“Book-A-Minute” – because sometimes even Cliff’s Notes are too long


Since junior year, I’ve been in at least one AP class every semester and usually a few honors courses too.  Teachers almost always give their students due dates for assigned books a few weeks in advance, and students read a little bit each night so they finish the book in time for the test…right, like that happens.

What actually happens: Student A gets her due date a full three weeks ahead of time.  Student A thinks she has plenty of time to read the 300-page book, so she doesn’t worry about it.  Two weeks and six days later,  Student A is frantically skimming either SparkNotes, CliffsNotes, Shmoop, or another literature-summarizing website of her choice.

As much as English teachers hate to admit it, they know high school students do the least amount of work they can for the highest grade they can earn.  They also have learned students’ tricks, and like to read the SparkNotes themselves and come up with a test that asks about everything NOT listed in the convenient chapter summaries.

A website called “Book-A-Minute,” a component of RinkWorks, an online entertainment  website, condenses entire books down to a paragraph or less.  Sometimes the abbreviated versions are only a sentence or two long.  But as the title of the website suggests, each “summary” can be read in a minute or less.

The tagline of the website states, “We at Book-A-Minute understand that your time is valuable. You want to experience the wonder and excitement of the fine art of literature, but reading actual books requires a significant time investment. We’ve got the solution for you. Our ultra-condensed books are just the ticket.”

The literature covered is divided into three categories: Science Fiction and Fantasy (said to cover “everything from Tolkien to Dragonlance”), Bedtime (said to cover “everything from Dr. Seuss to the Hardy Boys”) and Classics (said to cover “everything from Shakespeare to Steinbeck”).

Two of my favorites come from the Bedtime and Classics sections.  Condensed from fifty-six pages into one short line, the first, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, by Dr. Seuss, says, “You can go to some neat places, so get out of the house and make something of yourself.” All of the message, none of the fluff.

The second may not be as funny to most as it is to AP English IV students this year, but the summary of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is what initially intrigued me about this website.  A Tale of Two Cities was one of three books assigned for students to read over the summer.  

I hated every moment I spent at the beach and lake attempting to get through this book.  Even though I never really finished it, I can look back remember the highlights.  Or at least the basics I should have known for the test…

“Doctor released,
Marquis deceased,
Darnay acquitted,
Monarchy submitted,
Marriage announced,
Darnay denounced,
Places are switched,
Blades are twitched,
Seamstress cries,
Carton dies.”

The concept of Book-A-Minute reminded me of another required reading from my summer: 1984 by George Orwell.  His creation of Newspeak and a shortened version of the English language is similar in concept – use less words to say the same thing.

Sure, short is often more convenient.  It’s easier to read a quick paragraph than a book, send a text than make a phone call, or microwave a meal instead of actually cooking.  But at what point does convenience take the place of what is best for us?

Books have existed for hundreds of years to teach us just about anything we wish to learn and take us to any world or time period (real or imaginary) we wish to visit.  They contain more knowledge than any one person or group of people could ever wish to know.

In 1984, books were the key to discovering a history that was slowly being re-written, corrected and destroyed.  By isolating its citizens from books and knowledge, citizens of Oceania (the setting of 1984) had no way of knowing what Truth really was.

As much as I hate to admit it, I know the books we are required to read in school are for our own good.  Night tells the story of a man’s life in a concentration camp in World War II and Catch-22 satirizes war and makes us reconsider why we do what we do.  1984 demonstrated the dangers of a totalitarian government and a world without those who fight for what they believe in.

Each and every story we read has a purpose, whether to teach us a moral lesson or to just teach us how to use an extended metaphor.  By condensing these stories into short, cutesy quotations, the original intent and purpose of the books are lost.

While I realize that the website is all in fun, if you really consider the purpose of the website, it is a sad representation of what our society has come to: everything as quick as possible, with no one stopping to actually enjoy the great aspects of life.  

It’s understandable that every once in a while you may need to use a website like CliffsNotes or Shmoop to get the gist of a book or study for a test, but great books cannot be condensed into anything less than their original form.

So yes, I probably should go back and actually read/appreciate A Tale of Two Cities in its entirety one day.  But for now, let’s be realistic: I’m a senior who can barely focus long enough to finish her homework, much less read a ridiculously long book for the fun of it.


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