick. One that fits in my
-- Maureen McClarnon
i t's not the size that moves me.
In fact, a book as weighty as War and
Peace leaves me cold. Infinite Jest is
still an uncracked lump on my second shelf of unread books.
Because it's not how many words you put on a page. It's what you do with
them. A writer who measures out their words like water in a desert is
I feel I can trust. What does it matter if a writer can throw 400 pages
tawdry prose at me, when one judicious phrase can knock my world spinning?
This is not to say that I'm some high-brow snob who only likes snotty
like Joyce Carol Oates (to be honest, I don't think she can tell a story
save her life.) Any reader would understand a comparision between, for
Stephen King and Shirley Jackson.
The comparision is apt, as King taught her books in a class on
Writing" at Michigan State a few years before his pursuit of the
Novel-Ever-Written" Prize began. Her story, "The Lottery" is often
literary anthologies as an example of
a tight short story. As King himself acknowledges,
Shirley Jackson's Hill House is the most
terrifying psychological suspense novel this side of Hades.
Shirley Jackson can write. Whether Stephen King can is a matter of some
Wading through the mountains of description and endless reiterations of
"innocent-American-kills-foreign/alien/ancient-horror" scenario does
to convince a reader that he can write. Because it's not the mere
of weight that brings us to recognize greatness.
The difference between King and Jackson's brands of horror literature is
Jackson weighs the effect of individual syllables as if words are lethal
King, on the other hand, repeats EXACTLY the same metaphor on page 63 and
of The Stand (expanded paperback edition). I'm sorry
break it to you, but any edge the King rep once had is more than a little
And what of books that really matter? Maureen claims
to love David Foster Wallace. Yet I just can't get
fact that Wallace's prose is dense with farcical allusions, derivative
and endless tangents. Perhaps it's the postmodern thing, and perhaps it's
Intellectually, I can enjoy that. But I read to get a high that's like
else. And Wallace just isn't turning me on. His intermidable jest makes
me wonder if he can really write, or if he is simply a word-processing
disguised as a publishing property.
I prefer writers of much less pretension, and much more pointed hilarity.
Tony Earley, for example, can write a sentence that
can turn you
inside out. He writes about the fragile connections between people.
precise, unaffected sentences spell out everyday details in a way that
lifts them above the
norm. In "Prophet from Jupiter" (my favorite Earley story), even a dog
named "Shithead" has
a sort of dignity. Earley can make you believe.
Ultimately, size doesn't matter. But I trust a writer less if she takes
200+ pages to
deliver the same truth that could have been punched home in a spare 200
-- Robyn Taobene
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