There used to be a time when I would search out big, fat books; books that would take a week or even more to read; books that would admit me to their world and quietly draw the curtains around it while I lived within its dream. But now, as I am older, I find most big books tedious and seek out the small, short, thinner volumes for these I know will most likely come to the point, say what needs to be said and depart like a friend who knows when it’s time to go home.
I search out these smaller books on the library shelves. Before I used to go to the fiction or non-fiction or mystery books sections and look for favorite authors or intriguing titles. Now my eyes scan the shelves for the little ‘cousins’ and ‘maiden aunts’ hidden between the upright, study spines of more responsible and weighty family members.
These smaller books are like haiku. More than a short story but less than a novel; more than a sonnet and less than an epic, they glide with grace over thoughts and emotions, dipping deeply enough to evoke a response but lightly enough not to be tragically morose or extravagantly dramatic.
I have also eschewed novels about passion and desire; about struggle and revenge. This, I’m sure, is a direct result of my aging. Those emotions and motives do not have the allure they once did, either as an instructional treatise or as entertainment. I do not care to read or experience second hand the emotions of love lost or found; or desire thwarted or fulfilled, for I have come to realize that neither state is preferable which has certainly removed envy and concupiscence from my emotional vocabulary. Was it Oscar Wilde who said that the only thing worse that not getting what you wanted was getting it?
The smaller book does not have the time or space or energy to deal with these big emotions and big problems but instead focuses more on the mundane and everyday; the people one meets and lives with, the small problems whose solving does not cause sleeplessness at night; the emotions that touch poignantly not drain energy.
These smaller books also seem to pay more attention to typeface and format. Their covers are less vulgar and attention-getting and more delicate and fine. And since the books are smaller, they fit nicely in the hands. My fingers and wrists do not grow tired holding them up or balancing them on my stomach when I read in bed.
When I read about the characters in a story, I find I would like to know them; in fact, I sometimes feel I already do. Rather than characters to be adored or feared they are friends to be met and with luck, cherished. The emotions they draw forth are manageable and familiar. They remind one of childhood or good times or even sad times but without the tragedy.
One such story I recently read was titled, “Quite a Year for Plums,” by Bailey White. One chapter relates the approaching death of an old horse named Squeaky. Roger, the horse’s owner, erects a very large Styrofoam shed out in the field where the horse waits for the end.
“Then, suddenly … she realized why Roger had made Squeaky’s house so big. It was so that when the old horse finally pitched over, there would be room for him to fall without crashing into the flimsy walls of the house, and his last thought in this world would not be one of panic as the Styrofoam panels and poles of the dying house collapsed on top on him.”
A “Gone With the Wind” or the “Fall of the Roman Empire” or a “Harry Potter” could not contain such an observation because those pages would be too big and too dramatic for such a delicate observation. So my forays among the stacks at the local library for now will focus on the small, dusty and overlooked; in return I shall be charmed.