I didn’t read the book till I was in college. My first exposure to Les Miserables was the musical. My mother was always playing the soundtrack and when I heard it I thought “that just sounds like a lot of people over-singing for two hours, why would I want to read about that?”
What were your first thoughts on the book? At first I was confused. The first 60 pages of the unabridged book are all about the Bishop. I found it odd that Victor Hugo would spend so long developing a character who has such a small role in the story. Then as I read the rest of the story, I realized that the entire book reflects what happens with the Bishop in the beginning. When I finished reading the book, I couldn’t help but cry. It is truly a story of redemption.
Why Les Miserables?
It’s the only book I’ve been drawn back to over and over again. I’ve read the unabridged version three times and I’ve read four other abridged versions. I love watching each character have their moment, their crisis. This is a story about character, about belief and change. Do we really believe and live that which we profess? When it’s all on the line, who are we? I chose this book because the story is that impressive, and because the unabridged book is very difficult to read. There are hundreds of pages that the author admits, have nothing to do with the plot. And why a kid version? My daughter, who is now nine, asks me to make up a bedtime story almost every night. One night, years ago, when I was too tired to be creative, I decided tell her the first part of the story, Les Miserables. Night after night I told her the next part of the story. She LOVED it. She would beg me each night to continue saying “tell me more about Jean!” So during the day I started reviewing the book so I’d be ready to tell the story for that night. My other kids joined in and I told the stories to them as well. After seeing how much they enjoy my favorite book, I wanted to make this possible for other parents and their kids. I tried to write my version so that each chapter could be a short bedtime story.
What ages do you suggest this book is best for?
A ten year old could read this book. I think it could be read by an adult to a 6 or 7 year old and be thoroughly enjoyed. I hope that adults who have wanted to read the tale, but never had the time for thousands of pages, will pick this up and read it as well.
What is your favorite movie version of the book?
I know this answer is going to get me in trouble, but I like the 1998 version with Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and Claire Danes. It delivers the message of the book, even while cutting out massive parts of the plot. Geoffrey Rush really understands his character, and makes you believe his internal struggle.
Your favorite songs from Les Mis?
Who Am I, The Confrontation, One Day More, and Bring Him Home. These songs are the emotional crux of the whole show, and show the moments of change, the moments of decision.
I think there are so many lessons you can learn from this book. What do you think is the greatest lesson a reader can learn from Les Mis?
People can change. No matter what they’ve done, how old they are, or how set in their ways: People can change. Give them the chance. Give yourself the chance.
So, I know you are a father to 4, medical resident (recently graduated!), teacher at church, training for a marathon…basically super busy….so when did you find time in your busy schedule to work on this book?
Sadly – a lot of patients don’t show up for appointments. So over the last seven years, between those 30 minutes breaks during the day, and then quiet moments at night after the kids have gone to bed, I worked on Les Miserables and other projects.
For your own personal reading, what is your favorite genre? Why?
I don’t really have one. I read in cycles. I read a fun fast read, then a personal improvement book, then something for my profession. So I’ll read Harry Potter, then the Tao Te Ching, then a book on therapy. I like joining book clubs so that I’ll read books outside my usual comfort zone.
Do you think you will write another book?
Definitely. I’ve already written one, a biography of a founding father. We’ll see if I can ever find a publisher. I enjoy writing. I enjoy getting thoughts down on paper, and then trying to refine it and distill my thoughts down to their core, to the most important point.
How did the process of editing a book go for you? Versus writing a book from scratch? Did you find it easier because you already know the plot lines and characters, or harder because you had to condense such a long novel down to a children/easier to read version?
I started abridging the book for my own use. I read the unabridged version a few times, and it had too many parts that weren’t worth re-reading every single time. But every abridged version I found left too much out. So I abridged it for myself. I made my own version, perfect for me, which was about 900 pages. Then I thought I’d make one for teenagers, so they brought it down to about 450. Then telling the story to my own kids made my write this version, less than 200 pages. I found that condensing the story bit by bit made it much easier. I was able to keep many plot elements and characters because I had refined them bit by bit, version by version. I hadn’t hacked away at the book in huge swaths; I had surgically refined it bit by bit over seven years.