Unruled Paper

by Steve Mitchell

Big Celebrities, Tiny Books EditionOccasionally those of us in the book-selling business just have to roll our eyes at the new (or old) schemes devised to sell books. I’ve written about one set of dubious schemes earlier but there are many others. Some days it seems there’s a journal for every self-help trend: you can journal your creative impulses, your feeling of thinness or otherwise, you impulses toward clutter. There’s the strange phenomenon of book covers. After a certain book becomes a best seller, suddenly other books have covers weirdly familiar to the best seller. The latest trend is the tiny book by a celebrity or a celebrity-author.It’s not that every book needs to be Finnegan’s Wake or Infinite Jest. God forbid. It’s just that occasionally I want to believe that a book is more than something tossed off in the cab somewhere between brunch and the Sunday matinee. And it’s not that the authors represented below are bad; many of them have written very good books at other times. It’s just that, for me, a short story, a group of aphorisms and ‘musings’, or—worse yet—advice from the rich and famous does not make a book.I haven’t included additional reviews this week because they’re all celebrities. What difference does it make?

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling80 pgs.Failure is good, says the wildly successful author. Imagination is good too. Who knew?

The Grownup: A Story by the Author of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn64 pgs.Yes, that really is the full title of this book above, just in case you forgot who Gillian Flynn was or didn’t see the Ben Affleck movie. An ‘homage to the classic ghost story’, no doubt pulled from behind the christmas decorations in Gillian Flynn’s attic, it’s a short short story.

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories by Tim Burton128 pgs.Tim Burton’s books exist for all those who’ve never read Edward Gorey, as thin franchise fare where ‘quirky’ becomes a brand. In this book you get his stories and drawings. If you close your eyes, you can perhaps call up memories of a time when he made interesting films, but wasn’t that in the fairy tale land of long ago?

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed160pgsDon’t let the page count of this book fool you. It’s set in type big enough to read from across the room. A series of hurrah aphorisms and internet-meme-ready encouragements, this book hits all the beats of a ‘Be All You Can Be’ ad campaign or your slightly deaf aunt who can always be counted on for blank encouragement. Buy this book! You can do it!

Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke192 pgs.It’s billed as ‘a short guide to what gives life meaning and beauty’, because celebrities know all about that, while the rest of us don’t have a clue. Never trust the book by a celebrity, if the back cover copy includes the word ‘ruminations.’But:

On the other hand, New Directions began this year to publish a series of 80-90 page books by authors from around the world. They call it their Pearls series. They are all in small paperback editions and they give the reader a chance to taste international fiction at a reasonable price. Instead of cash grabs, these are more like appetizers. They include Because She Never Asked by Enrique Vila-Matas, Tropisms by Nathalie Sarraute, Never Love a Gambler by Keith Ridgway, and Morphine by Mikhail Bulgakov.Other Tiny ThingsTiny Houses Greensboro This is a local group of organizations and individuals working to build tiny houses in Greensboro to support those experiencing homelessness.Tiny Plates – TapasLaRue in GreensboroHow about shareable food, small plates that you pass around? LaRue is a great small restaurant in downtown GSO which always has something interesting going on. Their menus change frequently, so you should get on the subscriber list at their website. That way they can send you updates.Tiny Desk Concerts on National Public RadioThe desk has sort of disappeared over the years but this is still a great place to see small live performances by great artists and bands. I’m partial to the Kronos Quartet and Vic Chesnutt concerts, but there’s something here for everyone to love.And:What? You’ve never heard of Tiny Hamster World? Where have you been? Enjoy a dwarf hamster eating tiny sushi/Please send any announcements of writerly or bookish events in the Triad area or beyond to: neuralarts@triad.rr.comSteve Mitchell’s short story collection, The Naming of Ghosts, is published by Press 53. He has a deep belief in the primacy of doubt and an abiding conviction that great wisdom informs very bad movies. He’s co-owner of Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC.