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The Quick and The Small
November 16, 2007 - 11:43am

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I’ve always liked Adam Gopnik’s writing, but his recent piece in support of abridged books has an odd thesis imbedded in it, that old Romantic saw about artistic greatness being equivalent to insanity. In reviewing recent “compact editions” of canonical novels by the British publisher Orion, Gopnik finds the lopping “neatly done,” so that in the case of Moby Dick, “The subtraction does not turn a good work into hackwork; it turns a hysterical, half-mad masterpiece into a sound, sane book.” He does confess this “improved” book is “all Dick and no Moby,” and he’s right that the new editions will offer something to certain readers—the readers our time deserves, one might add.

It’s hardly worth repeating we’re a sound-bite culture, used to technologies like the mix function on our iPods, which prevent longer ideas like the album from ever developing. Still, it’s good to check in on new developments in the quick and the small:

“For [those same?] Readers........in a Hurry........[here’s] a collection of short poems...both Famous and New........about Love and Life....”

TV viewers nostalgic for full-length mediocrity can now get it in abridged form.

For a quick love life that’s all Moby and no Dick, some turn to speed-dating—though its organizers claim “a lot can happen in 8 minutes.”

For “a culture of all favorites and no filler,” there’s the small “orgy of hors d oeuvres.”

Small houses collapse down, say, Thoreau and L.L. Bean, or Ted Kaczynski and Queer Eye. (These little buildings are gorgeous, and when I have $42,000 to spend on a closet in the middle of a field, I’m absolutely going to buy one.)

There are small cars old and new, and small pets for insignificant people, and, finally, super-short, seven-day educations.

I was going to complain about this last one—seven days? I want it now!—but I’m willing to wait all that time, since “Professor” is one of the degrees I can obtain, by which I’m promised “promotion, prestige, job prospects, [and] earning power.” For many of us who came along more slowly, this sounds like no small thing.

 

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