The Abridged Reader's Digest Abridged Classics

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Some say "The Abridged Reader's Digest Abridged Classics" was an abridge too far.

“The abridged version of my quo...”

Throughout the 1950s and well into the late 1970s, no house seemed complete without a set of Reader’s Digest Abridged Classics. These much edited versions of novels - new and ancient - allowed millions of Americans to enjoy the thrill of classic literature without the fuss of plot, characterisation or millions of pesky words. But over the last three decades, Reader’s Digest publications have declined in popularity with the slump in literacy caused by increasing internet usage, poor public education, over-generous welfare payments and the Greenhouse Effect.

In this modern era of instant wireless communication who among us has time to sit for hours and do nothing but scan lines of ink smeared on re-processed trees? When was the last time you arrived home exhausted from work and decided to invest your precious free time in slowly absorbing the thoughts of a long-dead bore like Shakespeare, who only had the leisure to write because YouTube had yet to be invented and there was nothing but the video for "Green Sleeves" on MTV?

In 2005, however, The Reader’s Digest was back. Remodelled for the Twenty First Century and ready to inspire a new generation with the greatest works of the past, The Abridged Reader’s Digest Abridged Classics set out to cover three millenia of classic writing in less than fifty pages, each of the painstakingly crafted works summarised within four paragraphs or fewer.

Of Mice And Men (1937)

George & Curley in 1958's "Of Mice & Brokeback Mountain".

On the run sex offender, Lennie, lands a farm-worker’s job with friend George. Everyone is suffering from great depression due to boss’s son, Curley, who is upset by Lennie’s constant invitation to “look at my puppies”.

Lennie and George take advantage of senile cripple, Candy, to raise the stake to buy a farm. George goes to celebrate in town, leaving Lennie to stroke his pet. Curley’s wife catches him in act, forcing Lennie to murder her. George returns from town so drunk he shoots Lennie in the back of the head, mistaking him for a possum.

Lesson: The only lesson the mentally infirm understand is violence.

Gulliver’s Travels (1726)

Trip 1 - Ne’er-do-well, Gulliver, washes up in Lilliput, an island of six inch pygmies obsessed with eggs. Somehow Gulliver fails to convince them he is God. Instead, he forces them to put Jack Black’s face on every vertical surface. Later he is surprised by the ease with which he defeats the navy of the neighbouring islanders, also six inches tall. He returns home and is equally surprised when people think he may have been drinking heavily.

Possibly the only way to stop production of more sequels.

Trip 2 – Gulliver spends time on an island of 72 foot tall giants. They are less impressed with his height. He is exhibited at freak shows but escapes when a kindly eagle picks up his cage in search of a snack. Gulliver returns home to find his neighbours now seriously concerned about his mental health.

Trip 3 – In an episode almost certainly meant to represent a drug addled, psychotic episode, Gulliver believes that he visits a number of outlandish, imaginary countries: Laputa (a flying island), Glubdubdrib (where he meets Socrates and other semi-historical Brazilian football stars), and Japan – a fictitious island also populated by overly polite pygmies, this time obsessed by digital cameras and manga porn.

Trip 4 – Increasing doses of Ritalin fail to suppress hallucinations about talking horses. Gulliver adopts the name Wilbur and calls all his new friends Ed.

Lesson: Sequels rarely live up to the original.

Don Quixote (1605)

A pissed-up Spaniard recreates Don Quixote in 2010's hot Summer.

Aged knight, Don Quixote, has lost his faculties following too many blows to the head in jousts. He sets out on a quest to the pub and drinks himself insensible.

Following a round of shooters on an empty stomach he falls in love with the bar-maid's breasts and teams up with local simpleton, Sancho Panza, to rid the world of windmills.

Too much time is spent in the company of donkeys.

Lesson: Sangria and sunshine are a bad combination.

1984 (1949)

In the future Britain will be an unrecognisable dystopian country where grey, lifeless people consume almost inedible grey food during a grey existence entirely monitored by CCTV and entertained solely by mindless, grey television and industrial quantities of cheap alcohol. Imagine!

Winston Smith breaks out of his tired, grey existence to begin shagging tired, grey Julia for which they will be punished by the Thought Police. Rats are not good for the complexion.

Lesson: It is possible to accurately predict the future.

Robinson Crusoe (1719)

The 1725 movie tie-in edition.

