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Thursday, May 07, 2015

In Sicily (1941) by Elio Vittorini

Book Review
In Sicily (1941)
 by Elio Vittorini

 The average length of a novel on the 1001 Books list declines as the reader moves forward in time. There are multiple explanations for this decline in average length, but it can be conceptualized in terms of the prevailing modes of release.  In the 18th century, novels were typically serialized and then published in multiple volumes over time.  In the 19th century, serialization continued, but the prevailing mode of publication for novels was the "triple decker", i.e. three volumes.  That was less than the multi volume sets for 19th century, but still, three volumes for a single novel was very normal.

  In the 20th century, the single volume novel became the standard mode of presentation.  The single volume/paperback/hardback mode of publication endures till today.   Today, a decade after the Ebook has entered into the marketplace, it has yet to make a significant impact on the hardback/paperback single volume mode of publication and people continue to buy the equivalent of a paperback book for their ereaders. I think the adoption of the single volume format, especially the emergence of the "paperback novel" was a key accelerant in this average shortening of length.  A single volume paperback, with the right page margins and text, can plausibly be less than 150 pages.

  In Sicily is a great example of just how short a novel can be.  It is barely 150 pages, and that includes an introduction/jeremiad by Ernest Hemingway which is literally exactly what you would expect Hemingway to write about a book written about a man visiting his elderly mother in the mountains of Sicily in the 1930s.   Although there isn't much too it, at the end of In Sicily you will have certainly been transported to that place and time.


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