50 ways to be well-read: the bluffer's guide to literature

It's the latest online craze: condensing the plots of the world's great books into 25 words or less. So we asked Bill Greenwell to take his blue pencil to the best-sellers

ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Lewis Carroll

Daddy wouldn't buy me a bow-wow. But I've got a little cat, and it turned into a rabbit, a dodo, a hatter, a queen. Freaky!

BEOWULF, Author unknown

Do the monster mash. Do the monster's mother's mash. Swear, sworn, sword. Then get mortal with a dragon, 50 years later. Great stuff.

THE BIBLE

In the beginning, there was nothing, would you Adam and Eve it? Afterwards, we begat and begat. Babylon for holidays. Christ Almighty, what a revelation.

BLACK BEAUTY, Anna Sewell

A foal and his mummy are soon parted. It's knackering in the town, but I hope I will get properly grassed up in the end.

THE CANTERBURY TALES, Geoffrey Chaucer

Dere Godde, we wente to Kente, to telle talle tales, which, by the wey, we didde, and we were wel plesed. Wishe yow were here.

THE CARETAKER, Harold Pinter

He come up to me, what you mean, I'm in charge, he said so, you said so, what's the problem. Oy, get your pause off.

CATCH 22, Joseph Heller

Yossarian is thinking about giving up flying, but rules say he must be mad to think that, which is in itself crazy. But that's the rules.

CHILDREN OF VIOLENCE, Doris Lessing

I was born in Rhodesia, but as I grow up, I should like to be a communist, or not, perhaps, some time in the future, anyway.

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, Mark Haddon

The dog was dead, so I was in my prime number. Don't take away my mum and dad. Divide and rule. It all adds up.

DAY OF THE JACKAL, Frederick Forsyth

He's all over the pitch, on the right wing, looks like a chance, he wants a shot at de Gaulle, oh! How did he miss?

DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Arthur Miller

Willy: Gee, what great business! (Music). Everything stinks. (Music). Honey, I just realised! I sold myself a great turkey! Linda: Boys, what was that crash?

EATS SHOOTS AND LEAVES, Lynne Truss

Green grocer's, do not they give you the yip's. I'd like to see them comma cropper. Give them colonic irrigation. I blame the parentheses. Full stop.

EMMA, Jane Austen

When the vacant mind becomes engaged, it numbers the wrong rings, but it is not a vain hope to have a man Knightley. Emma correct?

ENDURING LOVE, Ian McEwan

Joe sees a big balloon. Jed sees a big balloon. Clarissa sees a big balloon. Do they have fun? You had better read the appendix.

FANTASTIC MR FOX, Roald Dahl

On my way to pick a pot of Basil, they gave me the brush-off, but I knocked the stuffing out of their chickens. Boom Boom.

THE FORSYTE SAGA, John Galsworthy

With a bit of Forsyte, you can make a decent bit of money on property, but do children understand mortgages? Pah! They're off Soames' homes.

FRANKENSTEIN, Mary Shelley

My creation's escaped! Damn! If I had known he was going to be called Clint Eastwood, I wouldn't have made a Man With No Name.

GOBLIN MARKET, Christina Rossetti

Goblins gobbling fruit, naughty, yummy scrummy, ripe, dribble, sisters kissing, strange, what would Noddy and Big Ears make of it?

THE GOOD SOLDIER, Ford Madox Ford

The American narrator tells a sad story about his wife leaving him for a noble Englishman. Both die. The narrator rather misses the point, eh?

GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Charles Dickens

He's a complete con. Help! Miss Havisham is a con, too. I go to London, but Estelle says toodle, Pip. What larks. That'll teach me.

THE GREAT GATSBY, F Scott Fitzgerald

Neighbour Nick watches Gatsby try to pluck Daisy, but it's the jazz age, so Gatsby winds up face down in the pool. Not so great.

HAMLET, Shakespeare

She loves him, she loves me not. Have grave concerns about Uncle. Still, que sera sera. No need to keep Mum. We're all bonio: fact.

HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 10½ CHAPTERS, Julian Barnes

1 Noah Problem. 2 Jonah Of Ark. 3 Making Space. 4 Battle Of Géricault. 5 Moon Overboard. 6 Smell Ararat. 7 Sinking Feelings. 8½ (Love). 9 History As Lifeboat. 10 Novel For Sail.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, Oscar Wilde

Algernon is not who he seems, so jacks in being Algernon. Jack is in Ernest. Lady Bracknell has never been to Bracknell. She's a handbag

JANE EYRE, Charlotte Brontë

Jane is to marry Rochester. Slight hitch: he's already married, so she moves away. Later, reader, Wife One burns Rochester out, so she forgives him.

LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER, D H Lawrence

She's gone off Cliff, so she goes and comes with the keeper, who's game. Does he speak dialect? Coarse he is. More tee-hee, my Lady?

LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD, Flora Thompson

I was born quite near Oxford, all flora, not much fauna. Then I went away to work for The Post Office. That wasn't so rosy!

THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF TRISTRAM SHANDY, Laurence Sterne

Madam, I beg your leave; where was I? My giddy uncle! Is that the time! I must conceive at once. 'Tis codswallop; here's an END.

LORD OF THE FLIES, William Golding

Take one plane-load of innocent kids. Stir. Fester for a few weeks until savage. Reduce slowly until thoroughly blooded. Then rescue very lightly. That's life!

THE LORD OF THE RINGS, JRR Tolkien

Ring, ring. Who's there? Hobbity hup! That's another myth we've gotten into, but after wizard prangs, the only good orc's a dead orc. Mordor merrier.

METAMORPHOSIS, Franz Kafka

Gregor wakes up, late for work. Even worse, he's a beetle. His family is less than pleased, until finally he drops dead. Free at last!

MOBY DICK, Herman Melville

I am whaling, I am whaling, all alone, across the sea. Tensing, flensing, cleansing, and Ahab goes up the spout. No time to blubber.

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, George Orwell

Winston hears thirteen o'clock while he's working for a spin doctor, after which he should have smelt a rat. Luckily his Brother takes care of him.

THE ODYSSEY, Homer

Odd issues for Odysseus, as he leaves Troytown, and heads for Lady Penelope. No sirens on his boat, but they blow his horn. Go Homer!

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, Ken Kesey

McMurphy is not mad, and nor's the Chief. But Nurse is, and so is the hospital, so McMurphy is given a lobotomy. Chief escapes.

PIERS PLOWMAN, William Langland

I'm Piers Plowman. I dig all day. Various are my visions. Government is godless. Prayer is promising. I really loathe alliteration. But I'm stuck with the stuff.

PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, John Bunyan

If I could fly with the wings of the bluebird as she sings - I'm a daydream believer. Now I have a Zion organiser. Thank God.

THE QUEEN OF THE TAMBOURINE, Jane Gardam

Dear Joan, do you exist? Do I exist? I have written all these letters, but all I have is grandeurs of delusion. Yours dottily, Eliza.

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, E Nesbit

Three children lose Father (jailed), and slum it in the country, until a kindly rail-passenger helps Father - and a Russian refugee - to justice.

REBECCA, Daphne Du Maurier

Last night it came back to me: De Winter is very cold, and it's murder down by the bay, but we get on like a house on fire.

THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, Thomas Hardy

Dorset lad Clym makes good with diamonds, but decides to dig the heath instead. His dark-eyed wife Eustacia is appalled! Dorset is death to her.

THE SECRET DIARY OF ADRIAN MOLE AGED 13 3/4, Sue Townsend

I am in love with Pandora's box, and Mum and Dad are daft as brushes. Rats, I've given away my secret.

THE SECRET GARDEN, Frances Hodgson Burnett

An orphan finds that Yorkshire folk are tough but tender, and she nurses her hidden, sickly cousin to health, which proves nature is good for you.

THE STORY OF PETER RABBIT, Beatrix Potter

Bunny strips off to nick cabbages. Great Scot! He's after me! Felt all flopsy and mopsy when I got home, and was sent to bed.

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, Virginia Woolf

Let's go to the lighthouse, but first let me have a good think about things in general, very interesting. I wonder if I. oh botheration

TOP GIRLS, Caryl Churchill

Five women in history and myth talk over the plight they share with a Thatcherite go-getter, and they also talk over each other, too.

TREASURE ISLAND, Robert Louis Stevenson

Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins and a parrot make their way to an island on an old map. Object: pieces of eight. Success: partial.

THE TURN OF THE SCREW, Henry James

Does a governess see two ghosts corrupting two children, or is she barking up the wrong tree? You decide. The author won't be telling you.

THE WASTE LAND, T S Eliot

This place is completely deserted. /Or is it a beach? It's perverted. /Is it all Dada? /No, it's much harder. /Notes keep you all disconcerted.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Emily Brontë

Heathcliff loses his adopted parents, sister and brother, their respective husband, wife, and his son, and wife. Cheerful stuff, wonderful scenery.

If you think you can do better, send your entries to quickreads@independent.co.uk - and we'll print the best

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