Short, Wonderful Novels: A List of Favorite Quick Reads

For a book lover, nothing beats a really good novel you can read and savor in the space of a weekend – or even in one long sitting.  I just finished reading Paulette Jiles’ News of the World.  I started the book the day before yesterday, found myself seriously engaged in it, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished it.  It was a truly marvelous book.

Short novels tend to swiftly whisk us off to another world and keep us there, capturing our full attention, but just for a day or two.  Short novels typically have just one or two main characters, tight writing, and a plot that moves.  I love big fat novels that allow you to wallow in their complex worlds for weeks, but short novels are like perfect chocolate truffles: short-lived, delicious pleasures.

Here are some of my favorite short novels (of about 200 pages or less):

Paulette Jiles, News of the World (Set in post-Civil War Texas, an old man is charged with returning a young girl captured by the Kiowa tribe to her surviving relatives. Riveting.)

Dai Sijie and Ina Rilke, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (A gorgeous story of two Chinese boys living on their own, books, and love for a girl)

Jane Mendelsohn,  I was Amelia Earhart (A beautifully written novel of what might have happened to the famous aviator)

Tracy Chevalier, Girl With a Pearl Earring (A classic story of a young girl, based on the painting)

Rick Moody, Hotels of North America (Quirky)

And because it’s Lent and some of us are not giving up chocolate…

Joanne Harris, Chocolat  (A priest in France has a hissy fit when a new chocolate shop opens during Lent. A bit longer than 200 pages, but a quick read.)

Cynthia Coe is the author of the short novel Runaway Kitty, along with several other books. 

 

 

Big, Fat Novels for Snowy Days

It’s snowing in many parts of the country, and down here in the Smoky Mountains, most schools have closed due to illness.  For many of us, it’s time to stay inside and snuggle with a really good book. 

I don’t know about you, but there’s a time and a place for big, fat novels spanning hundreds of pages – summer vacations, blizzard conditions outside, school out and cooped up inside.  You need a lot of time for a novel of more than 500 or so pages, and you sure don’t want to have to lug such a thing on an airline flight with you. 

Most of my own writing tends towards the short and concise, but I dearly love a good, long novel with multiple plot lines, lots of interesting characters you really get to know well, and a story spanning several years.  Here are some of my favorites:

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt.  This was the “it” book of a couple of years ago.  I couldn’t put it down.  A young boy finds himself in an art museum during a terrorist attack and develops a certain attachment with one piece of art that mysteriously disappears before the first responders arrive.  Arguably too long, but it’s a lot of story for the money. 

Russka, Sarum, London, Paris, and New York by Edward Rutherfurd.  If you like historical fiction spanning generations, these books are for you.  As a history major, I was in hog heaven reading these books and learned oodles of history as well. 

War & Peace, Leo Tolstoy (translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky).  Okay, if we’re talking big, fat novels, we’ve got to include War & Peace.  Yes, I’ve read it, and I loved it.  (I confess, I skipped the military history stuff).  If you like Downton Abbey type stories, you’ll love this book, too.  This fairly recent translation has gotten great reviews. 

Stay safe, stay well, Cindy

 

 

 

  

Bestselling Novels – Is There an Algorithm for That?

A Review of The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers

What makes one book “take off” and sell a zillion copies?  If you love novels (or write them), you surely have pondered this question.  But is it possible to answer the question of what makes a bestseller using science and a computer?

Yes, it is.  In their new book, The Bestseller Code, Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers have done just this.  It’s all about pattern recognition, which computers do quite well.   The authors, a former editor and an English professor, fed the manuscripts of 20,000 contemporary novels into a computer program and came up with commonalities of books that “take off” and become bestsellers.

Proof that their algorithm works?  The two authors the computer targeted as most likely bestsellers are two authors who are very famous and household names.  (I won’t spoil the book by telling).  Many of the books ranked highly by the computer are indeed bestsellers, including the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey.  (Love it or hate it, you probably need to have read this book – and other recent blockbusters – to fully appreciate this research.)

As a writer myself, The Bestseller Code gave me very valuable insights as to “what works” and what I need to avoid in my writing.  I was thrilled to find that books with characters who are “femme noirs” are likely sell lots of books, at least for now.  I wonder if this research will need updating in future years.  But for the meantime, this book gives writers truly valuable information to use in their work, along with interesting information for bookworms and those who just plain love to read. The tone is conversational and easy to read.

Does The Bestseller Code give us all “the secret” or “the code” for writing a surefire winner of a novel?  I’ll have to say no to that one.  The book the computer picked as most likely to be a bestseller is a novel I had never heard of, though by a very fine writer you probably have heard of.  (Again, no spoilers here.)  The book is certainly not one I’ve ever heard anyone rave about.

This leaves me with the assurance that there is still a certain “magic” to the art of writing.  No matter how much you meet the criteria of good technique, careful plotting, and lovely language, there is still something indefinable about a really good novel that makes you say “I love this book,” that makes you never want it to end.

Cynthia Coe is the author of several nonfiction books and the author of the upcoming novel, Runaway Kitty.  Her blogs are www.sycamorecove.org and www.spiritualearthed.org . Her author page on Amazon.com is: http://amzn.to/2d0TV2g