Monday, October 04, 2010

better than cliff notes

When I was a kid maybe a little older than Cal's age, I had this set of "illustrated classics"-- pocket-sized paperbacks with abridged versions of famous works of literature. I really thought these books were awesome. Some of my favorites that I remember vividly were "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "Swiss Family Robinson," "The Time Machine," and "War of the Worlds." In other words, books that I probably would think are a total snooze now. My tastes run more towards contemporary literature nowadays (anything written after World War II usually is suspect in my book--I know this makes me a Philistine but I'm just being honest, just like I'm being honest when I tell you that I am a girl and I thought that "Pride and Prejudice" was SUPER BORING) but when I was a kid, I just remember being captivated by those illustrated classics.

I had no idea that they were abridged versions at the time, but somehow the fact that they were abridged made them better than the originals--like they cut through all the wordy embellishments and baroque flourishes and reduced the books down to pure scene and plot. That along with the pictures just made them fantastic to read. I know it's probably telling that I was the kind of kid who'd prefer snuggling on the couch with a stack of books and some old Halloween candy than--well, pretty much anything else in life--but really, I have very fond memories of those books.

Cal's been reading a lot more these days, and so lately, I've been trying to locate some of those old paperbacks. Not at my parents house--they moved since I was a kid, so any books from that era are probably long gone, sentimental value or not. But there is Amazon.com and eBay, after all. Still, I can't find the same versions of those illustrated classics. And believe me, I have looked. I found books in the same vein, in that they are classics, and they are illustrated--but no, I want the same books. EVERYTHING MUST BE THE SAME. I know, it's a disease. My child must enjoy what I enjoyed. (Next up: a Wilson Phillips CD.)

This is what I remember about the illustrated classics that I read.


1.) They were paperbacks.

2.) They were small. I want to say 4" x 5". You could cram one in your back pocket.

3.) There was a black-and-white picture every other page. Left side was the picture, right side was the text. Usually the picture was captioned by a pull quote from the text. Like, "The Swiss Family Robinson sailed to the island on a boat out of sawed-open barrels!"

4.) They came in a big box set of, like, 12 or 24 books.

5.) I think the publisher imprint was Moby? Or something like that. Anyway, there was a whale on the cover.


One more think about the illustrated classics series from my childhood is that I credit them for making me seem smarter than I actually am. For instance, to this day, I have not read the real versions of "Great Expectations" or "Little Women," but I know a lot about the plot of these books from the illustrated classics. You know, like how Jo sold her hair and how Ms. Haversham stopped all the clocks in her house and still wore her wedding dress around until she caught on fire. Now if only they had one about "The Portrait of Dorian Gray," so I would know something more about this painting under the bed that everyone keeps talking about.




Edited to add: Woo! Found some on eBay! Mission: Nerd Kid 2.0 complete!

30 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh! I remember those too! I don't think I owned/read them, but I had them in my mind's eye once you started talking about them.

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  2. My brother and I had those, his favorite was The Time Machine and my favorite and is still my favorite is The Hound of Baskervilles. I'm 30 and I still have my copy, minus its cover.

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  3. I totally read those books! Loved them. Of course, I like you, was a big ol' nerd who found reading to be the BEST THING EVER. I claimed to be scared of the dark for years, just so my parents would let me leave a light on so I could read for all hours of the night.

    I have seen some of those books around - at used book stores, mainly (of course, I spend an obscene amount of time in used book stores...). I have thought of picking them up, but as husband and I are childless right now, it seems to be tempting fate. Good luck in your search!

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  4. My sons school has those and he really enjoys them. I started thinking about them as soon as you started describing them. They're not in the main library, rather in his teacher's classroom library. Glad you're onto them, and good luck acquiring them for your nerdy little scholar. (that reminds me, tomorrowis Dress Like A Nerd Day at his school. So bonus! He won't have to comb his hair.

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  5. i absolutely loved those illustrated classics. i think i pretty much read everything written by dickens before the age of 8!

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  6. Anonymous11:15 PM

    Take it from this former boy nerd, Stevenson (Treasure Island) and Dumas (Three Musketeers) are enjoyable by age 11ish and 13ish, respectively, in the original form. Dumas perhaps in modern translation. Dunno on that point.

    But yeah, don't torture him with Dickens. SUPER BORING. At least until you get more patience and try reading it yourself, then it becomes SUPER LONGWINDED.

