The Three Minute Summary

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Rivertown

When working at my first bookstore job at the (now defunct) Bookstore of Edina in 1987, one of our novelty items was a set of audio tapes: (something like) “Eight-minute Classics”.  I have not yet found the exact title online, but they were very much like this.

I am reminded of them by an email received today from a reading friend in California, who sends this gem:

“39 popular books summarized in 3 sentences or less”
by James Clear

In short, James Clear states “This page shares a full list of book summaries I have compiled during my reading and research… ¶ I have tried to summarize each book on this page in just three sentences, which I think is a fun way to distill the main ideas of the book. If a particular book sounds interesting to you, click on the full book summary and you can browse all of my notes on it. Enjoy!”

I’ve looked through his book list and found one or two that I have actually read. One is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which James Clear summarizes thusly:

“To become a better writer, you have to write more. Writing reveals the story because you have to write to figure out what you’re writing about. Don’t judge your initial work too harshly because every writer has terrible first drafts.”

He also provides quite an extensive book list, which I have not yet had time to peruse, but what I’ve seen so far is impressive.

I have been inspired to summarize one of my favorite books, Jane Eyre (but the sentences will not be quite so thorough as his):

“A mistreated orphan becomes a governess. She falls in love with a married man, who is also her employer. She flees a difficult situation, but eventually returns and marries him.”

Give us a summary of a favorite book, or one you’ve recently read, in about three sentences.

87 thoughts on “The Three Minute Summary”

  1. “Lamb” by Christopher Moore: We meet Jesus of Nazareth during the forgotten, awkward teenage years. He travels to foreign lands with his best friend Biff and Learns Things. Hilarity ensues.

    “House at Pooh Corner” by A.A Milne: In which Pooh and his friends to many endearing things in the Hundred Acre Wood including Piglet giving up his house, an attempt to unbounce Tigger and Eeyore accidentally joins a game of Poohsticks. The animals Learn Things. Pooh promises Christopher Robin that he won’t forget him, even when Christopher Robin is 100 and Pooh is 99.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. “To Be a Man,” by Steve Grooms (unpublished). George, an artistic boy growing up in a world hostile to artists, survives a love-less childhood when poverty forces him to live with his aunt in a small river town. George marries Charmion. When pride forces George to leave Charmion in order to fight in WW 2, Charmion goes crazy with fear. At the end of their lives, fate gives George the chance to save his wife a second time and ease his guilt for having contributed to her wartime anxieties.

    And another. “H Is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald. When her father dies, Helen is overcome with grief. She distracts herself by taking on the challenge of training a goshawk. After many giddy moments of triumph and failure, Helen fights her way back to mental stability by immersing herself in the harsh realities of hunting with a hawk.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Aaah, now I think I know how H is for Hawk got onto my reading list. I just finished it last week and couldn’t remember where the idea had come to me. I didn’t love it the way you did. I would say “Helen fights her way back to mental stability when she eventually sees a doctor for her depression and gets some good drugs.”

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Great post and makes me think of Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg. Great literature presented as texts by the main characters. Fall down on the floor funny, especially if you listen to it on CD and get the voice inflections.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These three-sentence exercises are sort of like writing Haiku. 🙂

    Authors are repeatedly urged to come up with “Loglines,”- One sentence summaries of not so much what the story is, but a sentence that describes the main character, his/her goal, and what obstacles the MC must overcome to reach that goal. Very hard to do well, but agents love to get good ones.Helps them sell books to publishers. Writing “experts” stress that these log lines should be no longer than about 25 words.

    Here’s my Three-sentence encapsulation of “Castle Danger” (Blatant Self-Promotion-[BSP] 😉 )

    An unjustly accused man is on the run from police and a hit man. He falls for a woman who is also running from her past. When her evil, crooked husband shows up and tries to take their child from her, the fugitive must decide whether to risk his life and freedom for the mother and child, or save himself from capture or death.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 5 people

  5. This is harder than I thought if you don’t want to indulge in spoilers!

    The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly. A woman goes to the doctor because her wrist is bothering her. After several tests a bullet is found lodged in her neck, but unbelievably, she doesn’t know how or why it is there. Can she unravel the mystery of the bullet in time to save her own life?

    Liked by 3 people

  6. The Reivers by William Faulkner.
    In early 1900’s, young boy joins rowdy relatives in his grandfather’s automobile, stolen for a trip to Memphis. Adventures include trading the automobile for a horse, a night in a whorehouse, and a horse race to win the automobile back. 1962 film starred Steve McQueen.

    (Managed 3 sentences, but well over the 25 words.)

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Netflix has it on dvd. n director Mark Rydell’s comedic drama based on a William Faulkner novel, 11-year-old Lucius McCaslin (Mitch Vogel) finds an unlikely friend in Boon (Steve McQueen), a handyman and philanderer. Along with Boon and his best friend, Ned (Rupert Crosse), Lucius makes his way to the big city. His goal is to gain some insight in how to handle the crises life throws his way, but wisdom doesn’t arrive easily. This classic was nominated for two Oscars.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Nerdy little-leaguer with visions accidentally kills best friend’s mother, plays a mean Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come, cuts off his friend’s finger to keep him out of the military and eventually martyrs himself by falling on a grenade meant for a group of Vietnamese children.

          Liked by 2 people

  7. Division Street by Studs Terkel. Studs interviewed people from a wide range backgrounds who lived at various places on Divison Street in Chicago. I found every one of these interviews which were published as short chapters, to be very interesting. He included all kinds of people giving an almost complete picture all of the kinds of people who lived in Chicago at that time.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. This had made me think about why people like the books that they like. My other book club is reading Uprooted, which Blevin’s read two months ago. It’s clear from comments I’ve heard so far that when we discuss it live I will be the only one who likes it. But didn’t most of us in Blevin’s like it?

