The best novellas you should read (but probably haven’t)

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been attracted to the overlooked, the obscure, the forbidden. Maybe it’s as simple as the fact I grew up in a time when it seemed natural to rebel against norms. Or maybe it’s that I inherited an oddball gene from some ancient ancestor. Anyway, it led me to interesting adventures—hanging out with a crew of gun runners in eastern Turkey—and interesting career choices—strike organizer, private detective, etc. It also shaped my reading and my writing. I read everything, but I’m particularly drawn to the quirkyGrendel, the fiction of Christine Rivera Garza for instance. And in my writing too: Lynerkim, the protagonist of my novella, is undoubtedly an odd duck.


I wrote...

Lynerkim's Dance and Other Stories

By R.H. Emmers,

Book cover of Lynerkim's Dance and Other Stories

What is my book about?

Lynerkim is an assassin; when, that is, he’s not tending to his many quirky interests—skin diseases, theosophy, boy bands, and so on. Against his better judgment, he accepts a new assignment, only to have events take a strange turn when he finds that he has become the real target. Meanwhile, as he tries to unravel the fiery death of his father, he is suddenly plagued by visions of a giant comet obliterating life on earth. The novella, Lynerkim’s Dance, also includes a collection of stories that touch on matters as diverse as spontaneous human combustion, dentists mysteriously disappearing from a town that appears on no maps, a former drug dealer searching for her long-lost home and missing dog, a murderer setting in motion The Plan.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Legends of the Fall

R.H. Emmers Why did I love this book?

There are three novellas collected in the volume titled Legends of the Fall. The first two, Legends of the Fall and Revenge, you almost certainly know from their movies. The third story, The Man Who Gave Up His Name, everyone ignores and it’s the one I recommend. In the story Nordstrom leaves his lucrative job, dances alone at night, goes to New York, battles a drug dealer, and ends up in the Florida Keys as a chef, dancing again. I love this story because I love Harrison’s use of language. His sentences attack. But mostly I love this story because it’s about a man struggling to find his place in life. That’s a situation I like to throw my characters into: reinvention, for good or bad. And the story of my own life.

By Jim Harrison,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Legends of the Fall as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times bestselling author Jim Harrison was one of America's most beloved and critically acclaimed writers. The classic Legends of the Fall is Harrison at his most memorable: a striking collection of novellas written with exceptional brilliance and a ferocious love of life. The title novella, "Legends of the Fall"--which was made into the film of the same name--is an epic, moving tale of three brothers fighting for justice in a world gone mad. Moving from the raw landscape of early twentieth-century Montana to the blood-drenched European battlefields of World War I and back again to Montana, Harrison's powerful…


Book cover of Bartleby the Scrivener

R.H. Emmers Why did I love this book?

Everybody knows Ahab, but do you know Bartleby? It’s a strange story about a strange man, which, of course, attracts me. Bartleby is a lawyer’s copyist who decides he doesn’t want to do this sort of writing anymore and meets every instruction with the words: I would prefer not to. You can read Bartleby as simply a humorous tale. Or you can read it as a story of the existential crisis most writers, myself included, face at one time or the other. Melville was feeling dissatisfied with his choice of a writing career—the critics were unfriendly—and, in my opinion, the title character reflects this. It’s also, in my view, an implicit critique of economic control in America—my SDS youth would approve! It’s not for nothing that the story’s final words are: “Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!”

By Herman Melville,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Bartleby the Scrivener as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

At the period just preceding the advent of Bartleby, I had two persons as copyists in my employment, and a promising lad as an office-boy. First, Turkey; second, Nippers; third, Ginger Nut. These may seem names, the like of which are not usually found in the Directory. In truth they were nicknames, mutually conferred upon each other by my three clerks, and were deemed expressive of their respective persons or characters.


Book cover of The Alienist

R.H. Emmers Why did I love this book?

If you need inspiration to write strange stories, then read the Brazilian Machado de Assis. In his photos he looks like a prim and proper gentleman, giving no hint he wrote some of the whackiest fiction you’ll ever encounter—for example, one story is told from the perspective of a needle. The Alienist is a favorite. Bacamarte, a man devoted to science, opens an insane asylum in the town of Itaguaí, taking in the mentally ill. But his scientific mind leads him to the inevitable conclusion that he must also include healthy people who, according to his diagnosis, are about to go crazy. Soon, his asylum, Casa Verdi, accommodates the entire town. Then, in the ending of the story… Well, you’ll have to read it yourself to find out. 

By Machado De Assis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Alienist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A classic work of literature by “the greatest author ever produced in Latin America.” (Susan Sontag)
 
Brilliant physician Simão Bacamarte sacrifices a prestigious career to return home and dedicate himself to the budding field of psychology. Bacamarte opens the first asylum in Brazil hoping to crown himself and his hometown with “imperishable laurels.” But the doctor begins to see signs of insanity in more and more of his neighbors. . . .

With dark humor and sparse prose, The Alienist lets the reader ponder who is really crazy.

***

This is a Hybrid Book.

Melville House HybridBooks combine print and…


Book cover of Mrs. Caliban

R.H. Emmers Why did I love this book?

And speaking of whacky, we come now to this 40-year-old story of a lonely suburban housewife, Dorothy, who undertakes a romance with a sea monster named Larry, an escapee from a research institute who shows up in her kitchen one day. That sounds like the plot of a weird B-movie, but in fact the novella is a work of feminist literature while also being a heartbreaking story of two characters who find themselves unable to escape their pasts but manage to achieve a species of healing. The writing is straightforward but conceals a great deal, an important lesson for me when I first read this.

By Rachel Ingalls,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mrs. Caliban as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the quiet suburbs, while Dorothy is doing chores and waiting for her husband to come home from work, not in the least anticipating romance, she hears a strange radio announcement about a monster who has just escaped from the Institute for Oceanographic Research... Reviewers have compared Rachel Ingalls's Mrs. Caliban to King Kong, Edgar Allan Poe's stories, the films of David Lynch, Beauty and the Beast, The Wizard of Oz, E.T., Richard Yates's domestic realism, B-horror movies, and the fairy tales of Angela Carter-how such a short novel could contain all of these disparate elements is a testament to…


Book cover of Ethan Frome

R.H. Emmers Why did I love this book?

This is a novella of social criticism, exposing the economic realities of America and the suffering they both allow and produce. (That, at least, is my take on it.) And though it was first published in 1911 by a writer, Edith Wharton, better known for her novels of manners, the social criticism remains valid today. (Which, again, is my take on both the novella and the state of America today.) In Mattie, Ethan envisions his best hope of escape from a miserable marriage and endless drudgery, but she ends up a cripple. Then Wharton won’t let her die; she keeps her alive and suffering. Ah, America. (Also, as a side note, when I first read this many, many years ago, I decided never to go sledding again. Read it and find out why.)

By Edith Wharton,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Ethan Frome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.


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