Quarter Life Crisis

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Short Stories

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I always find books with long chapters intimidating. That’s because I tend to think that chapters form a unit of a book and should be consumed as such. Yet, frequently there isn’t enough time for reading a complete chapter, be it because there are other things to do after reading or because tiredness is setting in during bedtime reading. This means that I’ll have to stop reading in mid-chapter which feels like cheating and not treating the book well. While rationally I’d argue that in many cases this doesn’t actually spoil the book – ;intuitively it still feels bad.

Which is why I like books with short chapters. They give me a better opportunity to enjoy the book at my own pace and in my own steps. Books should be enjoyed. And them being ‘user-friendly’ in that way makes them more enjoyable. Strangely I find that I read books with shorter chapters, or sections, more quickly than those with the longer ones. This is a bit couter-intuitive but I think what’s going on is the following: With long chapters I sometimes seems like a real burden to complete the chapter and thus I may not start reading it at all when I’m already a bit tired. Or, because I know I won’t be able to read all the way through a chapter, I’ll stop after reading less than I would have otherwise. On the other hand with shorter chapters, I can read one at a time and decide to read another one. More often than not I find myself wanting to read another one. This may also be because those sneaky authors like to make the end of a chapter extra-compelling, making me curious how the story goes on.

That said, it seems quite natural that I also like short stories. Quite naturally have a length at which they’re easy to consume. And they also don’t need the whole build-up, introduction and so on that a novel needs. The short story starts right there in mid-action. You get to see all the relevant characters as you need to see them. In addition, short stories can frequently live on a single idea. There are so many cool ideas around which deserve being elaborated but which would either be drowned in the complexities of a whole novel or just seem like additions there. (Musil’s massive Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften is full of brilliant little ideas but I’ve heard people say that it’s a bit lacking as a novel – and they may be right.)

And placing a good idea in a little short story with just enough fleshing out to give the whole thing some kind of atmosphere and making it a compelling read is a good idea. It’ll allow to immerse into the story and enjoy that point. Just abruptly kick you out and leave you craving for more when there isn’t. Even if there are more, equally enjoyable short stories in the same volume, they won’t be more – more of the same. They’ll have a new situation and a new atmosphere. And that’s cool. As was written in The Picture of Dorian Gray:

A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?

This post was brought to you courtesy of a little book with nine mostly short stories by J.D. Salinger.

Bookmark: 11-03-2004 Göttingen to Frankfurt by train.

September 26, 2004, 15:19

Tagged as book, j. d. salinger, short story.

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