We all like to go for the easy option sometimes, don’t we?
Earlier this year, a friend of mine formed a book group for men, initially made up of the husbands of an existing all-female group. The first easy decision was that our monthly meetings would be in a pub, rather than at each other’s houses. This removes all that tedious tidying up and worrying about whether your house matches up to those of your peers.
But the most crucial easy option is that we only read short books. They are rarely more than 200 pages long, and some have even been below the 100 mark. Call them novellas, if you must.
We didn’t arrive at this strategy straight away, but a couple of months in we tackled Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis (page count: 166). It was not a hit with everyone, but at least we got through it. And so the plan was set: short books only please.
Since then we’ve had John Buchan’s The 39 Steps (page count: 103), Magnus Mills’ The Restraint of Beasts (215), Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (224), Graham Greene’s The Third Man (105) and most recently Joseph Conrad’s A Smile of Fortune (a heroic 69 pages).
It’s certainly a good way to become well-read. I’d never tackled Conrad or Greene before, now I can say I have. I don’t need to add that I’ve only read their briefer works!
Not that there’s any shame with short books. Some of the most acclaimed classics are low on page count. See Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis (55) and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (111). My copy of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly says that it is “one of the greatest books of the [20th] century”. I haven’t read it yet but at least I know that, at 129 pages, I will.
If we were to read one of this year’ Booker-nominated novels, we’d be more likely to go for Alison Moore’s 192-page The Lighthouse than the second part of Hilary Mantel’s hefty Tudor trilogy.
Let’s be honest, if you’re going to read Dickens, do you really want to spend a year on the 800-page Bleak House? The season is approaching, so why not go for our next book-group choice, A Christmas Carol. It’s 88 pages in the edition I’ve got: there's an intro chapter, three on each ghost, and a quick wrap-up at the end. Job done. Plenty of time left over to get on with the rest of the festivities.
Royston Robertson is a freelance cartoonist www.roystoncartoons.com