Why I Am Weary Of The Cliff Notes & Reader’s Digest Versions


                                                                                             (  Photo Credit- Wikipedia.com)

I was on a web site looking for an online course for a child of mine. And a beautiful question popped up, grabbed my heart, yanked it and got my attention. In a bold and hip font, surrounded by stylized graphics it asked “What’s Your Story?”

And I really wanted to tell them. But who would listen and who would I tell? I had a story. I have a story.

Recently a blogger/writer asked on facebook if we, her readers, would be interested in knowing the backstory to her upcoming book. Well of course, we/I would. Who doesn’t want to hear the story? Who doesn’t long to rest on the words woven around the events, which lead to passion, which feed the dream, which launch a book.

And I  wonder why and how we arrived at a place where everyone is clamoring for the “Reader’s Digest” version of events. And what value or beauty is held in stripping something down to such an elemental level that it is now called “the Cliff Notes Version”.  And who is Cliff anyway.

Bare and barely told, the story stands stripped of its beautiful. Stripped of rich detail.

In “The Three Little Pigs” children’s tale we learn specifics about the pigs’ homes. The author chooses to delve into enough detail to tell us the building materials of their homes. Was it straw, wood and bricks? The story hinges on these details. There is no story here without them.

And Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon” is resplendant in glorious detail. We know so many of the elements and contents of the mesmerizing story that takes place in one single, richly described room.

But even now, many of you reading are skimming and scanning and wondering when I will get to the “punch line” of this prose. And you are looking for a shortcut and a way out. You want to jump ahead or exit out. You want me to “cut to the chase”. But what good is it? Who cares about the chase without first knowing the characters involved in the chase. And where they live, how they’re dressed, what lead up to the chase in the first place.

Is this where poets go? Off to the place of elaborate detail. They will tell you every detail of the spider’s web. And stay there with you for a long while as you linger.

But somewhere along the way we became too busy for the details of  story. We know someone cried, but do we know or better yet, do we care that they cried for three hours, the saline drops ran down the cheek like  raindrops on a foggy window pane. One chasing the other, racing down the face. And that the eyes were swollen shut and a headache had crept in to the crying weary soul. And that she felt so alone.

Somewhere along the way we became too darn busy to crawl into the story and sit with the writer, the poet, the friend. To hear the lines that tell of the rich detail of color, texture, emotion, song, and the surrounding scene. We don’t ask “tell me about” and then wait expectantly, patiently for the rich description of the fabric, the flowers, music and the musicians at the  June wedding. And surely we don’t want to know how the light shone through at a certain slant, pouring through the stained glass windows hovering over the bride and groom like a halo. And the bells tolled exactly at noon.

What beauty we are missing when we run rough-shod over the nuances and the fine points of the unfurling of an event. The birth of a conversation. The heavy breathing of the winded teller. And the way in which she punctuated each paragraph with fear and a trembling spirit.

Do we really know the story if we don’t read the entire story in all its glory? Give it a chance to release slowly, beautifully unfurling detail on detail.

In our deep soul places don’t we care, truly about the red balloon, the picture of the cow jumping over the moon and the green room? Because without them, its just another good night story in black and white. Dull, boring and forgettable. And we were made for lively detail. We were created to savor and delight our senses. God is in the detail and He is a God of detail. In everything. Always.

When we water down, dilute and dilate we minimize the beauty, the richness. There is no musical soundtrack bound to be a best seller on itunes. It is just a short silent film. Grainy and dark.

I know a girl named Lilly and I decided to ask her about her chickens. Because for three weeks I had watched  them from my kitchen window. As they  pecked and scratched. And the rooster crowed, these weeks in the cold of March. While in “the Village” and away from home, I starred at them daily. And I longed to know more. To know the story. Theirs and Lilly’s.

lilly and her chickens

When I asked, Lilly opened up. Out gushed wonderful detail of Lilly and her chickens. I listened as she pointed and told me each of their names. Each one unique. She and I both loved the one with the furry feet. He looked as if he wore shoes on his claws, made of fur. And there was the little one from Australia. And the ones from Tractor Supply. Lilly has one rooster but she had five. All are gone but one. They fought a lot. And I asked her how many eggs they lay a week. And I know now that her favorite candy bar is Snickers. She savored one, bite by bite as she spoke, chocolate in her cheek, chickens staring at her waiting to be fed.

