Thursday, March 6, 2014

Are Abridged Books Bad?

Naturally, my first thought to this question is:
Of course abridged books are bad! They mess with the author's original intentions, and remove the depth and intricacy of the book. Don't mess with the original works if you're not the original author!
But, I've begun to think that this is a rather extreme view. So lets do this expository-essay style, and tackle the pros and cons of the issue.

Abridged Books Should Be Prohibited!

As I said above, the arguments against abridging books are very strong. If you wrote something, would you want someone else messing with it, and cutting out parts they thought were "unnecessary"? Of course not. You, clearly, thought those parts were very necessary, which is why you didn't delete them while editing. They are part of what you think makes the story "work."
Similarly, removing parts of the books can potentially remove some of the deeper meanings that the author intended to convey. Good authors make every word have a purpose, and even the removal of a single sentence could be a loss - a small one, but a loss nonetheless - if the book is truly written well. Classics are probably the only books that are ever abridged, and as we all know, most of those are written well in their original state. So why change them?

Abridged Books Are Great!

The purpose of abridged books is to make more difficult books accessible to lower-level readers. So, in that sense, abridged books may be introducing classics to a whole new group of readers. If The Count of Monte Cristo intimidates you, you might read one that is half the size, and then you'll be introduced to the book that you otherwise would never have read.

My View

Now, let's look at the definition of abridge:
"shorten without losing the sense."
This in itself implies that the sense will be maintained, if the abridger is an expert at his or her task. However, how can even the best abridger be sure of the author's original intent? Because of this, I tend to agree with the idea that abridged books are not the best option.

But what about the concept of broadening readership that I mentioned as a pro of abridged books?
Now, I've read a few books that I thought could benifit from some cuts - cuts that would make them flow better and eliminate unessesary rambling (Count of Monte Cristo was not one of them, fyi).
War and Peace was one. Les Miserables, as much as I adore it, was another, with its numerous digressions on slang, sewers, Waterloo, etc.
But that's just me.
Others may adore those parts that I skimmed over. A history buff may take unmeasurable pleasure in reading about Waterloo and Napoleon in Les Miserables, when I just wanted to "get to the darn story, already!" Who am I to say that those parts should be cut out?

And regarding reader intimidation with books such as the ones aforementioned - there are thousands of books that are not intimidating, and reading is definitely a growing experience. You shouldn't read War and Peace if you're not ready for it. These types of books are books that need to be read and reread every decade (or sooner), because the more you grow as a person, the more you get out of the book. I've attempted to read Arthur Conan Doyle's The White Company twice, and both times couldn't get past the first few chapters. I guess I just wasn't ready for it. (It's on my Classics Club list, so we'll see how Take Three goes!)
My huge tome of Les Miserables
Sure, teens can read Les Miserables if they feel like it, but a classic education does not necessarily mean reading books like bricks. The Great Gatsby is a fine book, and it's about one sixth the length of Les Miserables. 

And what's all this talk about long books being intimidating? Are you intimidated by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? No? So why should Les Miserables, which is only a couple hundred pages longer, intimidate you? Dive in!

So I suppose that my final opinion on abridged books is: they ultimately don't matter. You, as the reader, get to decide which parts of the books to read - and which parts to skim, or even skip completely! Come back in a few years and see if you are mentally ready to finally tackle those skipped parts.

So go read that thousand page book that you've had on your list for ages but have been too intimidated by. You don't have to read every single word to get something out of a classic. Read what you are ready for, and then reread, and reread, and reread, every so often. Classics have layers of meaning that can only be excavated by numerous readings.

You are your own abridger.


What is your opinion on abridged books? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Nice points and conclusion. I as a reader dislike skimming, as I feel that it is an injustice to the book and the author. If a book is too hard for me, I'll just stop. When I was maybe 8, my family had a few abridged books for kids on the shelves and I accidentally read an abridged Peter Pan. When I realized what abridgment was I was outraged that someone would dare to do such a thing to a book. I think, if a book is too hard, don't read it.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed my post -)

      Okay, now who in the world abridges PETER PAN!? It's already a children's book!

    2. That's supposed to be a smiley face :-) by the way

  2. Abridged books are really good if you are learning a language and want to use the book to help you study. A lot of adults learning languages aren't that keen to read children's books (which is probably more where their abilities would lie if they are beginner/intermediate learners), so it's good for them to have the option of reading a classic book that they won't feel embarrassed reading. So when books are aimed at language learners, I don't think it's a bad thing at all.
    Same if the books are aimed at children.

    In fact, the only time I think it shouldn't be done is if the abridged version is going to be the only version available. The choice to read the original should always be there.

    ...Personally, I would never read an abridged book if I can read the original. Not even when I'm reading in other languages. But, each to their own and all that.

    One thing that isn't mentioned here is abridging books when they're translated - I know that at least one of Haruki Murakami's books had a whole section cut out of it when it was translated into English, which I think was with his blessing, but still, that's not really a thing where the reader gets to choose which version to go with (unless they can read both English and Japanese like me, mwah ha ha ha!).
    Maybe it matters less with translated books, as they inevitably lose the original authors intent in translation anyway (no matter how good a translator does it, it's unavoidable). In that case, you probably aren't getting the authors full intent from reading Les Miserables or War and Peace anyway, as neither of them were originally written in English.

    Sorry this got to be rather long. Just thinking out loud (or the internet equivalent!), and avoiding work, haha.

    1. Thanks for the long comment! Awesome!

      I didn't even consider learning languages. You make an excellent point, and it's definitely useful for someone who is just learning, say, Spanish to be able to read at least some of Don Quixote in its original form.

      And what do you mean by books being "aimed" at a particular audience? Do you mean the author is aiming it, or the translator? If it is the author, then the book should be already satisfactorily simple for language learners or children. But if it is the translator, I don't see why a book that was originally meant for adults should be abridged so kids could read it. Of course, I do understand the case where language learners are concerned. (Also, when I say adult book, of course, I don't mean the kind of book that has thousands of sex scenes in it or something. I mean a higher vocabulary, etc.) I hope all that rambling makes sense.

      And yeah, regarding Les Miz and War and Peace - I tend to forget that they were originally in a different language, so that part sort of doesn't make sense, I guess. However, I DO think my edition of Les Miz is pretty close to Hugo's intentions - it was done by one of his best friends, during his lifetime, so it is author-approved! :-)

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Depends on how. It's a bit like the discussion about the Director's Cut: It makes you realize, that there is never one single version of any story but only a lot of variations.


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