Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sentences like Fruit Drops

I've long been fond of short books. Among my favourites: The Hour of the Star, and The Stream of Life by Clarice Lispector, The Rose Garden by Kristjana Gunnars, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart. In the non-fiction department there is And our faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger and Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard. In her essay, "On Writing Short Books" (from Stranger at the Door), Kristjana Gunnars quotes Jorge Luis Borges as saying, "the habit of writing long books, of extending to five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly stated in a few months' time, is a laborious and exhausting extravagance."

Because I'm attempting to write a short book I'm drawn to reading them, of course. I like taking Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal off the shelf and just reading the first page for inspiration. It's 98 pages long, a book about books, the destruction of books. The narrator operates a compacting machine into which he feeds beautiful books. Let me quote the first page, though, and leave it at that:

"For thirty-five years now I've been in wastepaper, and it's my love story. For thirty-five years I've been compacting wastepaper and books, smearing myself with letters until I've come to look like my encyclopedias - and a good three tons of them I've compacted over the years. I am a jug filled with water both magic and plain; I have only to lean over and a stream of beautiful thoughts flows out of me. My education has been so unwitting I can't quite tell which of my thoughts come from me and which from my books, but that's how I've stayed attuned to myself and the world around me for the past thirty-five years. Because when I read, I don't really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol..."

Hrabal's sentences really are like fruit drops, yes? I particularly like this book because it fits into two of my favourite categories: books about books and short books.