Penguin have done another run of small books of old classics. There was a piece on Guardian Books about their appeal, since they are all uniformly available for free at places like Project Gutenberg, which mentioned the act of their curation as a part of their appeal. This is a good point I think, when the list was announced I was eager to have a look at what was on it. Gutenberg is so stuffed full of books that having someone else sift through them and present you with a selection is actually a real service. I’ll pay the 80p just for that.
But the article also talked about their size as being a selling point. Small and transportable is a real boon. I always carry a book with me where ever I go, so it has to be something I can stuff into my bag and won’t weigh me down too much. But there is more to it than that I think. The last time I was out book shopping (which was a direct consequence of my car breaking down, such silver linings) I bought a couple of smaller books. I picked up The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide and The Room by Jonas Karlsson. Both terrific books, and both books that completely suited their smaller sizes.
The Guest Cat at 136 pages and The Room at 167 pages are quick reads, but that doesn’t mean they lack depth. I think if either of these books were much longer they would have hit diminishing returns and started to get worse, rather than better. Instead, they are like delicious little treats that you can finish in a couple of bites. (Although I think The Guest Cat lasted for four separate sittings principally because my own resident cat decided she needed my attention more than the guest cat did.)
A longer book, for me at least, requires a little more commitment. It needs more of a run up. Shorter novellas are something different from that, but no less valuable. They can be, if anything, more resonant thanks to their fleeting nature. Both of these books were brilliant and extremely moving, (the last few pages of The Room were astonishing) and will sit in my mind for far longer than they sat in my hands.