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Exploring the art of prose

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Tag: Compression


Author’s Note

Cover Contents

I wrote “Abbreviated” while thinking about all the ways we abbreviate words—through text messages, limited Twitter character counts, ways we don’t always say what we mean. Through words and sayings that abbreviate entire arguments or ideas.

I could also have been writing about flash. Flash, whether fiction or creative non, omits words. It pares down language. It’s an abbreviation of a story, many times, instead of the whole story. It hints. The parts are there, but it’s a representation, a piece. “Not Manager Material” for example, hints at much. It suggests how much I love to read, which eventually becomes a love of writing. It also suggests I would not be happy in the corporate world (I can confirm this), that I needed, as a young man, to find a profession in which books played a main role.

It further hints at its own form. In that bookstore I was reading only a few pages of Asimov and Bradbury and Clarke, just a small representation of their larger work. If my manager was too close, I could only read the blurb on the back of the book. We were tearing down books without any thought to their contents, which seems, to a book lover, like such a crime of contempt that I was still thinking about it when I wrote the essay twenty years later.

I’ve since gone back and read much of Asimov and Bradbury and Clarke. I’ve seen more of their worlds than only the first few pages reveal.

But that time in the bookstore, wanting fiercely to be a writer, to surround myself with books and simply sit and read them, ended far too quickly. The truth is, when they told me I would be managing not a store full of books but a kiosk in the mall full of cat calendars, I lost all interest in the job. I was happy they fired me, at least until my rent was due. For weeks I lay in my rented bedroom and read all the remaindered books I’d saved from the dumpster. I didn’t have the front covers, but I had the contents, which is, in a way, the opposite of the essay—in it, I only paint a picture, like a cover of a book, a quick image that hints at what’s within. The rest of the content was torn away.

 


PAUL CRENSHAW is the author of the essay collections This One Will Hurt You, published by The Ohio State University Press, and This We’ll Defend, from the University of North Carolina Press. Other work has appeared in Best American EssaysBest American Nonrequired ReadingThe Pushcart PrizeOxford AmericanGlimmer Train, and Tin House. Follow him on Twitter @PaulCrenstorm.