I am a sucker for words with too many syllables that evoke memories of first encounters with them. There's 'propinquity' which I met in an article bemoaning the location of Canada, which like Mexico (setting a distant God aside) has the US too close for comfort. 'Proparoxytone' - I think I'll save that for another occasion. 'Escafandrista' brings on the image of a diver from a previous century, fitted with an umbilical tube and a spherical brass head. 'Ametralladora' is a word tossed off by Ruben Blades in his song about hired assassins - Sicarios. Machine-gun, the prosaic equivalent, just doesn't work the same magic for me, nor does Tommy-gun. Scatter-gun is what I'm after, from which, scatter-shot, which describes the preferred madness of my reading method. OK, I am an utterly shameless scatter-brained braggart, an idiot but no savant - satisfied? As I said elsewhere, my mind goes where it will.
Reading long works is a thing of my youth. I marvel at how I once got though classic tonnage like War and Peace and Les Miserables. I lay the blame for my affliction equally on age-induced ADD and the logorrhea of modern writers of lesser substance. A published author simplified the process of writing a novel for me. Just think of it as a page a day for a year, he said, and to this day I cannot see why an interesting yarn cannot be told in the space of 365 pages, 366 at most. If it's a page turner, the laguage engaging, and there aren't huge swaths of vapid conversation or jargon-filled academic analyses, I'll give a little - let's say 450, tops! The English Patient is the gold standard for me - just 300 pages to tell an intricate and compelling story. Since I know it all from the excellent film, I can enjoy the book ten pages at a time sampled randomly.
Among shorter works, above all, I am a fan of sudden fiction. Good authors may go for 20 pages, but 25 taxes my patience. When I pick up a book of short stories, I read them in order of increasing length, requiring the shortest piece to vouch for the author's art. Beyond that, there is the novella, for which I set an arbitrary limit of 175.
Brevity, unfortunately, is not an easy goal for the non-fiction writer. Once the subject and its scope has taken hold of the writer's mind, she faces the task of presenting a set amount of unavoidable detail. Thereafter, it is the skill of the author's trade-offs that determines the readability of the book for me. I like popular histories of a distant past, and I judge these against Alan Moorehead's The White Nile and The Blue Nile, non-fiction sisters of the Ondaatje novel. Browsing at the library today I saw a three volume book about Napoleon's Russian debacle, titled 1812. On the other pan of the scales, I have a book called 1688 that tells about happenings all over the world in that year in a scant 300 pages. Which would you rather read?
And so I commend to you Eduardo Hughes Galeano, the prolific Uruguayan writer, master of the short form, whose latest book I am now sampling. Sampling and reading are one and the same with Galeano. I found this summation on the Internet :
Galeano defies easy categorization as an author. His works combine documentary, fiction, journalism, political analysis, and history. The author himself has denied that he is a historian: "I'm a writer obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America above all and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia."