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What do you think of abridged versions of classics?

July 28, 2012 40 comments

Today, I went on a book buying tour and I came back with something I’d like to discuss with fellow book lovers.

The first bookshop I visited was for business reasons, I was looking for a textbook for work. I tried to buy online but it’s not easy to make up your mind when you know what you’re looking for but you don’t know the title or the author of the book. Amazon is particularly poor on that matter; you don’t even have access to the table of contents of the book contrary to the French site Decitre. Sometimes, you just need to browse through a book to know if it meets your needs. So I felt guilty for going to a brick-and-mortar store when I needed to see the books and deprive them of the easy money from the books I buy online.

The second bookshop I visited was for my children. I wanted to buy books for them for the holidays. (btw, that’s it, we have Jeune Adulte collections. Did we have to import the YA tag?) I was a bit lost in there since I don’t know much about children literature, unfortunately. Oh heaven! There was an employee, available, knowledgeable in children literature and who had actually read the books she recommended to me. My request was quite simple (so I thought): I wanted contemporary books, well-written, for children and not fantasy or SF – must be the genes, my daughter doesn’t really enjoy fantasy. I eventually managed to find something great for her but we were in trouble when it came to my son. He was a problem for the bookshop clerk: he’s only 8 and obviously, he’s a boy. She told me: “It’s difficult to find a contemporary book whose hero is a boy”. You see, young readers are mostly girls, so publishers choose books with heroines. Interesting turn of events, isn’t it? Well, apparently, if you’re a boy and you don’t want to read fantasy or SF, you’re in trouble.

The third shop was only for me, THE literature bookshop. I spent ages looking at the shelves, reading the recommendations left on the display tables. Kosztolányi and Szerb were there with lots of other writers I didn’t know before starting this blog. I discussed with passionate employees and bought several books. I should always buy my books there but I don’t have enough time for this. The only thing that puzzled me is that Beckett is in the French literature section; it took me a while to think about that option and look for him there.

I came home with a question nagging at me. In the children literature section, I noticed there were a lot of abridged versions of classics, like Le Rouge et le noir, Le Comte de Monte Cristo, Pride and Prejudice for example. On the cover of the “Stendhal”, it is clearly written it’s an abridged version, in small letters, near the logo of the publisher, but not on the “Austen”. I can’t help thinking that this is very convenient for publishers: famous stories, in the public domain; in other words, easy money with good return on investment. It is also convenient for lazy readers who are old enough to read the original and won’t make the effort to read a more challenging style. And doesn’t it encourage students to cheat and take the short-cut of the abridged version?

I am adamant: no abridged versions of classics for my children. What’s the point? If they’re too young to read the original, leave it for later. If it’s only to know the story, just watch a film version of the book. I’m under the impression that once you’ve read an abridged version, you end up thinking you’ve read the book and you won’t come back to the original text. When you’ve only seen the movie, there’s no confusion, you know you haven’t read the book and may eventually read it.

What do you think? Am I too extreme?

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