August 2, 2011

Wine, tea, kindred spirits, and statistics… The Art of the Novella Reading Challenge begins…


MobyLives is officially on hiatus for August, but we couldn’t help but give a hand to all the diehard bibliophiles who are partaking in The Art of the Novella Challenge this month—with particular thanks and admiration directed towards Frances at Nonsuch Books who came up with the concept and is attempting to read AND review all 42 novellas this month!

Her literary marathon kicked off with Herman Melville‘s Bartleby the Scriveneran appropriate choice because Melville is Melville House‘s patron literary saint and because August 1 is his birthday!

Nonsuch is not alone in this reading challenge. Other literary bloggers from around the web are also taking on the challenge (to varying degrees). In the spirit of reading and drinking this summer, she read the novella with a glass of Grenache.

A Striped Armchair, despite swearing off book-reading challenges, has succumbed to the literary temptation and joined the fun, also starting with Bartleby, but with her eyes on many others:

I will definitely be reading Mathilda by Mary Shelley, along with Dolce Bellezza. I didn’t realise she’d written anything other than Frankenstein, and I’m very curious! I’m also highly likely to read Country of the Pointed Firs and/or Parnussas on Wheels, since both have already been on my wishlist for ages. If you look at the list and you know much about my reading tastes, you can probably guess all of the other ones clamouring for my attention! Who knows, I might reach the rare heights of Fanatical (twenty-seven) or Unstoppable (thirty-three). 😉

Time’s Flowed Stemmed has already read and reviewed two novellas, Melville’s Benito Cerino and Turgenev’s First Love.

Melville’s tale has more of the quiet horror of a Edgar Allen Poe story, rather than the swashbuckling of Horatio Hornblower… It was Dore’s Ancient Mariner etching that kept coming to mind.

Heidi’s Books is beginning the challenge with a reading/review of Virginia Woolf‘s Jacob’s Room, accompanied by a cup of “China green tea with pineapple.” Words and Peace began with James Joyce‘s The Dead. Ready When You Are, C.B. began with How the Two Ivans Quarreled by Nikoli Gogol about which he writes:

Nikolai Gogol cracks me up.  Our senses of humor are so in-tuned that I think we’re kindred spirits.  Maybe we’re even related somehow.

And to our delight, Fingers and Prose, in preparation for the challenge, has done an amazing statistical breakdown of The Art of the Novella series which is illuminating to us as well. I’ll quote it in full here:

I am hoping that (in addition to exposure to some amazing classic authors) I’ll be able to pick up on some patterns in literature before the modern era.


  • The oldest story’s author was born in 1547 (Cervantes), and the most recent in 1896 (F.Scott Fitzgerald)
  • 10 novellas (about 24%) were written by authors born before 1800
  • 6 novellas (about 14%) boast female authors
  • What countries they’re from:
  • – 11 from America (26%) (2 by Herman Melville, 2 by Henry James)
  • – 9 from Russia (21.5%) (2 by Leo Tolstoy, 2 by Anton Chekhov)
  • – 6 from England (14%)
  • – 4 from France (10%)
  • – 2 from Scotland (5%)
  • – 2 from Poland (5%) (both by Joseph Conrad)
  • – 2 from Germany (5%) (both by Heinrich Von Kleist)
  • – 1 each from 6 other European countries (14%) (Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Ukraine, Austria, Ireland)
  • The largest book (The Duel, Kuprin) weighs in at a hefty 306 pages, and the smallest book (The Duel, Heinrich Von Kleist) is a mere 51 pages.  Most are in the 100-150 page range.

[One correction: we noticed that the series actually features 7 female authors, or 17%. We’re guessing the George Eliot might have been overlooked…]

To learn more about the challenge click here.