In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Another Technical Note
  2. La Ligne Maginot
  3. Actress Notes
  4. Technical Day
  5. Peripheral Explanation
  6. More Immigration Links
  7. Another Graphic Detournement
  8. Peripheral Artists (5): Mikhail Vrubel
  9. Illegal Update

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« "The Cooler" | Main | Squarespace »

January 27, 2005

Big Art/Short Fiction

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Do you crave long art experiences?

I've noticed in recent years that any appetite I once had for Long Art is drying up. Once upon a time, I was curious about epic Philip Glass operas, LaMonte Young drone-fests, Peter Brook cyclical-time experiments, and Syberberg movies that never ended. The stage version of "Nicholas Nickleby"? Made it through both evenings. Or was it three evenings?

In my 20s and 30s, I sat through such works barely noticing their length. These days, I start to twitch when a movie gets to be longer than 80 minutes. A play that lasts longer than 100 minutes? I start to harumph: that's asking an awful lot of an audience if you want my opinion, grumble grumble.

Novels, for another instance: love 'em, respect 'em, etc. But surely part of the appeal of reading a novel is the experience of losing yourself in a story for evenings (or even weeks) on end. I'm not sure how much I ever craved that kind of immersion. Even in my big-novel reading days, I ran into few long novels that didn't seem like they couldn't have been shorter.

Still, my appetite for losing myself forever in a fictional world has definitely grown smaller. If a piece of fiction can't be finished in a couple of evenings max, I'm sorry to say that I probably won't be getting around to it. Entering an author's fictional world for a couple of hours retains its appeal, though. This may help explain why I'm into noir crime fiction; few noir novels run longer than 150 pages.

These days, I'm hungry for manageable art -- art that serves, and that respects my comfort and my pleasure. The explanation for this certainly has something to do with physical changes. My eyes aren't as strong as they once were, for example. They tire quickly; they aren't primo equipment for epic bouts of novel-reading.

Age also brings experience. I've been through a lot of art-things by now, and I "get" most art a lot faster than I once did. Better put: I get the art I'm going to get a lot faster than I once did. But I'm also quicker to let go of the art I'm not likely to get. No one can browbeat me into thinking that I must, I simply must -- because I owe it to myself! -- sit through anything I don't deepdown have any curiosity about. Life will go on even if I fail to expose myself to some of the Great Works. I'm OK with that in a way I guess I once wasn't.

Age confers perspective too, if little else of worth. These days, art seems less compelling than life itself does; and normality looks more beautiful than the extraordinary does. Art subsides in importance a bit. It takes its place as a part of life. A work of art that does its thing and then moves quickly aside is something that's very appealing. I find beauty in its modesty; I'm touched by its willingness to serve.

What kinds of art suit my current crotchety state? I still have an appetite for movies. What an congenial and convenient entertainment form. A movie can deliver an intense and complete art/entertainment experience, and round itself off within two hours. A whirl through a museum or gallery-art show also feels about right. After a 30-minute visit, I walk out with a pleasant visual buzz but also with energy to spare.

I'm trashing the little bit of lit-blogger cred that I've built up by admitting this, but I'm far more likely these days to listen to an abridged audio version of a contemporary novel than I am to read the real thing. I do this partly to save my eyes, and partly because I've got a long commute; my walk to work is my most reliable "reading" time. But I confess that I also like abridgements. Although it may take me two weeks to get through an abridged audio version of a novel, that version of the novel is typically the equivalent of only about 120 book pages. That's a nice length for a novel.

I say all this, by the way, despite never having been one of those people who crave wipe-me-out art experiences. I was never a 19th-century novel buff, for instance. I'll take Handel over Wagner, Lubitsch over Eisenstein, and three-minute party songs appeal to me far more than do rock operas. Concision, elegance, and clarity have always spoken to me more eloquently than world-engulfing ambition does. (I blogged a while back about how much I value the frame around the work of art. I've never felt the urge many people do to obliterate the frame and become one with the work of art.) But I've gotten even more this way in recent years -- which may mean only that my tastes have ossified.

I'm left wondering, for one thing, how much our art tastes and pleasures are mere functions of our biologies ...

As far as fiction goes, why not treat myself to lots of short fiction? Yet I don't. I've never been thrilled by most short stories. Lots and lots of exceptions, of course: D.H. Lawrence, Edna O'Brien, Katherine Mansfield, P.G. Wodehouse, Mark Twain, Tom Perrotta, Alice Munro, Maupassant, Barry Hannah, Charles Bukowski, Turgenev, Colette, James Thurber, many others.

