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.