The chickens and the kids

Do you have time for a Lilly in your life? Do you know one chicken is named Chick-Fila and do you know where they go when it gets cold?

Do you have time for poetry? For a rich description of both the spider and his intricate web. To linger on the details. Of this wondrous life.

Would you wait for a story to be told? Would you slow down with me to hear. To listen. And to wallow around the rich moments of this life. I never really found The Reader’s Digest that enthralling. And I always associated it with the doctor’s office.

But the green room and the red balloon. Well I could read it a thousand times and it would never grow old. One room. So much rich detail. So much vivid beauty.

Oh, you stayed till the end with me. How grateful am I? Well let me see…..how can I describe my gratitude?

Joining Laura, Jennifer and Heather today in their welcoming community of writers.

the chicken at MCVL

16 thoughts on “Why I Am Weary Of The Cliff Notes & Reader’s Digest Versions

  1. I loved this writing,..and the little video story is delightful. In fact I am sharing it with my grand children. Didn’t know one could find stories via youtube. Thank you.
    Always appreciate your writing.

  2. when we slow down, listen and hear the back story, we are then responsible to listen, learn, and ultimately become a part of someone’s life. This leads to praying for them, and caring for them. Wonderful post. Recently I have read good night moon often. It is one of my grandson’s favorite. Thanks. DAF

  3. We do have a story to tell! I put mine in a book hoping my children would know more about my childhood. Good night Moon was a favorite book for our grandson’s who also have the last name MOON. I visited you from Laura’s Wellspring. I also have a True Story blog party and May I invite you over there.

  4. i stay with you till the end gladly. you draw me in, Elizabeth, and i am always richer for the experience — maybe you are one of my “Lily’s”, eh? 🙂
    i love how you said this. how we are all so busy. too busy to stop and smell the roses. too important for those poignant details that make the story real. tangible. keep telling your stories, friend. you make the world better with the way you devote your entire attention to every.single.moment.

  5. Beautiful. I stayed til the end and loved the soothing video story on this cold, rainy March day.

  6. Love your point and the way you write it. Must confess I’m guilty of that myself sometimes in this world of hurried. But God’s Word say “be quick to listen” and “slow to speak”, after all he gave us two ears to listen with, two eyes to read with, yet only one mouth to speak with. : ) Thanks for sharing. Hopped over from #TellHisStory.

  7. Such an encouraging post for me in so many ways Elizabeth. God is truly in the details. And I’m glad I got to see those chickens up close and personal. It doesn’t surprise me that you asked about them, not one bit.

    1. Oh Shelly, so glad you saw Lilly’s chickens. And if you want fresh eggs you know where to go 🙂 Love that you love that sweet place, MCVL. Thank you for bringing you warm spirit over here, friend.

  8. Of course I stayed with you until the end! How could I not? By the way, your story makes me want to listen longer, ask more questions, and make more safe places for story to unfold. Loved this. And you!

  9. Oh, the beautiful simplicity of your words and your gift of the reading to us. And the reminder to take the time and listen to someone’s story. Perhaps I get too focused on writing story and forget to listen. Loved this!

  10. I love me a good story. One of my favorite kinds of stories is the “how we met” story. I’m always bothering friends with that. But its such a treat to see their faces light up. Like their falling in love all over again.

  11. Elizabeth, this is one of my favorite things you’ve ever written. I loved that I needed to wait until I had a good long while to savor, sip long and slow. I adored the story of Lilly and her chickens. I love reading your details and seeing the story you paint with them. And I, too, could listen to Goodnight Moon (and have) hundreds of times! xoxo

  12. ahh this is why I loved Europe so much. you were/are expected to linger over life and words, and stories…. and….. and… it makes my heart sad that somewhere in the mix of moving and settling back in the US i lost a bit of that running over your words until i hit the admonishment. and then having to back track and really read what you wrote and absorb ever ounce until the end. thanks for the conviction, i seriously needed it 🙂

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