But the contempo-lit short story world turns me off, and turns me off bigtime. Carver, Barthelme, Lorrie Moore ... Blech. The writing schools, the little magazines, The New Yorker -- all of them have a lot to answer for. They've turned something potentially wonderful -- the idea of the fictional piece as something that can be read through in an evening -- into something godawful, or that I at least have no interest in: prose poetry; metaphors about how lousy America is; solipsistic quirkiness; all of it tied up in a final epiphanic knot. Plus too damn much Writin'.

Most literary short stories seem to me to dribble off the page. I read them wondering why the writer thought his/her story should interest anyone in the first place, and feeling certain that that's a question the writer never saw fit to ask. What goes through my mind when I read most contempo lit-short stories is an SNL-like scene. There's a cigar-smoking Hollywood producer; there's the short-story writer; there's a desk between them. The producer is saying to the writer: "You say someone's going to die? And then someone else is going to lose his job? And then snow is going to fall? And then there'll be a quarrel that goes nowhere? And then, after all this, something poetic and interior will happen to your main character? She'll realize something about the nature of life. And you have the chutzpah to call this a story? Get outta my office!!!"

The truth is that, with age, I seem to have outgrown most of my interest in contempo literary writing anyway, whether long or short. When I read fiction now, I crave the traditional basics: storytelling with momentum, vivid characters, juicy situations, intriguing hooks. I've developed a respect for the basics that I (to my shame) didn't used to have; the basics now strike me as more than enough for fiction to deliver. I suppose a little Writin' can make a contribution too. But for me these days, the Writin' is the final spice. It's never the main dish.

Do you guys retain the taste for Big Art? How has age affected your art tastes and pleasures?



posted by Michael at January 27, 2005


I can still do the long novel, once in a while - hey, a couple of years ago, I got around to "Infinite Jest", although I'm pretty certain that I'll never read it straight through again. But I find that as I get older, that not only do I read less long fiction, I read less fiction, period.

Posted by: Derek Lowe on January 27, 2005 08:49 PM

Thanks, Michael, for owning up to something few avid readers may want to admit: most contemporary short stories aren't worth the time and effort. Who doesn't hate the 'obligation to admire' so many in the contemporary school seek: 'Look, everybody, I've had an insight! And how wonderful it is I can bestow it -- Artfully! -- upon you, lowly reader.' How about some stories about something else for a change, writing schools? Maybe it's time to retire that tiresome dictum that 'you can only write about what you really know' -- what a curiosity-killing message to give to an aspiring writer!

I guess I'm with you, Michael -- I'm nearing 40, and am losing patience with Heavy Art -- again, especially with contemporary stuff. I can still wind up the occasional effort to read a monumental 19th-early 20th century novel, but I find the lavishness of my self-congratulations for doing so a bit unbecoming.

And as you well know, you're not alone in finding the basics most respected in crime fiction. I find it's the easiest way to achieve that sense of escape as rapidly as possible -- you know with a glance what subgenre you’re getting into -- noir, traditional cozy, contemporary realistic -- so you don’t need to expend much effort apprehending the ‘world of the book’. The fact that nearly all crime writers produce long series makes this even easier. Add some good plotting -- a good plot makes reading an effortless joy -- and you’re reading for relaxation rather than working at it.

So that’s where I am: I’m old enough to just not care about impressing anyone with how hard I work at my reading. You want to wade through the self-important swamps put out by the Worthies and the Notables? Be my guest, but give me my P D James.

Posted by: mr tall on January 27, 2005 09:26 PM

I'm into my sixties and the difference is that I don't feel I have time to waste on legnthy novels unless they actually reward the immersion. Pynchon's V and Gravity's Rainbow were fine, but I just c an't finish Mason & Dixon; the prose style may be clever ,but it's unbearably arcane and archaic. Neal Stehenson's Quicksilver was ridic ulously long, but its entertainment value was artfully maintained, getting me through it. But the author could have cut a third without losing anything vital.

It's my belief that publishers now actively push writers to pump up their prose from the old-fashioned 250-page novel (average?) to 500 or more pages. Ninety percent of them don't justify it.

I was amused reading David Lindsey's epic serial killer novel Mercy to discover a long exposition in the middle about the motive and sex of the killer repeated pretty well verbatim near the end in a different situation, by the same character. In the pumping-up process, I conclude, both author and editor got lost. I don't know if this was corrected for later editions.

