“Small Bites”

Most of my reading consists of full length novels or complete books of nonfiction such as history and science. I have always struggled with compilations, whether of poems, essays or short stories. I end up avoiding them without questioning my dislike.

Since I have appreciated much of Colm Toibin’s fiction, particularly Brooklyn and Nora Webster, I picked up his recent book of essays A Guest At the Feast at our library this week. (As I did so the librarian told me he would be reading in Hartford(Connecticut)on February 7. He will be at the Mark Twain House for this event. Since it is a hybrid event, both in person and streaming, anyone can attend. It is at 7pm Eastern Standard Time in case you are interested.)

The first essay about his bout with testicular cancer was compelling and familiar to anyone who has experienced chemotherapy either first hand or in a close friend. Fully involved in this ordeal, I turned to the next essay. This one recounted his growing up in Ireland. I stopped to really wonder why I didn’t want to read on. In my mind once I pick up a book I like to read it through.

Finally I understood. I need to approach any anthologies, whether of prose or poetry, in small bites. I came to realize that my habit of reading–start to finish–is precisely the wrong strategy for such books. I need to read an essay, a short story or poem and then put the book down to let it sink in. If I still want to read I can turn to something else, probably a novel.

This afternoon I will read his thoughts on Pope Francis. I won’t be trying to connect it with cancer treatment! The essays were, in fact, written many years apart. Who knows. I may even check out a book of short stories one of these days.

13 thoughts on ““Small Bites”

  1. A friend gifted me with five books when he came home last November. He suggested slow reading and journaling what I read. Four are non-fiction. Presently, I have started Ten Poems To Open Your Heart by Roger Housden.


  2. Yes, absolutely! I have come to appreciate short stories because I realised that I need to read and reflect on each one separately. I too, count Brooklyn and Norah Webster among my favourites and I have this book of essays on my list to read.


  3. Hi Elizabeth, I was intrigued by your comments about reading poetry and short stories. I then realised that I always read those sorts of compilations in small bites, as you say. I’ll read a poem and then go to my novel or read a short story and go to my novel. I just do that instinctively and I’ve always done it as long as I can remember.


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