Tell me what you think about Cliff's Notes

I am taking a class on Homer’s Iliad, I have about a month to finish the book (I just finished the introduction) and I can already sense the huge mass of characters that are going to be developed and wars fought etc…

I am considering picking up the Cliff’s Notes for this book, but I have never used them before.

I am just wondering if anyone here has used them. Do you think they help with comprehension, or do you think that it overwhelms you with someone elses opinion? I don’t want my own thoughts to be pushed aside you know what I mean?

I don’t NEED them but I think it might be nice. I dunno, what do you think?


Buy it!

Man I don’t know what I would’ve done in college without ol’ Cliffy.

I never actually substituted the Cliff’s Notes for the actual book (well, maybe a chapter or two of “The Mill on the Floss,” but c’mon), but it’s just handy to have character profiles, chapter summaries, etc. I always thought it made the book easier to comprehend in a short period of time-- and let’s face it, they don’t usually give you much time to savor a good book in college.
But, don’t let yourself get lazy and only read the CN. Most good teachers and professors have ways of finding out.


I love Cliff. I would bear one of Cliff’s children in gratitude for getting me out of reading “Wuthering Heights” (I tried to read the actual book, I really did!). We should circulate a petition and send it to the Pope demanding that Cliff be beatified as the Patron Saint of College Students.

You definitely want the Cliffs for Illiad, trust me, I had to read the damn thing. Cliffs puts the translation in plain English.

Cliff is real good as a study aid. As others have mentioned, I wouldn’t use it as a substitute for the actual reading, though.

You all are a bunch of whiners. I had to read the damn thing in the original Greek. Let me tell you, chapter two with it’s endless listings of how many boats were there, what was on each boat, who was on each boat, how many hairs were on the head of each person on the boat… sheeesh!

GMRyujin did you read Robert Fagles translation? I have to say that it is amazingly coherent so far considering it was translated from ancient greek…

My biggest problem is keeping track of which god is which and who is a son of who and who killed who and what who likes for breakfast etc… =)

What do I think?

They’re mental baby food.

Or training wheels.

Or somthing that’s infantile and shows that you’re not ready for the real thing.

Yes, I teach English. Why?

Hey, I used 'em in HS and college, I majored in English, I did very well in school, and I’m doing just fine in the real world.

If they help people understand what they’re reading (I found Plato’s The Republic interesting, but confusing. Cliffy Baby helped me comprehend what the hell I was reading.), I say they’re a good thing. Not a substitute to reading the book, or participating in class discussions, but just a valuable study tool.

For me it was Shakespeare. I know he’s considered one of the greatest writers ever, but I could never get into any of his stories that I was assigned to read/study.

While I love to read, Shakespeare has just never captured me the way he does for many English teachers. If he’d just have written in ‘normal’ English maybe I could’ve wrapped my mind around his stories! :smiley:

I took great pleasure in the fact that I did very well on tests covering several of his plays in high school after being told by the teacher that we would fail the tests if we only read the Cliff’s Notes.

I only used them as a backup resource if I just couldn’t “get” what was going on. I had trouble with some of Shakespeare’s plays in school and I found that referring to Cliffs notes was more help than rereading the same passage over and over.

I always thought they were a good idea–in theory. I never needed them, but I figured that if I did, they’d get me out of a jam.

Then I picked up the Cliff’s Notes on T.S. Eliot.

My. God. They stank. I was about 17, and had read just about all of Eliot’s work, and all I could think is, “Wow, the author must have spent five whole minutes thinking about the interpretation before giving up and returning to his “Dick and Jane” collection.”

I have no doubt that the summaries are accurate enough to pass a fairly general quiz. However, if you’re going to do any sort of real interpretation–rather than just copying EVERYTHING that the author of the notes says, which can get you caught by any number of experienced teachers who don’t take kindly to those who steal others’ ideas–you need to read the text. You can’t necessarily get nuances from a summary. I mean, it’s possible, but I don’t think it’s bloody likely.

