This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 15, 2000

March 15, 2000 - Minute Books

Recently I realized that I just didn't have much time for reading. A librarian who doesn't read is like a guitarist without strings, a cobbler with no shoes, a balloonist bereft of hot air. So I decided to do something about it.

I read over 20 books. Not trash, either -- some were classics. I read Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina," Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," and Herman Melville's "Moby Dick." I also read some science fiction: "Stranger in a Strange Land," by Robert Heinlein, "The Time Machine," by H.G. Wells, "2001: A Space Odyssey," by Arthur C. Clarke. I even read some children's books: Eric Carle's "the Very Hungry Caterpillar," "The Cat in the Hat," and "Green Eggs and Ham," by Dr. Seuss, and Shel Silverstein's "the Giving Tree."

Not bad, eh? That's not even the whole list. And what's more, I read all of these books in a single day!

You're wondering, "How did he do it? Speed-reading? Cranked up books on tape, absorbed as he slept? Or is it some special, even supernatural skill, transmitted via obscure rituals at library schools?"

No. I stumbled across what may be serious competition to Cliff's Notes (book digests long used by students who never got around to reading a book, but had a test the next day). I found a web site called, "Minute Books." Their motto: "We read them for you."

Each section -- divided into Classics, Science Fiction, and Children's (so far) -- includes a summary that you can read in a minute or less. And the summaries are funny.

Take their version of "Green Eggs and Ham."

I will not eat green eggs and ham, anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances.

Try it!


Or how about "A Christmas Carol?"

Bah, humbug. You'll work thirty-eight hours on Christmas Day, keep the heat at five degrees, and like it.

Ebeneezer Scrooge, three ghosts of Christmas will and tell you you're mean.

You're mean.

At last, I have seen the light. Let's dance in the streets. Have some money.


In short, these descriptions are not only, well, short, they do a good job of capturing the gist of things. The range of titles chosen is impressive: from Beowulf to "Ethan Frome" (which gets a great two sentence summary: "I met a man named Ethan Frome. His life sucked.") You see books by Joseph Conrad, the Brontes, Jane Austen, Homer, Hawthorne, poems by Coleridge, Poe, and Milton. You see titles that range from contemporary "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," to summaries of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Series.

But the really sly thing about these summaries is that to get the maximum impact, the truest appreciation of how well they've been executed, you ... have to read the book. The whole book. The long version.

Take this version of Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree." "Reader: I can't believe you chopped down the tree, you jerk!" That's exactly the way I felt when I read this. But if you haven't read the book, you don't get it.

So finally, Minute Books remind you of all the great books you never got around to, or you'd like to go back and revisit. They don't save you any time at all. Fiendish.

The URL for the site is http://www.the-forest.com/minutebooks/. Got a minute?

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