The Help Desk: Abridged, too far?

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

The good news is, I landed a good-paying freelance writing gig. The bad news is, it’s writing book recaps for a “study guide.” So, basically, Cliff’s Notes.

I happily agreed to take the job, but I’m wondering now if I should take it. Am I just making money off the backs of kids who don’t want to read The Crucible for school assignments? Will I be encouraging students to not read the classics?

Charlotte, Crown Hill

Dear Charlotte,

As I told the woman who agreed to nurse my latest clutch of spiderlings: relax, you're doing a public service. There's no consensus on what makes a book "classic," just as there's no guarantee that any book will resonate its readers. And frankly, some books are begging for abridgement. I dare you to find one person who has read Moby Dick cover to cover – every other chapter is straight whaling advice. And no healthy, well-adjusted individual picks up The Picture of Dorian Gray for funsies.

While I believe that most books hold value, uncovering that value is a delicate dance that some people don't have the time or patience for, just as I don't have the time or patience to explain to Gloria why she shouldn't be paid per 'ling – that's insane, there are thousands of them – she should charge me for the dry weight in spiderlings equal to the weight of one human child. (What I'm asking for is not unreasonable; the human nipple has many openings, enabling her to feed more than one 'ling at a time.) Who's right? I am, mostly. But how do we ensure that we both leave this arrangement satisfied? THAT REMAINS TO BE SEEN, GLORIA.

Your situation is much more cut and dry. You're making good money and for your potential readers, cutting through the tedium to have books succinctly explained is a treasure. Who knows, perhaps your recaps will pique someone's interest and they'll pick the book up themselves, eventually.

And if the whole recapping thing doesn't work out and you have a pair of working breasts, I may have a job for you.