Posted by: Dave F on January 28, 2005 05:02 AM

I like - no, love - noir, but plot tends to take over from other considerations, sometimes with disastrous consequences. The great thing about Long Art is its ability to explore every nook and cranny of character.

That said, it's only rarely that a true doorstep of a novel manages to hold its edges together; in most cases, its ambitions exceed its grasp. And it's striking that criticism even of the monuments of Long Art, such as Moby Dick or Tom Sawyer, tends to focus on the fact that they're too long.

Perhaps length is the baggage we expect from nineteenth century art. Symphonies became longer and longer, operas became opera cycles, paintings grew into colossal canvasses, Wordsworth's Prelude is a poem long enough to merit publication as a book. Like you, I'm less tolerant of length in modern work. Last year, I simply got sick of reading Conrad Black's biography of FDR (1200 pages), and gave it up in disgust.

I see I've moved quickly from a vague defence of Long Art to deciding it's no good. But I did love War and Peace very much, and Dickens is still wonderful. We just don't have as much time as the Victorian ladies and gents who used to enjoy these things.


Posted by: DaveVH on January 28, 2005 05:23 AM

A PS: I recognise that movie from the producer's remarks. It's called About Schmidt ....

Posted by: Dave F on January 28, 2005 06:03 AM

Derek -- Hats off to you for getting through "Infinite Jest"! I semi-enjoyed DFWallace's early story collection -- there was a story about LBJ that was wonderful. But I guess I burned out my appetitie for overarching arty-intellectual masterpiece-wannabes years ago, with "Gravity's Rainbow." I've never had the desire to scale that kind of mountain again. Did you get much out of "IJ"? The fiction appetite itself does seem to dry up some with age, that's for sure. I wonder if fiction=play, and with age we just tend to play a little less.

Mr. Tall -- That's putting it really well, many thanks. And on many points. I love your points about crime fiction too. As far as I'm concerned, so long as there's a crime, you're guaranteed a story. Not a bad place for fiction to start. The Wife adores true-crime documentaries on TV, I think for similar reasons. You're always going to learn something (about people, places, motivations, craziness, etc); and you're almost always going to be drawn through the material via development and suspense. Basic, but most of the time it works. Which crime writers are you reading with pleasure these days? I just tried my first Ian Rankin. It was fine, but I didn't get hooked.

Dave F -- You're got a lot more staying power than I do, that's for sure. I think you're right too. Sad to say, but novels are easier sells than stories are, and that does seem to help result in publishers and writers puffing their products up beyond what's reasonable or even appealing. I've read sooooo many novels that would have made nice novellas, or long stories ... I wonder if the writerly ego also plays a role: a genius such as I? Why, my every idea deserves 300 pages! Another good question is why American audiences seem to expect long novels, full-length movies, etc. (Of course, they also enjoy comic strips, pop music, and sitcoms. Still.) Is it the freak-show quality -- wow, what a stunt! Is it the American love of getting a lot for their money?

DaveVH -- We're still shaking off a lot from the 19th century, and Romanticism is still with us, that's for darn sure. I wonder if we'll miss it if we ever do shake it entirely off. I can enjoy a little mistiness and foolhardiness myself. I think there's something sweet and foolish about the arts, and that's part of what appeals to me about them. But when Romanticism (modernism, whatever) takes over as art's central ethos, I start becoming very unhappy. What noirs are faves of yours, by the way? I'm always eager to explore new ones. I wonder if we differ a bit where plotting goes. I see plotting as being as potentially expressive as any other element in a book. God knows it can become mechanical, but it can also be wonderful. Plot expectations and genre tropes can also serve as formal requirements rather like the requirements of poetic forms. So I look on 'em cheerily. Which isn't to say they don't trip a lot of writers up. But I like watching them make the effort. There's a funny balance that a good crime novel needs -- enough in the way of mechanics, but also enough in the way of juice. A tough balance to hit. Honestly, I think that a successful crime novel is just about as good a thing as a work of art can be, and a much harder thing to achieve than much of what the lit scene seems to value ...

Dave F -- LOL, I think you're right.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 28, 2005 12:00 PM

But it's also The Dead, and I'm really mad it's not available on DVD — maybe becasue it reminds me so much of my family when I was growing up, full of great and great-great aunts and uncles and lost money and stories and entertainments (by the kids in my family). Angelica Huston is marvelous in it. Though I love the movie, I admit I can't read more than about a page of Joyce these days. Howard Nemerov wrote a really funny essay called "On First reaching the Hundredth Page of Finnegan's Wake.

