John Dermot Woods’s Top Ten Novellas

Here’s what I’ve come up with, although I’m sure I’ve missed something great. Here’s ten novellas (I think they’re novellas—never easy to tell, is it?) that live inside me—the first ten that came to mind.

The Aspern Papers, by Henry James
The plot of this one should be made into a Hollywood movie (I’m trying to do it). James offers no retribution or consolation. Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men reminds me of The Aspern Papers in that regard.

The Age of Wire and String, by Ben Marcus
You can’t write the same after reading this one. Marcus wears his influences on his sleeve (Beckett, Barthelme) in many ways, but, in doing so, offers storytellers a whole new method for world-building.

The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon
This book is fun. Maybe not the profound and disturbing works that his mega-novels are, but one of the most enjoyable pieces of literature written last century.

Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This one began Dostoevskys exploration of containment and claustrophobia. And it’s pretty damn immediate when read these days. If you haven’t read it since college, you should.

David Boring, by Dan Clowes
So much of Clowes work is amazing (Ghost World, Ice Haven, etc.), but this book was the first I read by him, and it really stretched my concept of how normal a fantastic story could be. As great as the feeling in his other work is, the way he pushed the weirdness in this one about half a step further makes it stand out in my mind.

Storeyville, by Frank Santoro
This one is all about the pages. Frank Santoro questions comic conventions in his very composition. (And he does it pretty overtly with his incendiary—but always thoughtful—posts over at Comics, Comics.) The pencils and blocks of muted colors and lack of panel gutters create a new way to conceive of pages. This book allows creators to realize that many assumptions about page composition are appropriate for a very specific type of comic, but not all.

To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
I rip this book off every time I write.

No Longer Human, by Osamu Dazai
Like James, Dazai makes no apologies. Neither do his characters. Like Dostoevsky, he embraces claustrophobia. Dazai smacks you in the face and then shrugs when you look at him quizzically, as if to say, “That’s all I got.”

The Loser, by Thomas Bernhard
It’s hard to choose one from Bernhard, but this was one that I thought I could define as a novella, so I went with it. Bernhard always distracts us and asks us to look at the thing beside the thing. Forget about the focus, forget about that hotshot Glenn Gould, look at the other suckers. And his prose is relentless. He never lets you breathe; it’s exhilarating to read his one-hundred-page paragraphs.

The Dead, by James Joyce
Subtext, tear-jerking—do I have to explain this one?

Jakob Von Gunten, by Robert Walser
My obsession of the month. (I actually just posted about it on my blog.) This book defines what people mean when they say, “Love is the closest thing to hate.”

John Dermot Woods writes stories and draws comics. He is a professor in the English Department at Nassau Community College on Long Island. He edits the arts quarterly Action Yes and organizes the online reading series Apostrophe Cast. His fiction and comics have appeared in Indiana Review, American Letters & Commentary, No Colony, Hobart, sleepingfish, 3rd Bed, Salt Hill, and other places. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit him HERE.

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One response to “John Dermot Woods’s Top Ten Novellas

  1. Hi John, this is a really great top ten list of novellas. “Notes from Underground” is the only one of read from your list, I have some catching up to do. I added “The Dead”, because I love Joyce and “Storeyville” because it sounds interesting. You can post this to our site http://www.toptentopten.com/ and then link back to your site. We are looking for top ten lists and our users can track back to your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

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