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Bill Murray Reads Poetry to Construction Workers

In this video, Bill Murray reads poetry (including Emily Dickinson) to construction workers at the Poets House in Manhattan. The action begins at the 1-minute mark.

(Via Movie City Indie, as tweeted by Roger Ebert.)

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Big Questions
What Is the Difference Between a Novella and a Short Story?
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We typically put fiction into one of two categories: It's either a short story, or it's a novel. But there is another variation that lands somewhere in between the two. Yes, the novella. What exactly separates a short story from a novella from a novel, you ask?

As with most art forms, the label is somewhat malleable. When it comes down to it, though, it's all about word count. Atonement author Ian McEwan, discussing his love of the form in The New Yorker in 2012, defined the novella as being between roughly 20,000 and 40,000 words. Writer's Digest says it can run up to 50,000 words. Around 30,000 is more typical.

Anything more than that 50,000 words is probably a full novel. Short stories, which are designed to be read in one sitting, are usually only a few thousand words long and written for publication in a magazine or as part of a collection. The highest word count many literary magazines will publish is around 10,000, but most stories are even shorter, under 7500 words or so.

This leaves the novella in a weird in-between space where it's too long to publish in a magazine or literary journal and too short to publish as a book. (Yes, there's another in-between category for those stories between 10,000 and 20,000 words: the "novelette.") For publishers, putting out a novella isn't a very attractive option. Novellas look pretty small once they're bound, and customers aren't always keen on spending hardcover prices for teeny-tiny volumes.

Some of the difference between the forms is just marketing, though. Novellas have been around since the Middle Ages, and some standard English class assignments are on the list. Even if you don't know it, you've surely read one, probably thinking that it was just an extra-long short story or a rather short book. Perhaps it was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, or Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, or Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Maybe it was Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome or H.G. Wells's The Time Machine. All can be classified as novellas.

Despite the fact that these novellas turned into classics, you probably don't see a lot of contemporary examples at your local bookstore. Even the most popular writers have trouble finding a publisher willing to take on their in-between length stories. Stephen King, or example, struggled to get them out into the world until he finally published Different Seasons, a collection of four of his novellas, in 1982. And that had nothing to do with the quality of those stories; one was later adapted for the screen as The Shawshank Redemption.

In the afterword to the book, he wrote of the trouble he faced getting the novellas published because they were "too long to be short and too short to be really long." When he pitched his editor on a book of novellas, King recalled, the editor was polite, but "his voice says some of the joy may have just gone out of his day." In the end, he got the book published, but even for a hugely popular author, it was an uphill battle. Even for the biggest names in publishing, it seems, the novella is a no-go.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't seek them out; according to McEwan, they're the "perfect form of prose fiction." Even if they go on a little longer than 10,000 words.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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20 Inspiring Quotes from Langston Hughes

Poet. Novelist. Playwright. Activist. There wasn’t much that Langston Hughes couldn't do. Born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1, 1902, Hughes—an innovator of the jazz poetry art form—eventually made his way to New York City, where he became one of the most recognized leaders of the Harlem Renaissance. But even amongst his peers, Hughes’s work stood out as unique.

In 1973’s Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays, critic Donald B. Gibson wrote that Hughes “differed from most of his predecessors among black poets … in that he addressed his poetry to the people, specifically to black people. During the twenties when most American poets were turning inward, writing obscure and esoteric poetry to an ever decreasing audience of readers, Hughes was turning outward, using language and themes, attitudes and ideas familiar to anyone who had the ability simply to read.”

On the occasion of what would have been his 116th birthday (Hughes passed away in 1967, at the age of 65), here are 20 inspiring quotes from Langston Hughes.

1. ON HUMOR

“Humor is laughing at what you haven't got when you ought to have it ... what you wish in your secret heart were not funny, but it is, and you must laugh. Humor is your own unconscious therapy. Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air, and you.”

2. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF DREAMS

“A dream deferred is a dream denied.”

3. ON CENSORSHIP

“We Negro writers, just by being black, have been on the blacklist all our lives. Censorship for us begins at the color line.”

4. AND 5. ON FREEDOM

“In all my life, I have never been free. I have never been able to do anything with freedom, except in the field of my writing.”

“An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.”

6. ON THE PURPOSE OF ART

“Perhaps the mission of an artist is to interpret beauty to people—the beauty within themselves.”

7. ON NOT TAKING “BUT” FOR AN ANSWER

“I will not take 'but' for an answer. Negroes have been looking at democracy's 'but' too long.”

8. AND 9. ON THE WRITING PROCESS

“I must never write when I do not want to write.”

“Writing is like traveling. It's wonderful to go somewhere, but you get tired of staying.”

10. ON DETERMINATION

“I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.”

11. ON THE PLACE OF POLITICS IN POETRY

“Politics can be the graveyard of the poet. And only poetry can be his resurrection.”

12. AND 13. ON DEMOCRACY

“Democracy will not come Today, this year Nor ever Through compromise and fear.”

“I swear to the Lord, I still can't see, why Democracy means, everybody but me.”

14. ON LIFE AND DEATH

“Life is for the living. Death is for the dead. Let life be like music. And death a note unsaid.”

15. ON THE DUTY OF BLACK ARTISTS

“To my mind, it is the duty of the younger Negro artist, if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, to change through the force of his art that old whispering 'I want to be white,' hidden in the aspirations of his people, to 'Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro—and beautiful!'”

16. ON LIVING IN THE PRESENT

“I tire so of hearing people say, Let things take their course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need my freedom when I'm dead. I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.”

17. ON SEEKING STRENGTH FROM WITHIN

“When a man starts out to build a world, He starts first with himself.”

18. ON REVOLUTION

“Good morning, Revolution: You're the very best friend I ever had. We gonna pal around together from now on.”

19. ON THE NATURE OF JAZZ

“Jazz, to me, is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America: the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile.”

20. ON BEER

“Whiskey just naturally likes me but beer likes me better.”

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