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Reading An Abridged Book Is Cheating?

October 5, 2015
It's too long, and a lot of people don't know how to pronounce it.

It’s too long, and most people don’t know how to pronounce it.

The problem with long books is that they take a long time to read.  Most people, if given a choice, would rather read a short novel than a long one.  At least, that’s what I think.  I’ve never seen a stat for it, but I bet it’s true.  It’s not necessarily a matter of laziness.  With so much other stuff to do, it’s kind of inconvenient to read a book that’s too long, even if you like reading long books.

A few days ago I found an old copy of an abridged Les Miserables that I had read in junior high.  This reminded me that even before the internet and cable television, I had other things to do besides reading long classics.  Now that I think about it though, I didn’t have all that much to do, so I was probably just being lazy.

Either way, when a friend of mine saw that I had an abridged version of Les Miserables, he told me I was cheating.  I thought, abridged is cheating?  Maybe for a book written in English.  Les Miserables was originally in French, so maybe the abridgment was really just a brief translation.  I appreciate the brief translation.  I’d read a brief translation of War and Peace or Crime and Punishment or Great Expectations.

I’m not sure what was left out of the abridged Les Miserables.  The short version matched fairly well with the Classics Illustrated comic book.  Maybe I should watch one of the movies to see what the abridged novel left out.  I don’t remember any songs in the abridged version.  Maybe that was it.

It’s not just the classics that need to be shortened.  Even modern authors can be long-winded.  George R R Martin has taken six books so far to tell his tale A Song of Ice and Fire.  It was originally supposed to be a trilogy, and now it’s going to take seven or eight books (if he finishes at all).  Literary times have changed.  When I was a kid, an author would start to write a novel and then turn it into a long-winded trilogy.  Nowadays, authors set out to write a trilogy and end up with seven books instead.

I might sometimes complain about James Patterson, but at least his books (the ones he writes AND the ones he doesn’t write) are short.

I have a tough time reading long books now that I have a family to raise, a wife whom I enjoy spending time with, a full-time job, and cable television and the internet.  500-page books or a seven-book series is a lot of time to demand from readers.  In fact, I consider it downright inconsiderate for an author to write a book that’s more than 500 pages.  Mario Puzo kept The Godfather to under 500 pages.  JRR Tolkien kept The Lord of the Rings to three books.  If they could do it, so should other authors with less awesome stories to tell.

I’d love to read an abridged version of A Song of Ice and Fire.  Maybe that’s why the HBO series Game of Thrones is so popular.  It takes a lot less time to watch several seasons of the TV show than it does to read the books.  At least for me, it does.


What do you think?  What novel would you like to be abridged?  Is reading an abridged novel a form of cheating? What book series would you like to see abridged?


These two books from Dysfunctional Literacy are too short (and entertaining) to be abridged!

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  1. When I was at school I knew that if I read an abridged version of anything I would be cheating myself, because the author obviously wanted readers to read the whole thing or they would have written it shorter, wouldn’t they? However, I was a fast reader and I knew that many of my classmates struggled, so I was quite happy if others read the abridged version because it was better than not reading the book at all.

    With the number of books I had to read at University, I changed my attitude slightly and read whatever shortened versions I could find, just to get through the huge amount of required reading. I still think it’s okay for others to read an abridged version rather than not read the book at all, but I’ve gone back to reading only full-length versions.

    About 25 years ago I read the translation of Les Miserables. It consisted of two door-stop sized volumes which I borrowed from the library. The second volume was kept in the stock room because no one ever asked for it. It took me ages to read both – I had each one on extended loan for weeks and weeks, but since no one else had reserved either, the library was fine with that.

    I have to say, it was worth every word. There are a few chapters in Volume One that describe the whole Battle of Waterloo to give the background as to why Marius feels indebted to the Thenardiers, and while it is perfectly acceptable (even encouraged in the introduction) to leave out those chapters, I read all of those as well.

