Too Many Pages

by Gabriel Urbina


Daniel is a school librarian who enjoys reading crime fiction, but he prefers short novels, also known as novellas. He is new in town.Soon after his arrival, he meets Melanie, the local public library manager.

I was new in town, and new in the state. I had lost my job as a school librarian, due to budget cuts, in a financially troubled inner city school, with a predominantly Hispanic student population. Since I am single, it was easy for me to relocate. I had to move from Arizona to Florida. I moved from a K-8 school in a poor neighborhood in a big city, to a high school, located in a midsize city, predominantly middle class. I never expected to find a job in Florida. I suppose the job search is easier if one does not expect to live near the beach.

It shouldn't surprise you at all that I like to read. For my leisure reading, I prefer crime fiction, but any good short novel or novella will appeal to me. My preferences are derived from an increased aversion to the voluminous crime novels of today. In the good old days, a writer could tell a good story in 200 pages or less, and the book would be published in paperback. Nowadays, the publishing world has changed things to the point where a writer has to produce more pages. 400, 500, even 600 pages. Why? Because a book will be published in hardcover first. The trade paperback version is published later. These paperbacks have as many pages as their hardcover version; and they have also grown in size. The "pocket books," now called "Mass-Market Paperback Books," are surviving mainly with the romance novels.

One of my first official acts was to got to the local public library, to obtain a library card. I started browsing the mystery and the fiction areas, and I couldn't believe my eyes. They had two novels by David Goodis, Nightfall and Street of No Return, which I grabbed immediately. These books are hard to find. 139 pages, and 168 pages respectively. That's what I'm taking about! These books are intense, very compelling, irresistible. Taking Street of No Return as an illustration, the author is able to cover uncompromising love, the homeless, petty gangsters, race riots, and police corruption. Nowadays, crime writers, in order to produce more pages, present more than one case; the novels have several subplots, we learn about the private lives, and the problems of the detectives and the criminals, there are multiple points of view, and on and on. Not my cup of tea.

Stephen King confirms that novellas are difficult to get published. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption can only be found in a collection of four novellas. This is generally true for other writers. Five novels by David Goodis can also be found in a collection, including those I had almost miraculously found at a public library. They make a nice volume of 848 pages.

I confess that my preferences are molded by my personal habits. Professional reading is done sitting at my desk, but my leisure reading is done mostly in bed. I cannot read heavy books in bed. If I fall asleep, a heavy volume will hit the floor and wake me up, or it will hurt my ribs, when I turn to one side. My solution to this problem was to subscribe to the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and order online copies of the Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Not available in libraries, bookstores, or newsstands. These are the only two surviving magazines, which were part of the so-called "pulp fiction," in the 50's and 60's. Pulp refers to the quality of paper, not necessarily to the quality of writing. A similar situation occurs with "pocket books," or "MMPB's." They are considered cheap, or inexpensive, low quality editions, but there may some good writing in these books.

To further praise novellas, or short novels, I must say that without them we wouldn't have such great movies as Breakfast at Tiffany's, Bullit, and the Shawshank Redemption.

I went to the circulation desk, to check out my two precious finds. I told the young lady at the desk, that I would like to meet the librarian. She directed me to her office. The door was open. I knocked softly. She looked up, and smiled warmly. For the second time in about half-an-hour, I couldn't believe my eyes! This attractive woman would be able, all by herself, to debunk any stereotype that exists about female librarians. She was young, did not wear glasses, and didn't have her hair in a bun. I felt a sort of kinship with her. As a male school librarian, I felt I had debunked a few stereotypes myself. I was an extrovert just like her, and I wasn't timid, shy, or effeminate. Besides, male school librarians are as rare as male kindergarten teachers.

"Hi, I'm Daniel Garcia, the new high school librarian. Just wanted to introduce myself."

"Well, welcome. I'm glad you dropped by. I'm Melanie Seidel." She looked at the books I had checked out, and said, "What did you get?" I showed her. "Oh, a crime fiction lover." There was something in the way she stressed and stretched the word 'lover.' I told her I was from Arizona; she said she was from North Dakota. We talked for a while. I felt very calm in the green of her eyes. She said she wanted to fix me a welcome dinner, was I free that evening? Very softly and calmly I said yes. So that was the beginning of Melanie and Daniel's story. In this case, I didn't mind how long our story was going to be. I knew from the beginning it would be a long one.

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