Boo-hoo, you say. But wait, the worst is yet to come! Their solution to this 'problem' (please note sarcastic tone in use of quote marks): editing their lengths. I mean, what could be simpler? Why read 400 pages, when you can read 200? Problem solved!
Here's the segment in its entirety:
"Despite the trend for new-look classics lists, no publisher has dared to meddle with the texts - until now. Weidenfeld & Nicolson is to launch a list of edited literary classics, called Compact Editions. It claims that market research shows many readers are put off by the "elitist" image of classics and by their daunting length and small print. So the Compact Editions - slogan "Great Books in Half the Time" - have been "sympathetically edited" down to fewer than 400 pages each. Weidenfeld insists that the novels retain the core plot, characters and historical background. The first six titles - Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, David Copperfield, The Mill on the Floss, Moby-Dick and Wives and Daughters - are to be released in May and will doubtless be snapped up by students eager to cut down their reading time."
Attributed to Joel Rickett, The Guardian, January 20, 2007.
To say it better than I ever could:
"The justification for simplifying and eviscerating books, as well as for inventing category nonsenses such as teenage fiction, is that it's better for people to read those than to read nothing. I don't think so. A sympathetically edited Moby-Dick is nothing. At any rate, it isn't Moby-Dick. You can screw around with the novel to make a film or a play if you like, even to make a new novel of your own. It could be wonderful. But the book that Melville wrote remains intact. It's available to be read as it was written and as generations have read it. It was written the way it was for a reason. For Melville's reason. That's what a novelist does. It's what the publisher ought to publish. It's what a reader should take or leave. For Weidenfeld & Nicolson to offer cut-down versions is to disgrace publishing, to give up on writers and on the possibility of literature. Actually to give up on anything except making money."
Attributed to Jenny Diski, Biology of the Worst Sort, January 22, 2007.
Now what's truly weird about all this (and I admit no small amount of prescience) is that I jokingly predicted this in Shelf Monkey. At one point (no plot spoilers here), a character rants over the antagonist's plans to re-release classic novels in drastically edited form. I even use Moby Dick as an example, editing it to 100 pages, and the whale loses. Man, I am changing my name to Nostra-Damn!-us.
Join with me in weeping for our children.
As well, check out this disturbing piece by Thomas Washington (a high-school librarian) in The Washington Post. It turns out that editing books for length might be the only option to appeal to children with short attention spans.