Abridged Over Troubled Waters (or, The Cheese Stands Alone)

I once picked up the audiobook of Chuck Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto.” I was hopeful. First of all, it had been recommended by a friend, and secondly, it was read/performed  by the author. (I always like hearing an author’s inflections while reading their own words.) And so it began, with Klosterman announcing the title of the book, the fact that he was reading it, and then (gasp!) that it was abridged. What?

I’ve never understood the need for abridged versions of anything, really. Either you read the whole book, or you get the Cliff’s Notes version of it—sort of an all or “almost-nothing” version of the text. But to read sort of most of a book? Almost? Without knowing what you’re missing?

When I was young, swiss cheese perplexed me. I honestly remember wondering why someone would cut holes out of perfectly good cheese. (I’m fairly certain this was influenced by my experiences of baking Christmas cookies.) Of course I am older and wiser now, and can enjoy swiss cheese without feeling short-changed, but I still harbor great resentment when it comes to abridged texts. I was eleven or twelve when I first read The Count of Monte Cristo—in its entirety. (And oh, what beautiful books they were—two volumes for just that novel alone, red textured covers with gold writing, printed in 1902, part of a 30-volume complete Dumas collection. The Three Musketeers volume in the collection still had some uncut page signatures. Delicious. However, I digress.) The point being that yes, there are sections of books of that genre and/or time period that ramble on a bit, describing things at great length that perhaps aren’t exactly crucial for plot development. But they are part of the book, and to chop out parts is an editor’s job before a work is printed, not to be cut out afterward!

Back to the cocoa puffs:  Confusion set in as to exactly why Klosterman’s book needed abridging in the first place. After all, it’s not as if it’s some aged, mammoth encyclopedic text that needs to be shortened for the modern attention span. I listened to a few chapters and was vaguely amused, but I couldn’t get past it. I was missing details—real words, not just gas bubbles. I was compelled to pop the disc out and give up. My overwhelming curiosity about what I was missing just got the better of me. If I ever pick the real book up to read, I will read the whole thing.

The cheese stands alone.

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Categories: Audiobooks, On the Page | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Abridged Over Troubled Waters (or, The Cheese Stands Alone)

  1. Will Beauchemin

    If you gasped at an abridged version, prepare for cardiac arrest: Reader’s Digest is still in the business of selling books “[s]pecially edited for quick and efficient reading.” They still sell them four “books” per volume as when I was a kid. We had seven or eight in my house when I was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. Even as a child I viewed them with morbid curiosity, like road kill (“digested books?”).

    The target market, I think, was people who wanted to give the ***impression*** of being well-read. You could go to a cocktail party and say, “Oh, yes. I read that, too.”

    My parents did not read them, however. Since they were the only books displayed in our living room, I think they were there for show. How embarrassing, now that I think of it. I did read their version of Michener’s “The Bridges at Toko-Ri”, but my main use for them was to build ramps for my Matchbook cars.

    Then there was the 1982 Reader’s Digest Bible, which reduced the Old Testament by 55% and the New by 25%. How can you hope to understand the will of God without knowing who begat whom and how many goats the tribe of Gad had?

    If you, too, have morbid curiosity, go to http://www.rda.com/readers-digest-select-editions

  2. Carmen

    I agree, wholeheartedly. I just listened to Moneyball from the library, abridged, and I feel cheated. While I’m not an author, I can’t imagine okaying such a thing! (though, Will, I enjoyed many a Reader’s Digest book growing up, while visiting my grandparents for a week in the summer.)

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