Birthday Blossoms

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On time

Several occasions during the year prompt us to reflect, to take stock of our life’s progress, habits, occupations, and relationships, and commit anew to what really matters. Holidays like Thanksgiving and New Year’s invite us to appreciate what we have, and identify room for personal improvement. The key, somber holidays in Judaism and Christianity – Yom Kippur and Easter – ask us to take time to forgive, heal, and reflect on ways we can be better people.

For me, birthdays too have served as a time to review and appreciate my situation, and reaffirm what is important. As I age, I tell my friends I would much rather linger over lunch with them than receive a gift. From where I sit now, what I really want is to be blessed with time: more time to ponder, more time in the company of those I love, more time relishing the present.

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If stars should appear but one night every thousand years, how man would marvel and stare.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

On brevity

Maybe it’s because I have always been an efficient sort, but I have a particular fondness for short books. I fell in love with short books early on: The Old Man and the Sea, The Moon is Down, The Human Comedy, The Great Gatsby, Franny and Zooey, Frankenstein, Death, Sleep & the Traveler, and countless others. I admire their tight prose – the fact that every word matters.

Frequently, short books have an intense tonal moodiness and a hyper-focus on one life. The Stranger, Waking, and Bonjour Tristese come to mind. Often, time is compressed and the reader compelled to fill in the backstories; often, the hero or heroine wrestles with the very fact of his/her existence. While short works may seem deceptively simple, much lurks beneath the surface, and a certain authority springs from the relatively contained subject matter.

In my first creative writing class while still in high school, our teacher asked us to write vignettes, two-page “slices of life” that captured some kind of epiphany. We read James Joyce’s Dubliners, noting the heartbreak in those snapshots, the pervasive sense that individuals were trapped. My stories emanated from overheard conversations, an awkward encounter on a public bus, a fantasy in a laundromat.

A smattering of favorite short books: To the Lighthouse, A Hero of Our Time, Demian, Pale Fire, End of the Road, Disgrace, Love Invents Us, When the Emperor Was Divine. Counting my two published works, I have now written four novels that all weighed in at just under 200 pages. You are what you read? You are what you love.

6 Responses

  1. Nancy Gerbere says:

    “Against the censurers of brevity. – Something said briefly can be the fruit of much long thought.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

    I love this post, and I agree, there is something deeply satisfying about short books. Maybe because of the compression, the story and characters often remain imprinted in my memory.

  2. Mary Kay Brooks says:

    In junior high I fell in love with the love story “Daddy Long Legs”.
    Complicated for me at the time but the short dairy style read made me search for the meaning. Less was more even if I didn’t recognize the lesson.
    In brief can mean the reflection is long.

  3. Thanks for your list of short, inspiring, works. I’ve just finished some very long ones, and they, too, have their virtues.
    Happy birthday — in the case of life we like to string it out as long as possible.

    Ann

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