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  7. Anonymous11:49 PM

    I had those books as kids! My favorite was Oliver Twist! Good luck on your hunt!

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  8. Anonymous12:40 AM

    i had those books too!!!! brings back so much memories!! well, if it helps, i think they do sell it here in Singapore hee hee. they used to be on sale in the bigger chain of book shops, now they've fallen out of favour and been relegated to the obscure ones.

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  9. I had those books too (and I think I still have some of 'em somewhere in the storage space). My favorite was The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Haha, and I still haven't read any of the originals. Congrats on finding them for your son!

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  10. Anonymous4:31 AM

    aaaaand....to join a growing line of people, I read those books too! they're a great (and easy) way to help kids learn about literature and life etc etc(you know, all the hard things in life HAHA)...
    damn, now i just feel old.
    if only they had these abridged, highly illustrated, simplified for dummies versions of medical textbooks. i'm in my final month of medical school and sometimes i catch myself wondering when i'll finally learn to be a Real Doctor...haha...

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  11. Anonymous4:33 AM

    Me, too! Add me to the Nerd List!

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  12. Anonymous7:46 AM

    I'll join the chorus of Illustrated Classic Editions fans -- I loved reading these as a kid. And then I was aghast to discover they were highly, highly abridged (you mean Dickens doesn't come with pictures?). But I credit them for driving me to read the originals; 'Great Expectations' and 'Moby-Dick' are still some of my favorite books.
    I hope the bit about Wilde was a joke, or you should check him out: he's good for all manner of drollery.

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  13. Anonymous10:46 AM

    check out www.bookfinder.com

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  14. Oh, I loved these! My best friend and cousin had them, and I stole them shamelessly. (my mom believed abridged books were an atrocity and refused to buy them for me) imagine my great disappointment when, in college, I discovered that Moby Dick was less an adventure novel than an EXTREMELY long-winded epic written in the driest of styles. *sigh* I have gone on to read several of the originals and have more on the list. howevever I tend to have the opposite taste to Michelle's - if it was written before 1900, chances are I'll love it!

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  15. re: Wilson Philips CD.. I own one! I bought it at a garage sale for $1 :)

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  16. This is somewhat shameful, but I TOTALLY read those for our "read-a-thons" in elementary school, where the winner was based on number of pages read. Easy way to rack up pages, with the huge font and the photos. Cha-ching!

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  17. jamilee12:49 PM

    Well, you're not selecting Judy Bloom for Cal at least! I also belong to the flashlight reading-sleep deprivation club, though I have an e-reader that keeps me in the club to this day and annoyance to my husband. I have a 5 yr old and am starting to read to him the Harry Potter books. I read those long before kids.

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  19. I read those too, and your post reminds me that I should rescue them from my parents' house if they haven't thrown them away already.

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  20. I loved those books! Almost makes me want to have children just so I can pass on my nerd genes.

    Almost. :D

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  21. Ha! I had those too! I vividly remember the one of Edgar Allen Poe's short stories... The Telltale Heart and the Cask of the Amontillados (or whatever, something like that) totally freaked me out. Awesome.

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  22. My love in elementary school was "Encyclopedia Brown" [don't know how to underline, sorry.] Mr. Chubb [yes, that was his name, but he was so thin strangely enough] used to read us a chapter everyday in class. They were fabulous. My kids love to read but they don't like what I liked growing up.

    Go figure.

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  23. Emily,

    YES, I loved the Edgar Allen Poe one! I think it was called "Tales of Terror" or something like that. The Telltale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Cask of Amumumimamoomatillado (whatever). THE BEST.

    Also there was a Ben Hur one that I liked, mostly because I was fascinated with leprosy.

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  24. I read a Tale of Two Cities in the Illustrated Classics version. Those books are so funny, and I'm glad kids are still reading them.

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  25. oh, man. My husband has been going on about how much he loved 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea when he was a kid. So I picked it up at the library, for him to read to our six-year-old as a bedtime book. And it turns out he read the abridged one and he's all horrified at how long and boring the real one is.

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  26. Anonymous8:13 AM

    We have them here in Israel too in any regular bookstore. They are widely used for English lessons - to teach kids/pre-teens. I see someone else said Singapore. Try looking at sites in countries where they make people learn English early.

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