Classic works of lit / Reduced quite a bit / In poems and prose / As fun overflows.
How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening: A Collection of Literary Encapsulations. Compiled and Edited by E.O. Parrott. Penguin, 188 pp., varied prices.
By Janice Harayda
One of the most popular posts on this site is a review of E. O. Parrott’s How to Be Well-Versed in Poetry, which illustrates the different types of poetry though amusing and self-descriptive verse. No less delightful is Parrott’s How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening, a collection of 150 brief and witty summaries of classic novels, plays and poems.
In this tongue-in-cheek volume, Tim Hopkins gives you Othello in 10 tabloid headline parodies, including GIRL WITH EVERYTHING ASKS FOR MOOR. And Basil Ransome-Davies shows how an overeager publicist might have promoted The Bostonians: “He’s done it again! Our guess is that’s what you’ll be saying to yourself when you read Henry James’s latest exposé of upper-crust Boston …”
But most of the 31 contributors turn the classics into verse. V. Ernest Cox sums up The Old Man and the Sea in a limerick that begins:
There was an old man of the sea,
Who for eight-four days went fish-free,
But he rowed out next day,
And almost straightaway
Struck gold – piscatorially …
Paul Griffin describes A Christmas Carol in a clerihew that has as its first quatrain:
Was nobody’s stooge;
It drove him into one of his rages
When somebody asked for more wages …
And Peter Norman gives you The Great Gatsby in iambic tetrameter:
Nick Carraway and Gatsby (Jay)
Are next-door neighbors; every day
The enigmatic Gatsby gazes
Towards a distant green light (Daisy’s).
Apart from their entertainment value, these light-hearted verses could work well as teaching aids. Anybody want to guess what novel inspired W.S. Brownlie’s: “A captain with an idée fixe / Chased a whale for weeks and weeks”?
Best line: Some of the literary encapsulations take the form of song parodies, such as Cox’s: “The animals stage a coup d’état, / Hurrah! Hurrah! /And from the farm all humans bar, / Hurrah! Hurrah!”
Worst line: The copyright line, which suggests that this book is overdue for a reprint.
Caveat lector: The third and fourth lines of the Hemingway limerick should be indented four spaces, but I couldn’t make it happen.
Furthermore: I’d like to link to a short online biography of the British writer and editor E. O. Parrott but couldn’t find one. If you can suggest one, I’d appreciate it.
This is a re-post of a review that first appeared in August 2007. I am off today.
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.