Utne Blogs > Literature

To Make a Long Story Short...

 by Julie Hanus


Tags: literary news, excerpts, literary podcasts, CliffsNotes, The Digested Read, John Crace, the Guardian,

a very tiny bookJohn Crace is sort-of like CliffsNotes—except cheeky, erudite, and with a nice accent. In his column for the Guardian, The Digested Read, the British journalist condenses contemporary books into pithy 700-word stories. Sometimes satirical, always spot-on, Crace’s abridgements often reveal as much as traditional reviews. Compare his take on the latest Bond novel, Devil May Care, with the New York Times appraisal. Same message, disparate delivery.

Lately, Crace has made a couple of appealing changes. First, he’s started doing an audio version of select columns. Then, around the same time he commenced podcasting, Crace began condensing the occasional classic, such as Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

The digested classics are a kick, in column or podcast format, because they offer readers and listeners a chance to compare (perhaps foggy) recollections of a text with the freshly condensed version. Even if you haven’t read Heart of Darkness for decades, Crace’s digested version sings with familiar phrases and nimbly selected scenes: the memorable bits that lodged in your brain even as the rest faded away. Identifying those bits, that’s where a good excerpt begins.

Crace’s column is weekly, and the podcasts show up intermittently. The most recent content, just posted today, is a reading of the digested Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. The column version ran this past weekend.

Image by wmshc_kiwi, licensed under Creative Commons.