Posted by: Michael Snider on January 28, 2005 01:26 PM

As I read through one of the longest and thought-provoking blogs on the Internet, I can't help but laugh at the irony of this post.

I guess it makes sense though. As you get older, you have more to say and less to see.(?)


Posted by: Steven K on January 28, 2005 02:22 PM

Michael -- "The Dead" isn't on DVD? That's a scandal. It's a good idea for a blogposting too: greats you can't read any more. I can't get thru a page of Hemingway without bursting into laughter any longer. It seems so mannered. But I loved it at 16 or so.

Steven K -- That's hilarious and so true. We oldies do like to drone on. Scary to think how tiresome I'll be in another 20 years.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 28, 2005 02:33 PM

I, too, have less patience for contemporary fiction as I get older (I'm now 42).

And as a writer and former English major (at Derek Lowe's alma mater, no less), I believe it's because so much writing now is just bloody awful.

Writers have forgotten about plot--good old story telling--in their effort to out-Faulkner Faulkner and out-Joyce Joyce. (Although unlike Mr. Blowhard, I do like Lorrie Moore.)

Posted by: beloml on January 28, 2005 04:27 PM

I had to review an essay collection by a biologist the other day, and asked myself the question exactly why his little 218 page book had so much to offer to me.

It could just be because that man is trained to look for himself, and observe without prejudices, because that's how biologists are taught to work. Which could mean I tend to respond strongly to writers who observe better or differently than I do, and are thus capable to show me something new.

Whereas most writers, or artists for that matter, mostly seem to recycle the already known in a slightly new way. Or just experiment for the experiment. Or just shock to get some kind of response.

But I already know those tricks, or am not really impressed by them.

So, I reckon, what age and experience is showing me is not so much that size matters, or effect, but in the end only originality and genuineity counts. And for me that's not very often found in mainstream cultural products. Which probably makes me a snob or an elitist. Ah well, so be it.

Posted by: ijsbrand on January 28, 2005 06:20 PM

Michael, you reminded me of the interminable hours I spent watching Andy Warhol movies as an undergraduate -- which I loved -- can you imagine??

I still love a big juicy novel, and am just about to move on to the third volume of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle -- close to 3000 pages in all! Nevertheless, they are great page-turners, and I've really been enjoying them as my "escape" novels of the moment . . .

Posted by: missgrundy on January 28, 2005 06:30 PM

How do I say "I'm out of touch with the commentary here" without sounding like a pretentious, bookish dullard? It may not be possible. Oh well.

I'm 46, and my appreciation for big long books has not dimished. A couple of years ago, I read all of Melville. Not long before that, I read all three volumes of Robert Caro's LBJ bio. Around the same time, a nice stack of Dickens. Some Dostoevsky, too, and two bios of Byron. I read Proust ten years ago and I'm absolutely willing to do it again; same goes for Mason & Dixon. And Gravity's Rainbow? I could sit though it a fourth time, sure.

A big, massive story just delivers more -- not always, of course (Maugham's Of Human Bondage, William Gass's The Tunnel and Don DeLillo's Underworld soar to mind) but often, in my case.

Dave VH makes an interesting point: in a long novel, the ambitions tend to exceed the grasp. This is, also, what makes them fascinating. A long novel is, almost always, the work of someone trying to give everything, to empty himself, to puke up all he has and the result is very often messy and imperfect. But this is, also, an art I like, partly because it can lead somewhere interesting and because it seems just so fascinatingly human: this desire to be God, to create a big world with big characters doing big things or thinking big things.

You know, after Tolstoy finished War and Peace he supposedly thought of it as "wordy trash" and decided to move on to something more purely artistic -- like Anna Karenina, which only weighs in at 800 or so pages.

I sympathize with a Tolstoy who thought he wrote too much -- but would you want a Tolstoy who wrote like Hemingway or Carver? Not me. I like full, rich and bloody.

If anything I find books under 300 pages hard to take seriously. I do take them seriously, mind you; there's just this lingering sense in the back of my mind that maybe it's not really worth reading, that a lot of the time what we imagine as "concise" is just limited, dwarfed, half-assed.

