One of the few things my library’s booksale won’t accept is Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. And yet they always turn up at the bottom of boxes amidst more worthy books; or a poor elderly person has lugged them from the other side of the river, and so we receive delivery of whole boxes of them. Fiona-Scott Norman, writing in The Big Issue 402, is perceptive, although typically merciless:
… the pointless horror of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Forty-seven years (1950-1997) of ‘simplifying’ bestsellers by cutting out style, passages that didn’t drive the plot and anything faintly racy… It is telling that these nutritionless, ‘uniquitous’ [?] tomes are now light years beyond valueless, and as difficult to dispose of as bins of radioactive waste. you canot sell them, you cannot give them away; op shops do not take them. They do not exude ‘retro chic’. They are soulless junk.
And yet I understand the impulse behind condensed books. I find too many books too long. I wish writers had cut them down, pared them till they are reduced to their essence. Of course, the condensations don’t reflect this, but instead a popular perception that plot is all there is when it comes to novels.
Interestingly, I think Fiona did her research on Wikipedia, but didn’t read carefully enough; from what I gather, Condensed Books continue as Reader’s Digest Select Editions.
Matthew Hodge said:
That’s a great article. I’ve always wondered about that phenomenon. They usually got people sucked in because the first volume you got would be totally free and would enter you in some sort of $100,000 sweepstakes (did I mention the free gift as well?). After that, they’d keep sending you one volume a month until you cancelled. Judging by the piles you see around the homes of the older Reader’s Digest set, I’d say most people took 1-2 years to realise they were being gypped and cancelled the subscription.
there is a lot of snobbery about readers digest condensed books. i’ve read both the original and the rd version of several books, and often find the rd version either preferable or indistinguishable, but always quicker. people rubbish them without even reading them, just assuming some sort of sacreligious destruction of the original has taken place. these condensations have mostly been undertaken in a thoughtful and skilful way by professionals, and generally approved by the original authors (though i’m not sure what the recompense is to these authors-they may be talking through their hip pockets). i collect both the fiction and non-fiction varieties. if you want to find out about something in detail, without getting snowed under, the encounters books are fantastic. on the fiction level, i recently read “the camerons” by robert chrichton, loved it, and have sourced the original novel to read at some time in the future. i prefer the rd version of “guernsey book club….”, and the original version of “mystery of the dog in the night time”.
i could go on but in summary i believe the rd condensed books suffer much of their criticism due to ignorance, which is ironic since they are a great source of knowledge.
Tina Ryan said:
I wish I knew where I could purchase some!
I have a box of 16 books. Great condition. LMK
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!