February is #shortread month

rulerApologies, this should have been posted at the beginning of the month.

Short /ʃɔːt/ (Adjective)

  • measuring a small distance from end to end.
  • lasting or taking a small amount of time.

But what is a ‘small distance’ or a ‘small amount of time’?

In The one thousand and one nights Scheherazade prolongs her life by telling short stories – ‘shortreads’ that lead to a longer life.  The New Zealand author Brigid Lowry has a short story called Curriculum Vitae about how we have many short lives within our long life, or maybe it’s literally about the many short lives we live: “Once I was waitress at the Golden Dragon.  Before that I worked in a bookshop selling car manuals to men with greasy hands.  Before that I was a …”.  The shortest short story is usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”.  Many novels are collections of intertwined short stories: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan; Let the great world spin by Colum McCann.

Is Zadie Smith’s Embassy of Cambodia (69 pages) a short story or a short novel?  The Guardian thinks it’s ‘a novel in miniature, divided into 21 tiny “chapters“’.  And what about Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain (58 pages)?  It started life as a short story but did it evolve into a short novel or an individually published short story?

thick book

jeltovski on MorgueFile

It is all relative – compared to most lives, the time taken to read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (828 pages) is short.  The same would be true for Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu – consisting of seven volumes totaling around 4,300 pages, and featuring more than 2,000 characters – but has anyone ever finished it?

Flash fiction is short.  Some ‘long’ novels are shortened into quick reads for those learning, English: The Godfather by Mario Puzo, originally 676 pages, becomes 53 pages (including photographs from the movie).  Some Graphic Novels are shorter versions of longer works – Robert Fitzgerald’s verse translation of Homer’s The Odyssey is 416 pages, Seymour Chwast’s wonderfully illustrated graphic novel The Odyssey is 123 pages – chiefly illustrated.

Some long books have short characters: Tyrion Lannister from George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice books; Sophia from Stella Duffy’s Theodora books. Some full length movies are about short people: The Station Agent’s Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) , and there are short people in TV programmes: Bethany Horowitz in Boston Legal (Meredith Eaton).  Folk tales are full of short characters: Tom Thumb, Momotaro the Peachboy , the dwarves from Snow White …

It is fortunate that some characters are short: In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy two warring species from a distant galaxy, the G’Gugvuntt and the Vl’hurg, join forces to attack the Milky Way.  After travelling for thousands of years they attack the first planet they encounter, Earth, but they are so small their entire fleet is swallowed by a small dog.

Hobbits are short; Peter Jackson movies aren’t.  Some movies are short:  New Zealand TV and film director Alison Maclean came to prominence with her short film The Kitchen Sink.


Haiku Project: Bathroom Stall – Tom (hmm a rosa tint) Flickr

Poems can be short – even long poems are often shorter than novels – but some poems are very short: Aram Saroyan’s poem of a four-legged “m”.  Haiku are short poems but can encapsulate large themes and moments:

summer grass —

all that remains

of warriors’ dreams


Children’s picture books can be short – take out the pictures and they can be very short: Hug, hug, hug, hug, hug, hug, hug, hug, hug, Bobo, mummy, hug (x 14 on a page), hug, hug, mummy, Bobo (Hug by Jez Alborough 32 pages).

Games tend to last a while, but some don’t, Snap and Pig the card games are short.  Some online games are too short: the beautiful Monument Valley.

Aphorisms are short: Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream (Khalil Gibran); some epitaphs are short: O rare Ben Jonson ; and some famous statements are short: I think, therefore I am ([Cogito ergo sum] René Descartes, or even shorter: Eureka! ([εὕρηκα] Archimedes).

As our lives are busy we look for shortcuts – fast food, instant enlightenment, speed dating.  In our library we have, among others, books offering 15-minute meals (Jamie Oliver), 15-minute Mandarin Chinese (Ma Cheng), Draw Dogs in 15 minutes (Jake Spicer), Speedcleaning: a spotless house in just 15-minutes a day (Shannon Lush), The easy gardener: tough reliable plants, tips for the impatient gardener, 15 minutes a day calendar (Jacqueline Sparrow), and The 4-hour body (Timothy Ferriss).

We have social media sites where people can talk about themselves and their interests and microblogging sites for the same but shorter – which beings up the subject of Twitter: While thinking about ‘short’, tweet your short thoughts using #shortread #rwpchat; add to the discussion on Pinterest too; post your photographs to Instagram or Flickr using #shortread #rwpchat.

A date for your diary : There will be a #shortread twitter discussion on 24 February 2015 starting at 8pm Australian Eastern Daylight Savings (Summer) Time.   Or 9pm New Zealand Time, 6pm Singapore Standard Time, 12 noon Central European Summer Time, 9am – 11am; 2pm – 4pm; 6pm – 8pm BST.

Note this is a staggered discussion.  Use the tags #shortread and #rwpchat as you discuss #shortread reading, watching playing so others can join in the conversation.




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