    Les Miserables is such a beautifully written story, even in translation.

  2. Reading the abridged version isn’t exactly cheating, but it isn’t exactly being fair to the author’s vision either. But, no one can argue, an abridged version is better for the mind than say, “Cliff’s Notes” or a Wikipedia page. it’s just how it is. I read the abridged version of “stranger in a strange land”, but that’s because I didn’t know it was abridged until later. The unabridged version is a LOT longer, and doesn’t really add anything to the story. It’s just the original view of the author, but the abridged version was done by him as well, and it’s actually better. IMHO. so no, it’s not cheating.

  3. I do get the ‘cheating’ idea. My parents used to have a lot of the Readers’ Digest abridged books and I never really understood why – I don’t think most were’t particularly long or difficult books. But then I wonder if the Digest is read by a lot of old people – maybe they worry they won’t be around long enough to reach the end 🙂
    I do avoid long books and I’m not sure why.I’m always reading something, so what difference does it make if it’s two ordinary length books or one long one … And yet, it does.
    And I’ve watched GoT rather than read the books. I know now I will never read them – I might use them as book ends though. Or paper weights.

  4. Whenever I see someone reading an abridged version (I don’t read them) I silently judge them for contributing to the gradual degradation and ultimate censorship of the written word as described in Fahrenheit 451. OK, maybe I’m not always that silent . . .

  5. I can brag that I read all 60 episodes of the Literary Girlfriend, and all five books of Song of Ice and Fire. On the other hand, I still haven’t read Les Miserables that’s been on my bookshelf for about 10 years so far.

  6. I never much thought about it until now. But I suppose I am just happy to see someone reading. It always feels like reading is art we are on the verge of losing as a society. So read abridged, read the long version, heck even read the cliffs notes, just read.

  7. Brendoggle permalink

    I thought that abridged versions of books are cheating until I read the unabridged Les Miserables last year. While I liked the book, I wish that I had read an abridged version instead for a few reasons. First, I spent weeks reading the book, when I could have been reading other wonderful classics. Second, I’m not interested in military or French history. I would rather spend time with Gavroche and Jean Valjean. Third, Victor Hugo originally wrote the book in French in the nineteenth century. Without a knowledge of French and extensive footnotes, I can’t catch the subtle nuances of Hugo’s writing. Perhaps the translator managed to purvey them in English, but I’ll never know for sure unless I spend years learning French and researching the Napoleonic Era. I don’t if I can bring myself to read an abridged book, but, after a humbling experience with Les Miserables, I can’t judge anyone for reading one either.

    • I had the same experience! This book took far to long for me to finish, and I have the feeling that if I had had an abridged version, I would have enjoyed the story much more. I love the main plot with Jean Valjean and Cosette, but I will never get over the chapter on the Paris sewage system. That chapter took me over a month to finish as I kept abandoning the book for “greener pastures.”

  8. Les Miserables is one of my all-time favorite books, and I’m generally an I-must-read-every-single-word kind of reader, but I agree that Les Miserables is an exception. I would recommend that readers skip the historical background chapters or read an abridged version to have a better chance of appreciating the story.

    I also don’t think anyone should put rules on anyone else’s reading! If we feel we aren’t doing it right, we’ll have less pleasure in reading and less inclination to read more in the future!

    So, by all means, read the abridged version of a book; if you love it you can always go back and read the full version. After all, so many books, so little time!

  9. Jishnu Bandyopadhyay permalink

    Good debate! Mind checking out my blog?

  10. Abridged? Is that a book version of a quickie? No, thank you. I rather read long novels foreplay and all after play too. But then again some people might say it is better a good quickie than boring full option. I can relate to that one also. Just kidding 🙂

  11. As an ESL teacher, I have no trouble with simplified or abridged versions, although I think you miss out on some of the original story when you read the shorter versions.

