Books,  Musings

Literary Links; Classics Debate

I’ve been attracting some literary links while surfing lately.

TwitterLit – Updated twice a day on the various Twitter accounts with the first line of books. A very good way to get book recommendations if you’re a Twitter addict as I’ve recently become. Can be also used via email or a RSS reader. – Buy a friend a book for four designated weeks a year, or just give them a book to share the literary karma. It’s like Bookcrossing (which I seemed to have given up on years ago), but more direct.

What is Stephen Harper Reading? – Canadians may only get the humor in this. Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi has decided to send a book to the Prime Ministre a book every two weeks with a letter on the choice. The image of PM Harper reading The Death of Ivan Ilych almost discombobulates me. Image does not process.

Publisher makes lite work of classics – An article from The Times Online about a publisher that is making shortened versions of classics for “convenience”:

Tolstoy, Dickens and Thackeray would not have agreed with the view that 40 per cent of Anna Karenina, David Copperfield and Vanity Fair are mere “padding”, but Orion Books believes that modern readers will welcome the shorter versions.

Padding, right. This is not a new concept, and it could be helpful if you’re doing a book report about a book you don’t want to read. Goodness knows I didn’t enjoy every single moment of Vanity Fair. Though, if you want to know what happens or some literary insight, there’s Cliff Notes, Spark Notes, Wikipedia, and a lot of other choices. Someone in the article is quoted as saying that they hadn’t read Anna Karenina because it is long and finds these light versions “a breath of fresh air”.

I guess this is alright if you just want the plot, but reading has always been more than that for me. Altering or changing the books by 40% is sort of alarming. Sometimes, long books reveal a lot more than “padding”. I also think it’s completely subjective of what should or shouldn’t be taken out from a book based on some unnamed criteria they have. Do I think some of the classic authors padded? By the Dickens, yes. That does not mean it ruins my experience; sometimes there’s a lot of literary brilliance in the padding… if you like that sort of fun wordplay.

The thing is, no one is forcing you to read these classics. If you don’t like DC, AK, VF, or even Jane Eyre (which they are also book dieting), don’t read. Most of my friends are not bibliophiles, and I know lots of people who don’t like classics. Read what you like. Nick Hornby writes in one of his criticisms that we should all just read what we like and shouldn’t be forced or pressured into liking what we read. All because a book is a classic, a Pulitzer prize winner, or on the New York Times Bestseller’s list does not make it good, fun or even worth your time. Life is too short to read to books you don’t like. I just like spending my ethereal existence with long classics.


  • kookiejar

    I agree with you. Editing down the classics is a travesty. Reading is more about the journey than the destination. Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and William Shakespeare can drag me through any seemingly irrelevant back story or side story and I will feel like that is still time well spent, even if it has little to do with the main plot of the book.

  • Chris

    There have been condensed, abridged, etc versions since forever. I always feel cheated by them. The author and editor should duke it out and come up with the finished product. Monkeying around with it 100 yrs later is just not right. There can be a lot of padding in those old books but maybe that’s our problem- we have short attetnion spans now.

  • Chris

    I liked the Stephen Harper link. Think he’s reading them? I’ve only read Animal Farm. I haven’t read any Agatha Christie- I should add her to the TBR list.

  • Athena

    Well, Stephen Harper is not reported or seems to be a great reader. I’ve read Animal Farm as well which I can see Harper reading. The Death of Ivan Ilych on the other hand is quite existential; it forces one to meditate, introspect and reflect on human mortality. Errr… I don’t know enough about him to think he does that sort of thing. 😉 I also need to read Christie as I’ve only read one book.

  • dewey

    I’ve been waiting with excitement for the next BAFAB week.

    I had to teach the condensed version of Great Expectations that was in the students’ textbooks for 8 years. It was so depressing. I spent most of the “discussion” time telling them what happened in the parts that were left out. A few of the kids were inspired to read the real book, so I guess that turned out ok. But it was just sad to see a book I loved cut down like that.

  • Athena

    Dewey, that is depressing because I really like GE. It’s not even anywhere near as long or as “padded” as other Dickens books so they should have just left it alone. I can sort of understand those abridged, colour versions for younger readers, but I think once you hit the teen years, they should be encouraged to read the “full” versions.

    As for BAFAB, I’m trying to debate to give what book to whom now. It is a splendid idea.

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