Publishers like short stories, and they love novels. But when a writer submits a mid-length work that falls somewhere between two genres, booksellers balk and editors narrow their eyes. This is the domain of the novella, an unfairly neglected literary art form that’s been practiced for centuries by celebrated writers—from Charles Dickens to Jane Smiley to Alain Mabanckou—yet faces an ongoing struggle for commercial viability. “For me, the word denotes a lesser genre,” literary agent Karolina Sutton told The Guardian in 2011. “If you pitch a book to a bookseller as a novel, you’re likely to get more orders than if you call it a novella.”
Mid-length works suffer from a koan-like criticism: They’re too short and they’re also too long. Novellas hog too much space to appear in magazines and literary journals, but they’re usually too slight to release as books. If a reader’s going to spend 16 bucks, the notion goes, he wants to take home a Franzen-size tome—not a slim volume he can slip in a jacket pocket. […]
Now the beleaguered genre, at long last, has found a worthy and consistent champion: Melville House Publishing, whose “Art of the Novella” series is an ongoing celebration of the form. The Brooklyn-based press offers 47—and counting—novellas from writers like Cervantes, Jane Austen, Anton Chekhov, Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, and Virginia Woolf. Specifically drawing attention to the novella’s brevity, diversity, and lineage of distinguished practitioners, the series is the first of its kind.
Each sleek, modernist edition comes suited in a monochrome cover with French flaps. There are no blurb quotes, no graphics or illustrations. Just the author’s name, the title, and on the back, a pull quote. At nine dollars each, they’re a steal.
Read more. [Image: Melville House]