August 18: CiffsNotes Day

Today is the birthday of Cliff Hillegass, the founder of CliffsNotes. Working for a college bookstore in the 1930s, Hillegass developed contacts with a Toronto books seller named Jack Cole, who published guides in Canada called “Cole’s Notes.” Years later Cole suggested to Hillegrass that an American version of Cole’s Notes might be a good idea for U.S. students.

In August 1958, Hillegass took out a $4,000 loan and began CliffsNotes with his first title: Hamlet. He continued by publishing 15 more guides to Shakespeare’s plays. At the beginning, the guides were simply Cole’s Notes repackaged with an new cover — Cliff’s characteristic, and now famous, yellow and black cover.

In fact, Cliffsnotes have become so popular and recognizable that they have become a part of the English language. For example, you might hear someone say, “Just give me the Cliffsnotes version,” meaning: “Give me a short summary instead of all the details.”

Hillegass never intended his guides to just summarize the classics or to replace the reading of the great literature. Nevertheless his work has spawned numerous imitators, to the point that test prep and reading guides have become a multi-million dollar industry. estimates that the amount spent on test prep material for the SAT alone amounts to $100 million dollars annually.

Hillegass sold his business to Hungry Minds, Inc. in 1999 for $14 million dollars. However, still carries the following message from its founder:

Cliff’s Message to Students
A thorough appreciation of literature allows no short cuts. By using CliffsNotes responsibly, reviewing past criticism of a literary work, and examining fresh points of view, you can establish a unique connection with a work of literature and can take a more active part in a key goal of education: redefining and applying classic wisdom to current and future problems.  —Cliff Hillegass

Today’s Challenge: First Impressions

The editors of CliffsNotes put together a list of the ‘Ten Titles that Every Adult Should Read.’ See if you can match each of the opening lines below with the appropriate title from the list.

1. This is the story of Achilles’ rage.

2. Robert Cohn was once the middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.

3. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.

4. 124 was spiteful.

5. When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor ….

6. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

7. “Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.”

8. “Who’s there?”

9. Call me Ishmael.

10. Who is John Galt?

A. A Tale of Two Cities
B. The Sun Also Rises
C. War and Peace
D. Walden
E. The Sound and the Fury
F. Moby Dick
G. Beloved
H. The Iliad
I. Atlas Shrugged
J. Hamlet

Quotation of the Day: If you are not reading and thinking, it means that your windows looking to the ocean are closed! –Mehmet Murat ildan


Answers: 1. H, 2. B, 3. E, 4. G, 5. D, 6. A, 7. C, 8. J, 9. F, 10. I