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    1. loved uprooted. whats the matter with that other book club. you have to be in the spirit of being taken away by sorcerers i suppose but if you cant transport in your reading what good is reading?

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    2. Liked it, generally. I did find the element of “Stockholm swooning”, whereby a woman falls in love with a guy who holds her captive, and insults and demeans her to boot, rather disturbing. I wonder if your book club objects to that part?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Charlotte’s Web
    Wilbur the pig, runt of the litter, is saved from an early death by a young girl named Fern. Wilbur goes to live a happy life on Zuckermans’ farm, but is distraught when he learns that he is only being fattened for the slaughter. A brave attempt to save his life is spearheaded by his new friend Charlotte, a true friend, a good writer – and a spider.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Mine as well. I wasn’t a spy but I was a journal keeper. When I was finishing my degree, I took a Children’s Lit class in which we read Harriet. The others in the class could not get over the fact that the adults in the book don’t step in sooner and that Harriet doesn’t “learn a lesson”. I argued that the book is for kids, not adults; if the story were different then it wouldn’t be such a big hit with kids. I was alone in the argument. The teacher told me later that she agreed with me; I didn’t have the nerve to say “why didn’t you speak up then?”

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I think, in a way, that Harriet did learn some lessons, but not any that can be summed up tidily. Things about apologizing/retractions, white lies, and not clinging to the past. But she certainly didn’t learn to stop spying.

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  10. The Boys of Summer is the author’s remembrance of the hometown baseball team of his boyhood. He follows a core of players through the apex of their success into their declining years. An era of American life now past is lovingly recalled.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I’ve never read it either, so I’d be open to that.

        Another classic that I missed when I was a kid is The Secret Garden. I picked up a copy at a garage sale recently and have been enjoying it.

        Liked by 3 people

  11. kid gets abused by alcholic father and pushed into a smothering overly pious adoption that makes him run away only to find adventure and an opportunity to use his wit and natural abilities to adapt to the situations he encounters

    huckleberry finn

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    1. I used to teach Huckleberry Finn to college freshmen. When they read the story they all saw the same thing: mean adults making life hell for a good kid. That is in the book, but there are other things too, like racism and the beauty of nature and the adventure of running away. But my kids read the book and couldn’t see anything but mean adults mistreating a kid. That’s how I learned I was no longer an adolescent.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. childhood in the south duing the 1940’s remembering the small town neighbors and racial inequities of the times and the father that made her upbringing so memorable

    to kill a mockingbird

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Baader Meinhof moment! Yesterday afternoon I listened to a vlog (Vlog Brothers) which turned out to be about Alan Turing, father of the computer. Then I stopped at the library to pick up items that were on hold for me, including the DVD The Imitation Game. I don’t remember when I asked for the DVD and I don’t remember WHY I asked for the DVD, but imagine my surprise when it was about… wait for it…. Alan Turing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A striking juxtaposition, but I’m not sure it attains full Baader Meinhofosity. The Imitation Game was much talked about early in the year and Alan Turing was flavor of the month at that time, so mention of him twice is only now, six months later, becoming remarkable.
      Recently, I was reading to my granddaughters from “The Magic of Oz”, one of the many Oz books. Key to the plot was a magic, transformative word: Pyrzqxgli. Naturally, I had had some difficulty in my pronunciation of that word.
      Later that day, I was reading (to myself) from a book of short stories by William Maxwell when I came upon this sentence:
      “He dropped a slice of bread in the toaster and said, ‘Py-rozz-quozz-gill’—a magic word from one of the Oz books.”
      Now that’s a Baader Meinhof moment.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I thought it was more striking that I had asked for the imitation game on DVD, not knowing what it was. I think I asked for it because of Cumberbatch. And then heard the Alan Turing blog yesterday right before picking it up.

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  14. A river, a boy, another boy, lots of boys, then a girl. A fence, buried money, a cave, a stereotypical Native America. A funeral and then come back to life.

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  15. CA grandson turned 3 Wed. He chose shopping trip to Target with popcorn and chocolate milk with a little coffee added, and a visit to the toy section. My son comments how many of the shows he watches, usually on ipad before bed, teach the dangers of excessive ego. He and I wonder how much of that he can incorporate in his three-year-old brain.

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  16. Headed out to the Fair today. If any of the metro-area baboons are going, you might find me at the Humane Society booth in the afternoon or evening. Or wandering in the animal barns this morning to early afternoon.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Enjoy yourself, Linda. Old people may try to avoid such thoughts, but the list of “Gee, I’ll never do X again” items keeps getting longer as I age. One of the few items on that list that still strikes sparks with me is “Gee, I’ll never go to the Fair again!” Moving to Oregon reinforced my conviction that there just isn’t anything on earth quite like the Minnesota State Fair. I hope those of you who can go to it will do so.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Beautiful day, very crowded. It was Prince day, so you saw a lot of purple. At the booth shirts sold at a rate of about one every two minutes all day for the twelve hours that the Pet Center was open. Never been so busy.

      Our old friend Donna stopped by to say hi, and sends her regards. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  17. A very hard morning for me. One of my very special former students dropped dead this morning at age 61 in his office as a sports reporter in Waterloo.

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    1. I am shaken. Sully made two brief disguised appearances in my fiction. He was so funny. Wit covered the depth of his love for others, those he knew, and those who needed our help.

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  18. Finished reading for the 10th time Daniel Boorstein’s The Creators: A History of Heroes of The Imagination.
    The Greats are there. The Semi-greats are there. Never underestimate yourself as Trail Baboons are also Heroes Of The Imagination.

    Liked by 2 people

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