Wednesday, June 20, 2018


HARPERCOLLINS/Harper Design – @HarperCollins @harperdesignbks

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

ISBN: 978-0-06-274785-3; hardcover – 5.813” x 7.813” (June 5, 2018)
160pp, Color, $19.99 U.S., $24.99 CAN

Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read But Probably Didn't is a new book of cartoons from author John Atkinson.  The book presents more than a 150 cartoons that offer humorous commentaries on a little over 100 well-known novels and works of literature.

Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn’t is exactly what the title says.  It is a summary of over 100 well-known novels and books, but these are irreverent summations in which author John Atkinson cleverly describes the plot or story of each book in the fewest words possible.  Each summation is accompanied by one or two funny, color illustrations, which you can also describe as cartoons.

In what his publisher describes as “humorous super-condensed summations,” Atkinson takes on and skewers the work and writings of some of the most revered authors from the United States, Great Britain, Europe, and Russia.  Atkinson's laugh attack takes on authors who wrote from several hundred years ago to more than a millennia ago (the Bible, Geoffrey Chaucer, and William Shakespeare).  He pokes fun at authors of the modern literary cannon (Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain) and at world famous and beloved authors of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (Margaret Atwood, Dan Brown, Ayn Rand, and J.R.R. Tolkien).

Did you know that Henry David Thoreau's Walden is really about a man who sits outside for two years and nothing happens?  Did you know that William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch is simply a story about heroin and an orgy?  To Kill a Mockingbird is about the fact that neither kids nor adults really understand racism.

Can you sum up Shakespeare's Macbeth in a single sentence? John Atkinson says “Old ladies convince a guy to ruin Scotland.”  For Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, Atkinson gets it in less than six words? “Everyone is sad. It snows.”  This may be what you need, dear readers, – the classics and irreverence.

John Atkinson describes the perennial classic novel, Catcher in the Rye, by author J.D. Salinger as “Moody teen complains a lot. He has a red hat.”  I discovered, many moons ago, that a close friend of mine had tried several times to read Catcher in the Rye and hated it too much to keep reading.  I was surprised that he felt that way because I did also.  After the third attempt at completing the novel, I realized that I just didn't give a f**k about Holden Caulfield and cared even less about what he had to say.

I like Atkinson's Abridged Classics, and not because his commentary says “I don't give a f**k,” but because he takes the starch of being classic and revered out of the novels.  He pokes fun, and mostly in an accurate way.  The Scarlet Letter may not necessarily be a “Puritan tale of adultery, mockery, and embroidery,” but it is fun to think of it that way.  However, when Atkinson says that Gulliver's Travels is a story about a “Hapless sailor is stranded on different lands inhabited by sociopolitical metaphors,” well, he is telling the truth.  When I first read the novel, a long time ago, I found myself thinking of it that way.  Important work of Western literature or not, Gulliver's Travels can accurately and humorously be described in exactly Atkinson's words.

With its mock, leather-bound cover design, Abridged Classics is right on target.  I wish it were a longer book, and hopefully, Atkinson will offer a future volume.  There are so many more books and novels, classics, beloved, bestsellers, etc. that need to be abused or skewered by one of his “humorous super-condensed summations.”

8 out of 10

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2018 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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