September 23, 2007

Compact Classics

We've known these were coming for a while, but somehow the news hit me harder seeing this up on Amazon. I'm not sure what people will think they have read after finishing one of these volumes. A novel is not identical with its plot summary, after all: the complete reading experience includes aesthetic, formal, and intellectual aspects as well. And cutting is hardly a neutral activity: every choice represents an interpretation as well as a judgment (one reader's excess verbiage is another's delight). A further concern: I already feel I need to see most adaptations of novels I teach so that I can anticipate ways students may conflate original and adaptation (or recognize the signs that they have substituted watching for reading). Will I have to read these mutant versions too?


Bookish Guy said...

Sigh. Booth and Stephen's were right. Novels (or at least some of them) become our friends. I wouldn't want a maimed friend. So, I don't want a truncated, redacted classic novel. This is my only problem with works that fall into the public domain. Naturally, there are often many versions that an author produced of a work; but it should not be the case that publishers are allowed to change key features of the work in a manner that authors did not intend--even when the book enters into the public domain.

Anonymous said...

Here's a related story about shortened classics in a Canadian library. The (rather insulting) theory in that case seems to be that the local population can't handle the complexity or length of the original works.

Beyond that, the approach seems to commodify books into accomplishments rather than experiences. Surely the point of reading a lopped, cropped version is to "get the gist" or "know the important bits" (by who knows whose standards) and mark that book "Done" on some mental list.

Michael said...

I'd hate to make light of this situation, but these "Compact Classics" remind me a humourous website I turn to when I need a quick break - the "Book a Minute" specials at ( ).

I especially like the links to "The Collected Works of Jane Austen" ( and Jude The Obscure ( - both are so far off the mark that I can't help but smile..