Highwaymen, burglars and book abridgers

Viewing the Mona Lisa from La Gioconda’s nose up or stopping the music before Ravel’s “Bolero” reaches its fullest crescendo compares, in my opinion, to reading an abridged book.

Like Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail,” I get “lost in the language” of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Imagine reading an abridged version of that book. There’s a reason such books becomes immortal. So, why take a chainsaw to them?

Katharine Hepburn’s memoir, “Me,” had long graced my bookshelves when a friend gave me an audio copy of the book. Since it is read by the actress herself I gave it a listen, only to find it ended before Miss Hepburn's heartfelt recollections of Spencer Tracy.

Abridged audiobooks are a natural progression from Illustrated Classics comic books, CliffsNotes and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.

I chafe at the omission of skillfully drawn word pictures – none so breathtaking as Mr. Dickens' in my favorite, “Barnaby Rudge.” Take away the ghostly appartition in the burnt castle, the massacre at the roadside tavern or the fire at Newgate Prison, and you might as well read a gum wrapper or a cereal box.

Imagine some book editor whacking away at the psychological impact of a single footprint on a stranded Robinson Crusoe.

I found a comrade in Daniel Defoe’s Preface to “The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe," part two of the trilogy:

“The just application of every incident; the religious and useful inferences drawn from every part are so many testimonies to the good design of making it public and must legitimate all the part that may be called invention or parable in the story.

“The second part, if the editor’s opinion may pass, is, contrary to the usage of second parts, every way as entertaining as the first, contains as strange and surprising incidents and as great a variety of them. Nor is the application less serious or suitable, and doubtless will to the sober or ingenious reader be every way as profitable and diverting, and this makes the abridging of this work as scandalous as it is knavish and ridiculous.

“Seeing, while to shorten the book, that they may seem to reduce the value, they strip it of all those reflections as well religious as moral which are not only the greatest beauties of the work, but are calculated for the infinite advantage of the reader.

“By this, they leave the work naked of its brightest ornaments. And, if they would, at the time, pretend the author has supplied the story out of his invention, they take from it the improvement which alone recommends that invention to wise and good men.

“The injury these men do the proprietor of this work is a practice all honest men abhor, and he believes he may challenge them to show the difference between that and robbing on the highway or breaking open a house. If they can’t show any difference in the crime, they will find it hard to show why there should be any difference in the punishment, and he will answer for it, that nothing shall be wanting on his part to do them justice.”


Trust me:

In addition to pamphlets and poetry, Daniel Defoe wrote some 500 books on every conceivable subject. (My favorite is "Moll Flanders.") A tribute to his writing genius is that no editor has been tempted to clean up his grammar and spelling errors!


Murr Brewster said...

While I do bail out on books more often now, I at least want to bail out of an unabridged version. (I heard the rule is: subtract your age from 100, and that's how many pages you have to read of a book before you give up.)

On the other hand, I wouldn't mind if Bolero stopped a lot sooner.

B.J. said...

Murr: Torvill and Dean, with their perfect Olympics score, brought “Bolero” alive for me. (Their ice dance is on YouTube!)

Guess that’s why God made chocolate and vanilla! :-)

Thanks for reading! BJ

Lynn said...

BJ, I couldn't agree with you more! But I'm from the old school. However, in recent years I've given myself permission to stop reading a book I can't get interested in. I don't have enough reading time to waste a moment on something I don't like. Also, I have absolutely NO interest in a Kindle or any other such device. I sit at a computer all day, so why would I want to hold a screen in front of my face in my leisure time?

B.J. said...

Lynn! Thanks for commenting! I don’t waste time on books that don’t interest me, either, and am very selective in my choices. I did make a mistake once, just couldn’t get past the opening pages of a book and put it down. Years later, I decided to read it and loved it. The book? “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo.

Please everyone: if the government ever stops funding “Talking Books for the Visually Impaired,” join me in the streets! Kudos to the folks at the State Library and the wonderful readers!

Anonymous said...

Tiny loves good books also. She has been told, "You don't just read a book, you study it." Tiny wants to drain every drop of entertainment and knowledge from books that she can. So it's "no thanks" to the abridged stories.

Tiny likes to read the preface to a book. If that grabs her and pulls her in, she is going to read that book cover to cover. If it doesn't, she leaves it in the book store.

Like Lynn, Tiny has no desire for a Kindle. She likes to underline and write in the margins of her books. Give her a good book and the reat of the world goes away.

Bill Sumrall said...

Yes, I listen to abridged books on tape, mainly when the unabridged work is unavailable and/or the abridged work is approved by its author. Better half a loaf than none at all.

Frodo, He do, said...

Prior to boarding the flight that would wing him to the altar, Frodo purchased "The Godfather." Once on board, all of the stewardii visited with him and told him that, individually, they could not put it down. Then, through rehearsal dinners, bachelor parties, visits with relatives, ad infinitum, Frodo turned the pages, desperate to bring the tale to conclusion before the Honeymoon began.
It was the part about the horse's head that really had him concerned.

Not sure why he tells this tale now, but leaving it out would be like skipping a chapter or two.

tnlib said...

My HS English teacher, a classics scholar, insisted we finish any book we began - and then forced Hawthorne down our throats. Really!!! Pure torture.

As I've gently aged, I've come to the conclusion that life is too short to read crap - and there's a lot of that out there, about nine out of ten books to be exact - and 99% badly edited.

Agree with you on abridged works. It's kind of like making love with Mr. Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Ma'am - too many pleasureable parts missing.

On the other hand, I love Bolero and used it many times during my dancing days. Love the rhythem and the slow sensual build-up to the climax, the latter of which could last a little longer.