Novella Reading Challenge / Bartleby, the Scrivener

After recently releasing a rainbow (alliteration!) of novellas that are available for purchase as a set or individually, Melville House has put out a challenge to see how many can actually be read this summer.  This is the self-evaluation chart:

  • Curious – Read 1 novella
  • Fascinated — Read 3 novellas
  • Captivated – Read 6 novellas
  • Passionate — Read 9 novellas
  • Mesmerized – Read 15 novellas
  • Obsessed – Read 21 novellas
  • Fanatical – Read 27 novellas
  • Unstoppable — Read 33 novellas
  • Bibliomaniac — Read all 42 novellas

While I probably currently stand somewhere between “Curious” and “Fascinated,” I’d like to personally make it my goal to get a few of these under my belt.  Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to read a novella by Proust as a substitute for reading one of his novels.  In the words of Yo La Tengo, “never read Proust / seems a little too long.”

Anyway, to kick things off, an appropriately brief little review for one of the novellas featured in the challenge (and by Melville, no less):

Bartleby, the Scrivener

A few years ago, I started reading Moby Dick.  I eventually got sidetracked and ended up reading something else and then something else, and so on… the book remains unread, sitting on my bookshelf, glaring at me every time I pass it by.  What stopped me?  Melville’s writing just didn’t grab me at the time.  This fact, coupled with my ADD tendency to count down the pages if I’m reading something tedious, made the whole experience an unnecessary and daunting task.

While in college, I took a short story class and Bartleby was one of the titles chosen.  Now, fellow Moby Dick quitters listen up: it was hilarious.  The setup is simple.  The narrator, a Manhattan lawyer with his hands tied, hires this character Bartleby as a scrivener (someone who copies legal documents by hand).  However, shortly after being hired, Bartleby resigns himself from doing anything that resembles work, instead opting to haunt the office like a lazy ghost.

Since this is a short story, I won’t risk ruining any of it by saying more.  Read it; it’s quick and funny.  Also, let me reiterate that this review means one thing: I officially rank as “Curious” on the novella scale!  Now, to see what else is in the collection…

-Tavis

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