Library Moments: January Online Book Club

Erin Kernohan-Berning, Branch Services Librarian: Hello, I’m Erin Kernohan-Berning from the Haliburton County Public Library and this is Library Moments. Once a week some of us from the library will come and talk about books, upcoming events, or the services we offer at the library.

Not quite as long as a novel, but too long to be a short story, the novella was the subject of our January online book club. There are different accepted word counts for a novella – anywhere from 7,500 words at the top end of what might be considered a short story to just beyond 40,000 words before the story starts to venture into novel territory. While many stories regarded as classics are considered novellas – Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, and The War of the Words by H.G. Wells among them – the modern novella has been more difficult to get published than its lengthier kin. However, there has been a resurgence in popularity for the novella in recent years with Ian McEwan – in The New Yorker – calling the novella the beautiful child of a rambling, ill-shaven giant.

Today on Library Moments, Sherrill Sherwood and I will each talk about a modern novella that was featured in our January Online Book Club.

Sherrill Sherwood, Collections Development: A New York Times bestseller, The Ancient Minstrel is a stunning collection of novellas that highlight Jim Harrison’s phenomenal range as a writer, shot through with his trademark wit and keen insight into the human condition. Harrison has tremendous fun with his own reputation in the title novella The Ancient Minstrel, about an aging writer in Montana who indulges his lifelong dream of raising pigs, struggles to write the ‘big novel’ he’s rashly promised his editor, and attempts to rekindle the long marriage that has sustained him. In the story Eggs, a Montana woman recalls a life spent collecting eggs – at her grandparents’ farm in Montana and near Dorset, England, where she ends up during World War II. Eggs of a different sort preoccupy her when, unmarried but undeterred, she decides to try to have a baby. And in The Case of the Howling Buddhas, retired Detective Sunderson is hired as a private investigator to look into a bizarre cult that achieves enlightenment by howling along with howler monkeys at the zoo. Fresh and entertaining, with moments of both profound wisdom and uplifting humor, The Ancient Minstrel is an exceptional reminder of why Harrison is adored by both readers and critics.

Erin Kernohan-Berning, Branch Services Librarian: The novella seems well suited to the trend of inserting new stories into long standing series, and author Kathy Reichs uses this in her Temperence Brennan series with her novella collection The Bone Collection. The Bone Collection features 4 stand alone novellas that fit within the overall series including the prequel to her first book Déjà Dead titled First Bones which sees Temperance Brennan’s first gig as a forensic anthropologist. Her novellas Bones in her Pocket, Swamp Bones and Bones on Ice all fit between books 15 through 18 of the series, with Bones in her Pocket as book 15.5, Swamp Bones as book 16.5, and Bones on Ice as book 17.5. These half editions can allow authors some room to explore characters or the events between books, and sometimes add some retroactive continuity to existing series lore to better set up a subsequent book. Sometimes they simply serve as a conduit for new readers to experience a long standing series by giving them a stand alone story without having to commit to starting at book 1.

Reading a novella is a different experience than reading a novel. When done well, the structure of the novella demands that a writer polish and tighten up their writing to fit a fully developed story into a shorter format – with no room to stray from the path or explore blind alleys. Now with ebooks and self-publishing disrupting the traditional publishing industry, novellas are becoming easier to find and enjoy. And with this new-found commercial success, they are also becoming easier to find in print and audio formats.

Anyone can participate in Haliburton County Public Library’s Online Book Club by choosing to read one or more of four books selected each month. You don’t even have to read from a particular month’s selection you can just go online and make comments about books and reading in general. Just go to haliburtonlibrary.ca and click on the “g” for Goodreads.

That’s it for this week’s Library Moments. Thanks for listening here on 100.9 CANOE FM.

*Originally aired on 100.9 CANOE FM.

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