Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The modern version of Cliff's Notes and condensed books

So while avoiding work and browsing on the internet, I saw an article entitled, “Read more using these apps…”
Oh, goody! Maybe one of the apps would offer a better way to discover new writers I’ll like. Because Amazon’s recommendations suck, and downloading/deleting stuff from KU can get discouraging after the ninth or tenth hopeless loser.

Well, no. The article might better have been entitled, “Feel virtuous while avoiding actually reading.” Then I wouldn’t have clicked, because (a) I have no desire to replace reading with potted book summaries, and (b) who the heck feels virtuous about reading, anyway? Like just about everybody I know, I consider reading a semi-guilty pleasure. As in, “Yeah, yeah, I know I promised to clean out the refrigerator today, but it’s really my duty as a writer to keep up with the current state of urban fantasy and I’ve just downloaded three new dragon fantasy novels.”

Sigh. Let’s face it, if anybody actually did design an app for people like me, it would be called something like “Get off your butt and clean the refrigerator!” and we’d never download it.

In the meantime, this article has been a mildly interesting window into the world of those for whom reading is a virtuous and not terribly attractive activity.

Of seven recommended apps, four are book summaries and three purport to teach speedreading techniques. While the speedreading courses leave me cold – what I really want is a slowreading course so I can make books I really enjoy last more than a day – the proffers of summaries taking anywhere from 3 to 12 minutes to read leave me mildly curious… and ambitious to try my own. What do you suppose a five-minute summary of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire would contain? How about a one-paragraph precis of King Lear? The twelve-minute version of War and Peace?

By the way, the prices of these apps are even more impressive than their promises of instant literacy – in more than one way. Quoted list prices range from $100 to a whopping $1200… but they’re all “on sale” for at most 20% of list price, some at a mere 5 to 10%. One gets the feeling that not too many people are actually springing for canned book summaries and promises of increased reading speed. Certainly, even though I’m faintly embarrassed by the fact that I somehow managed to get a minor in German literature without actually reading The Sorrows of Young Werther, I’m not really tempted to pay one of these services to summarize it for me. I’ll settle for Thackeray’s version:

WERTHER had a love for Charlotte
Such as words could never utter;
Would you know how first he met her?
She was cutting bread and butter.

Charlotte was a married lady,
And a moral man was Werther,
And, for all the wealth of Indies,
Would do nothing for to hurt her.

So he sighed and pined and ogled,
And his passion boiled and bubbled,
Till he blew his silly brains out,
And no more was by it troubled.

Charlotte, having seen his body
Borne before her on a shutter,
Like a well-conducted person,
Went on cutting bread and butter.


  1. Apps like that boggle my mind as well. Worth you bringing it up so I could read the delightful poetic summary of The Sorrows of Young Werther. ;-)

  2. Maybe I'll try and do the same for's where I've gotten so far:

    Faust had little satisfaction
    Tired of books, he wanted action
    Wanted fun and wanted girls
    Wanted most to save the world
    Wanted most to make a difference
    Else his life, it just made no sense

    Came the devil (as a poodle)
    Said to Faust: “You silly noodle”
    “No need to live the way you’re living”
    “A lot of help, I can be giving”

  3. Good start, but I double-dog dare you to tackle Faust Part II!

  4. Margaret, this is Fran Porretto. If you're still interested in that mutual-typo-hunting arrangement, please email me: morelonhouse -AT- optonline -DOT- net. I have an MS for you to scan.

  5. Francis, I've emailed you twice now without response. The emails didn't get bounced back to me as undeliverable, so I don't know what's happening. Email me? margaretball7 AT gmail DOT com. Surely we're bright enough to find some way of communicating besides using the comments section of blogs? I think?


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