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Book Report: 'Classics' in a nutshell serves as shortcut for some

From time to time a good book slips through the cracks and it doesn't get reviewed. Normally, I only review brand new books in this column, but I can't let this older one slip by just because it earlier eluded me.

The book is "How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening" (Viking Press, $12.95), by E. O. Parrott. Literary purists may be offended and good for them. I happen to like books that make fun of literary "classics" and this little book, first published in 1985, does a great job of it.

If you've ever struggled through a mess called "Beowulf" and wished you'd majored in quantum physics, here's a sample from Mary Holtby's parody of the early English "classic," written in early English alliterative verse:

"Grisly old Grendel

gulped guys in his greed;

Beowulf bashed him

and boy! Did he bleed!

Hoisted his hand up

and hung it on high --

So, dashed, he departed

now destined to die.

"While Grendel all gory

lay gasping and glum,

Immersed in the mere

was his murderous Mum.

So soon as he snuffed it

she set out to slay

The heroes who, heartened,

were hitting the hay...."

Here's Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in its entirety by Paul Griffin

"Ebenezer Scrooge

Was nobody's stooge;

It drove him into one of his rages

When somebody asked for more wages.

Bob Cratchit

Was especially liable to catch it

For expecting his pay

To cover Christmas Day.

But a series of Christmas specters,

Acting as Scrooge's spiritual directors,

Asked him who was the cripple: Tiny Tim?

Or him?

And suddenly he became a hearty

Benefactor at the Cratchits' Christmas Party.

Trade unions may boast,

But the best negotiator is a ghost."

Anyone who has struggled through T. S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" and wondered what the hell it all meant, will like Stanley Sharpless' brief version:

"Spring's a lousy time, reviving

Heart-throbs one thought had been forgotten.

But life is like that, bloody

Awful when you stop to think about it.

Crawling, fog bound, over London Bridge,

Going for a picnic up the Thames,

Stopping for a quick one in a pub,

Seducing a typist in a flat,

Tout c'est la meme chose. La vie, c'est terrible.



W. S. Brownlie on "Moby-Dick:"

"A captain with an idee fixe

Chased a whale for weeks and weeks,

All because it ate his limb:

That's the thing that bothered him.

In the end, with scarce a scratch,

The whale it won -- game set and match.

And though it seems a bit bizarre

The whale was white -- an odd bete noire."

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at 426-9554.