On the rare occasion that I use notes, the only ones I’ll trust are Spark Notes. And only then if the teacher’s being a jerk (20 full-length works in less than a month, and nothing the rest of the semester…I have time for THAT with my five other classes and my job that I need in order to pay for things like gas). Those are fairly accurate, but you still shouldn’t depend on them for interpretation.

I believe in either reading the book, or faking reading the book–not relying upon someone else’s work. Don’t get me wrong, I can BS with the best of 'em, but BSing what you haven’t read on your own through your own creativity is an art form. Using Cliff’s Notes to steal an interpretation is like using a crayon and tracing paper to copy a work done by a seven year-old. And we’re all better than that.

Lazy tool of a weak mind, those Cliff’s notes. Says so in the scriptures, it does.
(im gonna stop channelling Obadiah Hakeswill now.)

Wow thats pretty critical!

Anyway, maybe i’m not ready for the real thing. Homer’s Iliad is not your typical bike, it’s an epic poem! I’m not exactly hip on epic poetry myself so I might just need some training wheels, and I ain’t afraid to admit it dag nabit! =)

You deserved every second of it! You offered Paris the chance to take large parts of the Greek world via conquest, including the city of Athenians, just to get him to say you were the fairest goddess. Tsk tsk tsk. On the other hand you guided Diomed’s spear to pierce the skin of Aries. You’re not so bad.


Yea, that’s the one I was stuck with. Not as bad as the damn Song of Roland, the middle third of which is, IIRC, nothing but an inventory of who brought what. I found the Notes for Iliad useful to break through all the translation and get a plain-English “This is what happens”, so when I read the section, I could go “Oooooooh! THAT’s what’s going on.”

Cliffs Notes has no apostrophe. However, it should, because there really is a person named Cliff who founded the company.

I resent them when used to skip reading the book, but love them and use them myself when it comes to understanding what has been read. I occassionally try to tackle classics instead of the usual crap I read, and I long for the kind of explanation I used to get in English classes. Cliffs Notes helps substitute.

I am sorry some of you think this means I have a “weak mind.” I don’t think I’m a moron; however, I don’t always catch symbolism and I’m not well-read enough to understand certain themes or patterns that might be apparent to someone who tackles such stuff more often. I think I get more out of a book when I have that sort of assistance. Do I also have a ‘weak mind’ for finding I get more out of book after discussing it at book club?

Alas, it is no longer possible to have Cliff’s babies, SnoopyFan because he passed away a few years ago. He was a wonderful man and a generous philanthropist. I’m sorry so many literature teachers have such awful feelings about him. Understandable, though, perhaps.

I work for the company that publishes Cliffs Notes, please buy them. :wink:

Teachers who complain about Cliffs notes are the ones with weak minds, says I!

It’s just jealously. Students shouldn’t be learning from anyone but you, eh? :smiley:

But seriously, there’s nothing wrong with study aids, just as long as the student remembers that “aids” is the important word.

Weak-minded English teacher checking in …

The problem with Cliffs Notes (and training wheels) is that it’s too easy to become dependent on them. They allow students to remain intimidated by the text when they’d be much better served by confronting it head-on – being confused by it, struggling with it, looking up unfamiliar words and references, drawing up their own set of study notes, and eventually making some sort of sense out of it. This process is probably the only way to get comfortable with a literary text; it also happens to be what the study of literature is all about. (The “end product” – a particular interpretation of the text – is secondary.) Besides, it’s too easy to fall into the trap of believing that the interpretation in the Cliffs Notes is the “correct” one and that any other way to read the book is “wrong,” when virtually any book complex enough to be assigned in class will have room for multiple readings. (And frankly – based on the handful of Cliffs Notes I’ve read – I think they do the “classics” a disservice by treating them with too much reverence. Students are allowed to dislike Shakespeare or Wuthering Heights. They just have to come up with a thoughtful, original explanation of why, and that, of course, means they have to read and engage the text for themselves.)

That said, I have no problems with students using study guides for basic, factual information – plot outline, capsule explanations of things like who Agamemnon is and where he comes from, that sort of thing. It’s when they get into interpretation that they rob students of the process of figuring these things out for themselves.