A Scottish runaway, Robinson Crusoe, is abducted by pirates but uses his charms to escape. He puts his experience of the psychological trauma caused by captivity to good use by becoming a plantation owner in Brazil.

Crusoe sets out to bring the benefit of Christian education and the whip to African villagers but is ship-wrecked. Undaunted, he survives by growing crops, hunting wild pigs, talking to volleyballs and enslaving visitors.

Eventually Crusoe escapes to Portugal in the hope of selling Friday for a large profit. However, he realises the value of his friend when they are attacked by wolves in the Pyrenees and only Friday’s lifeless corpse distracts the ravenous pack from attacking the horses.

Lesson: A wise man is always good to his manservant.

The Wind in the Willows (1908)

Unaccountably, lower middle class Moley eschews his muddy hole and diet of worms to risk death by foxes by taking a walk. He meets upper middle class Ratty, a water-vole so hydrophobic that, although he cannot leave the aquatic environment he has evolved in, he is forced to use a rowing boat. One summer day, the pair visit Aristocratic Toad who is jovial, friendly and rich - though apparently not rich enough to afford the cosmetic surgery required to remove his warts.

Toad suffers from OCD and ADHD. Having obsessed with and given up on boating, bicycles and sex with underage village amphibians his current craze is horse-drawn caravans. Moments into a trip together, a passing car scares their horse. They crash. Head trauma causes Toad to lose interest in caravanning. He becomes obsessed with speed.

Badger circa 1912.

Mole wants Rat to take him in the dark, Wild Wood. But Ratty is staunchly heterosexual and refuses. Moley cruises the woods alone and gets lost. Ratty rescues him and they shelter with Badger who’s burrow is deep underground to avoid being hunted by the shaving brush industry. Badger learns that Toad has crashed six cars, has been hospitalised three times, and has had to spend a fortune on fines. They visit Toad and place him under illegal house-arrest while they attempt to have him sectioned so they can loot his bank accounts. Toad escapes, steals a car and is gaoled.

Otter’s son is missing, presumed incorporated into a water-proof fur coat. Under the influence of Toad’s amphetamines, Ratty and Moley believe they meet Syd Barrett at the Gates of Dawn. Syd helps them to find Little Otter and they sell him to sex-traffickers to buy more speed. Meanwhile, Toad has broken out of gaol and escaped in a high-speed horse-drawn barge. Toad Hall has been taken over by weasels, stoats and ferretslower class oiks who are wiping their noses on the curtains, spitting and dropping aitches all over the carpets. With the help of Badger and a secret tunnel they attack the squatters, killing indiscriminately until the remaining weasels flee, realising that they should have known better than to try to rise above their allotted social station.

Lesson: The Upper Class may lie, steal, cheat and murder and we’ll love 'em all the more for it because they're better than us.

The Odyssey (1100 BC)

Sean Bean as Odysseus in'th award winning movie Troy (sadly not based on the abridged version of the book).

Odysseus pops to the corner-shop for cigarettes and stays out on the lash with the boys for ten years. By the time he remembers to go home his wife (Penelope) is more than a little horny and has lined up 108 potential lovers in a game of Ancient Greek speed-dating. Though it seems likely that he will get lucky upon his return, Odysseus' journey home is not to be simple - he is now being persecuted by Poseidon (Sea-God) for urinating in the Adriatic.

After an ill-considered drug-binge on the island of the lotus-eaters, Odysseus is too stoned to navigate and collides with the island of the Cyclops “Which just came out of nowhere man, like, whoa!” Despite his reputation as a hero, Odysseus takes advantage of the Cyclops’ disability, blinds his remaining eye and steals his sheep. Pleased with his larceny he again takes a few weeks out, this time for an affair with the hottie, Circe.

Circe is a nymph (a nymphomaniac in a depressive phase) and soon tires Odysseus out. Worried about STI's, he disguises himself as a tramp in order to raise money selling The Big Issue. Eventually, he raises the fare home. Penelope is on the point of being abducted by The Hooded Claw when the Anthill Mob rescue her and Odysseus’ ability to pull his own bow wins him his wife’s favour once more.

Lesson: Never go sailing without GPS and a reliable out-board motor.