  12. I think we talked about this before. I’m a big advocate of the unabridged version for Les Miserables. I’d read an abridged version as a kid, but when I had time a few years ago to do the unabridged I enjoyed it so much more. It was worth the effort. I developed a sort of fixation on this book, a love of the story, the book was that amazing. Anyhoo, my vote is for the unabridged.

  13. callmemachi permalink

    It’s funny I came across your blog and this specific post now. I have recently started reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and hadn’t I read it, I would tell you “Nah! It’s totally fine that you do that! Some books contain very difficult linguistics and structure for us, 21st century-ies to follow and this just facilitates it for us.” Today, however, my word of advice is – don’t! I have hundreds of books in my to-read shelf at Goodread that are rotting there since 2000 something because I find them overcomplicated for me. Abridged versions are, if anything can be compared, the late night pizza you order in because you don’t feel like cooking that delicious duck you have in your fridge. Piece of advice from a very unexperienced person – take it easy and take it slow. Who knows, someday you will be able to read all the way through without counting down the pages till the last chapter. Till then, take a look at the wonderful gigantic world of possibilities you have in each shelf at the city library 🙂

    P.S: if you haven’t done so yet, I totally recommend you the book I previously mentioned!

  14. I’m divided between the long series and the abridge versions. On one hand, I don’t want the story to end that’s why I am a pottermore but at the same time i wish some literary works were shorten. I think it depends on the commitment you have to the story is greater than your social life… (Right now evaluating my priorities)

  15. I only read unabridged versions of classics even if they happen to be long. I figure you usually can find time to read if only for five minutes at a time, that’s good in my book. However, when I was Sophomore in High school I did accidentally buy an abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo and I read it. I was mortified when I found out, because the abridged version is quite long too. I would rather spend my time on my opinion of a perfect reading experience and what the author wanted me to experience. I almost consider an injustice to the author.

  16. I don’t think reading an abridge book is cheating, but I would not choose to read an abridged book on purpose. As a matter of fact, when I start a Classic book, I make it a point to check if it’s abridged or not. I understand that books are abridged to make it more readable, but, I think if something was written by the writer, then it should not be omitted. Abridging a book might even change the outcome of the story or the perceptions of the characters.

    One example is I recently read The Count of Monte Cristo, and I have both an abridged and unabridged version. The first copy, the abridged, I bought because I thought it was complete…anyway, I discovered it was abridged, so I bought a complete version. Well, after reading the complete version, I compared it to the abridged, and the shorter version removed a lot of things which, I think is very important to the plot. I couldn’t understand why they would remove the chapters that they did, because they were actually relevant ones.

    Anyway, that’s just my thoughts on it. Between an abridged and unabridged version, I would choose the unabridged version, and if I find it too long and boring, then I’ll just skip or skim over some of the parts, but at least it’s complete….then I’ll have a choice of what I want to skip.

  17. I never read an abridged version of any book. And I have read several long books like Herman Wouk’s Winds of War and War and Remembrance. With our current society’s attention span it is unlikely any of these books will be read. Enjoyed the post and debate. Thanks

  18. maynotbesoanonymous permalink

    I respect your choice of reading abridged versions, but for myself, I think that reading the unabridged version is better especially with the classics. Yes, it may take time, but I think I owe that to the author. Also, some of the details regarding the characters perspectives and how readers might see it, may be missed.

    I have read A Game of Thrones by G.R.R. Martin, and yes, though the TV Series did an awesome job, there were a lot more stories and underlying and shady ones that can be seen from the book yet those weren’t even mentioned in the series. I think, on the long-run, the book is more satisfying. Nevertheless, both are entertaining.

  19. The temptation to invoke Borge’s quote about authors who write 500-page novels is very real here. I have not even finished Don Quixote, much less War and Peace.

  20. Michael Kay permalink

    Le Miz the novel wasn’t a musical, so there wouldn’t have been any songs to leave out of the abridged version.

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