I merely admit this as a knee-jerk prejudice, not a liability to appreciation. In practice, though, I find that when I start a long novel I am fully engaged in it and I take it very seriously; I find myself willingly giving a lot of time to it. Shorter novels put me in a different frame of mind; it's like an easy assignment that you really don't have to finish. But I do finish them and often like them; in fact, the best novel of last year, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead was relatively short.

A couple of crime fiction plugs: Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy. The first is a prose master; the second makes you feel like you're trapped in a very loud, noisy, sadistic video game where everything is zooming by way too quickly for you to keep up, but that's also part of the appeal.

Today I started a Japanese thriller that just came out in paperback: Out by Natsuo Kirino. So far, so gripping.

Posted by: Rodney Welch on January 28, 2005 08:35 PM

As for "Infinite Jest", I found it a very odd, intense experience. The atmosphere of the book was powerfully claustrophobic; it was like being inside a supernaturally long, hugely detailed bad dream. That said, it was a curate's egg. Some sections were very hard to slog through; others I've gone back to and read by themselves since. DFW's short stories haven't connected with me, but I really enjoyed "A Supposedly Fun Thing. . ."

I find that I can't enjoy Faulkner as much as I used to - tried the Snopes books again a few years ago, and I just couldn't get going. In college I sailed right through 'em. But "As I Lay Dying" still holds up for me just fine.

And I still like Nabokov, although I've never taken a serious crack at "Ada". Guess I'd better get on that one while I have some residual patience. (And after reading Rodney Welch's comment above, I have to say that I still plan to read Moby Dick, eventually.)

My theory about a decline in fiction reading with age is that experience (both in life and in reading of other fiction) makes many novels less unusual and interesting. You also come to realize that you don't have to finish every book you start. . .

Posted by: Derek Lowe on January 28, 2005 10:12 PM


Wow man, you've got to get Rodney Welch to write for 2blowhards about something...anything! Terrific comment!

Posted by: ricpic on January 28, 2005 10:46 PM

Late again! Rodney Walsh said it, and said it great.

What I would add (omitting the "I'm X, I'm N years old and I'm a bookaholic" preamble) that I find change of pace beneficial.
Working I usually keep few Windows open for quick distruction (blogs and news), it helps to return to the drawing or spec writing with a fresh eye.

I prefer to read short stories in a morning, swaying with the tide in the subway car. One or two lean ones usually last for 55-min commute. Keeps me concentrated and starts my day on a certain note, connected to the story's atmosphere.

With luxury of more time I cook up something with more calories, more flesh on the bones, with sauce and salad on the side - story, but not short (in Russian literature there is a canon form, povest', which is bigger than short story but much smaller than traditional novel - something about 60 to 100 pages)

And when I'm on vacation, I'd rather have one heavyweight companion than 5 grasshoppers.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule (Rule? I hate rules; I change with the wind).
I spend the night before last, finishing Imre Kertezc "Fateless", not sure am I crying over those last chilly pages or is it just 4 in the morning-tiredness...

Posted by: Tatyana on January 28, 2005 11:36 PM

Rodney Welch. Sorry.

Posted by: Tatyana on January 28, 2005 11:37 PM

"What noirs are faves of yours, by the way? I'm always eager to explore new ones. I wonder if we differ a bit where plotting goes. I see plotting as being as potentially expressive as any other element in a book."

Michael, after reading this blog for over a year, I get the impression there's nothing I could recommend that you won't know backwards.

There are some interesting European versions of noir in translation though, which alter the emphasis while paying tribute to Hammet and Chandler.

Jean-Claude Izzo is thoroughly good stuff - very atmospheric; mostly set in Marseilles (a French LA? - pushing it a bit, but there are similarities). There's a brief profile of him here.

San Antonio (French) brings a sort of zany humour to his detective novels, driven chiefly by his untranslatable argot, but still good reading in English.

I also enjoy Scerbanenco - (Ukrainian/Italian) for his use of plain language - I think he was a great fan of the American writers and inherited that aspect of their style. There's not much in translation, but I did find this.

Simenon's Maigret I expect you've heard of and read. And for a left field straightahead crime thriller with chaotic humour, a cast of thousands, epileptic dogs, and a beleaguered hero who nevertheless manages to keep hold of his curvaceous and fearless girlfriend, Pennac's your man.

Of all these names, I'd recommend Pennac most, even if he's not strictly noir (too much good humour). He's on Amazon here.

Michael, your comments about plotting are right, of course. I was thinking of the times when writers get tripped up by their own plots, or make them so complex as to be impossible to follow. I'm not discounting plot as the thing that drives a story; in fact I'd agree with your commenters that a lot of modern fiction has "lost the plot". But I'd be interested to hear your take on how plot can contribute more than just the motive power of a story, if you get the time to blog about it.

Goodness, I go on - almost nineteenth-century verboseness.


Posted by: DaveVH on January 29, 2005 03:39 AM

Great comments. Thanks to Michael for the kind words, and kudos to Mr Welch. I wish I still had that kind of stamina!

Derek, I powered through Moby Dick in four days as an undergrad. I did almost nothing but read, but I was also aided by a set of prescribed 'skips' the professor gave my class: if it had to do with slicing up giant sea mammals, we didn't have to read it. I wish I still had his exact page-by-page guidelines to forward to you -- the book (which is quite amazing) made perfect sense without all those whaling logistics.

As for current crime writers: my favorite is Reginald Hill. He's done some experimentation with the form in his past few books, but if anyone's looking for a place to start, *On Beulah Height* seems to me just about the eptiome of the genre. Gripping, chilling, plumbing the depths of human nature. I also love the aforementioned PD James, and I've recently really enjoyed John Sandford's 'Prey' novels; I'm oringinally an Iowa boy, and they're set in my childhood ideal of The Big City, i.e. Minneapolis/St Paul.

Posted by: Mr Tall on January 29, 2005 07:10 AM

Dear Michael:

Like most people today, you are simply too busy. We are not, alas, like our 1700's and 1600's predecessors at the business of art consumption who would watch the SAME 3 hour opera (Lully's Acis at Galatee is the particular instance i have in mind) 3 times in the course of five days (spent at a hunting lodge out in the woods somewhere) just because they *could*. Own up: the time when you craved and enjoyed LONG art was probably before you became professionally successful. ;-)

best regards


Posted by: tom potocki on January 29, 2005 08:08 AM

Very long performances? An aging prostate and more frequent need to urinate may be part of your aversion. If not yet, just wait.

Modern novels that are too long? The word processor and the shrivelling of the editorial staff at modern publishers makes them way too long. An abridged audio version is probably a closer cut toward what the book should have been anyway.

I spare myself this problem by means of the "40 Year Rule" -- Never read any fiction less than 40 years old. If it is still known to anybody after that length of time, it has a decent chance of being worth reading. The corollary to this is to read a more contemporary work if someone very reliable raves about it, or a personal friend gets something published, etc. The occasional exception can be tolerated.

Posted by: Lexington Green on January 29, 2005 09:25 AM

Well, to actually answer your question, I'll use my music preferences to illustrate.

At this point in my life, I'd rather listen to Charlie Parker blow hard on 12 5-minute tunes than listen to John Coltrane blow hard on four 25-minute tunes.

Then again, I'm only 28 years of age, so this may be more ADD than ART. :)

Posted by: Steven K. on January 29, 2005 11:02 AM

I still love Joyce and Hemingway. I found myself agreeing with every one of your comments about the putrid self indugence of contemporary long and short artists. I am 22 and I still enjoy stories about interior change- perhaps it was an early reading of CHeckov.

But already I feel some fatique. I remember thinking Magnolia was AMAZING- the first 3 times I saw it. Its not the lngth that bothers me so much as the pretension. Anderson is great at framing shots- has teh most distinctive new visual style (other than Wes Anderson) but C'MON! What a pretty piece of crap that movie is. I think it was MEdvead that said it nearly earned a place on his 10 best AND 10 worst films of that year.

Posted by: Michael Brendan Doughety on January 29, 2005 12:43 PM

Some of the posts complaining about contemporary literature above are utterly fatuous. In the last decade, American & English authors have produced an amazing range of works that stand up to the best the past has to offer. We are living through a golden age of literature.

I just finished a remedial traversal of 19th-century English literature. "American Pastoral" and "Atonement" are better than any of the classics I read (with the exception of "Middlemarch" -- no novel is equal to that masterpiece), which include several of the undisputed classics from that time period. If you're getting tired of contemporary literature, I suggest you make your selections more carefully. Start by never reading Dom DeLillo under any circumstances. And books that are 1000+ pages long like "Infinite Jest" need absolutely rave reviews to justify opening them.

Posted by: JT on February 1, 2005 12:13 PM

Hey, thanks to all for reading recs. I'm looking forward to doing some exploring. Most of which will be of a short-ish nature, of course...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 2, 2005 01:18 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?