The Lord of the Sin (or Bible) Trilogy (c. 1400 BC - 610 AD)

Volume One - The Two Torahs

A bored God creates the world and populates it with Humanity v 1.0. Realising He has made a mistake installing the free-will app, He expends much energy in anger and in punishing people with smiting and forgetting to turn off the taps. Later He sets unachievable ideals for those who choose to listen including the requirement to mutilate one’s own genitals, the banning of ham sandwiches and an imperative not to covet asses. After some years He sends His chosen people to be slaves in Egypt for a while, causing them to wonder why they’ve denied themselves oysters all this time. Eventually, He allows them to escape and slaughter the peaceful population of the lands they pass through. There is much begetting.

Volume Two - Return of the King of Kings

An older, wiser and mellower God hands the family business over to His son who is going through a hippy phase. Fewer rules now apply. God's Son, Jesus, does some conjuring tricks with wine to liven up parties before branching out into faith-healing and snake-oil sales. Later Jesus invents mass-catering when 5,000 groupies turn up to his biggest gig.

At the insistence of the Moral Majority parental guidance stickers are now attached to all three volumes of the Lord of the Sin.

Good will to all men is demanded, even to those who get their kicks nailing him to a tree. Following the death of the hero, his old friends big themselves up by association but fail to agree on details of his doings. After several repetitive chapters the thrilling denouement suggests that the world will not end well.

Volume Three - The Fellowship of the Sin.

God's mood swings back to its angry, default-setting. His new teaching strongly urge that:

  • If you're going to punish someone you should leave them in no doubt they've been punished.
  • You should make a point of doing more good things.
  • Sometimes you may do bad things for a good cause. Or not. It is left to you to decide the real meaning of this chapter.
  • You should drink less.


The Lord of the Sin trilogy is the only trilogy abridged by The Reader's Digest and devotees are split on which of the three books is the finest. Fans of Volume Two are often (but not always) fans of Volume One. Die-hard Volume One zealots deny the co-authorship of the subsequent novels. Afficionados of Volume Three acknowledge the existence of the two preceding works but refuse to read them.

As with all works of this magnitude, phrases from the trilogy have become part of everyday English. The most famous lines of the Bible are said to be its opening verse:

"This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are imaginary. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental."

Lord of the Flies (1954)

Competition for leadership of the boys was fierce.

British schoolboys crash on desert island. After drinking the remaining contents of the stewardesses’ trollies they set out to escape by attracting passing shipping. Piggy is discriminated against due to his Muppet Show fame but shows his worth by starting a signal fire. The boys slowly burn their Geography homework.

The “Tribe” splits in two; one half wish to play with the corpse of a pilot found hanging in a tree, the others wish to eat it. The hunter’s tribe kill Piggy when they discover what he has been up to whilst spending his time with the younger boys.

Everyone (except Piggy) is home in time for tea.

Lesson: Boys will be boys.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1593)

Titania & Bottom in Disney's "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

Four lovers meet just outside Athens in a wood eerily similar to woods found just outside sixteenth century British towns. The wood is inhabited by fairies, though there is no other evidence that Elizabethan forests were haunts for gay-cruising. Nevertheless, cross-dressing appears to be the norm and everyone loves Bottom.

The snooty fairy royals force some retarded Athenian peasants (eerily similar to retarded British peasants of the day) to perform a play so that they may sneer at their stupidity.

Someone falls in love with a donkey. This in no way implies that bestiality was considered acceptable in Tudor society.

Lesson: Elizabethan ideas of comedy have not aged well.

The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

Coming in through in the Rye.

Holden Caufield is not an intellectual. Nevertheless, he realises that communing with New York hookers is preferable to life in a boarding school.

Sadly, whores do not make great conversationalists.

He considers marrying his sister to further his own impressive levels of in-breeding.

Apparently, some middle aged, unmarried English teachers may be gay!

Lesson: We should all shoot John Lennon.

2009 onwards

Gregor Samsa.

The Abridged Reader's Digest Abridged classics was an instant hit, selling over two million copies in little over four years. However, by 2009 it was felt that books which sometimes ran to four paragraphs were asking too much of the average reader and the fifth edition was never published.

The spring of 2010, however, saw a new and much-shortened version launched to great acclaim. The abridged version of The Abridged Reader's Digest Abridged Classics remains in print to this day, though the audio-version ousells the hard-copy in 47 of the contiguous states.

The first book covered by the new edition was Kafka's "The Metamorphosis". The triple abridged version of Metamophosis set the tone for the whole volume and is considered a classic both for its brevity and the way it conveys the whole feel of the 200 page novel in one line:

"Fuck me, I'm a cockroach!"

See Also

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