My fondness for Reader’s Digest condensed books

Many book reading enthusiasts don’t approve of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books format. I’ve read many so-called lovers of books make comments like, “Reader’s Digest condense books should be burned”, or “send them to the landfills and wipe them from existence.” For me, my collection of Reader’s Digests brings me such fond memories and appreciation, for without them, I would have missed out on enjoying a lot of really entertaining books.

My father was a very avid reader. Throughout my childhood I can recall him spending many evenings, after we kids all went to bed, reading a book in his comfy armchair, while Mom watched her evening dramas on television. I can recall that many of the books Dad read were from his Reader’s Digest subscription. In those days, we lived in a small community with not a lot of extra money to spend on extravagances, like books. So, the RD condensed books were very cost effective, as each volume contained four or five novels.

During my childhood, I wasn’t all that interested in reading books, but when I was older, I did start to read more. In my late 20s, there was a time when I had enough of paying the ever so increasing costs of cable television so, I decided to drop the whole thing and get a subscription to Reader’s Digest. If it was good enough for my dad, then it should do well for me, too. And, I actually did enjoy it.

Every few weeks a volume would show up in my mail box and I would read the stories that it contained. Many of the books in each edition would never have been something I would have went out and bought, myself. But, I still enjoyed reading the majority of them. And, because I’m such a slow reader, each collection of stories would last me well into my next delivery.

One of the things I appreciated most about the process of  “condensing” a novel was the removal of any gratuitous violence, explicit sex and vulgar language.  I grew up reading books, like Tarzan, Treasure Island, and Sherlock Holmes.  So, the books I enjoy most are the ones that don’t contain foul language and “adult” type content, which many authors today seem to enjoy using.  I just don’t think you need to use such techniques to make a story interesting.  So, I’m glad to know that Reader’s Digest editors tend to “condense” that sort of stuff out.

Another benefit, at least for me, that came with reading these condensed books is that I was able to finish each story without losing interest, which usually happened when I tried to read “regular” novels. Unless it was something I was particularly interested in, my interest would wander with over-detailed writing. Then, I would just give up on finishing the book, altogether.  This was probably why I didn’t enjoy reading in my youth. Maybe if I started reading Dad’s condensed books earlier, I would have felt differently.

Speaking of Dad’s collection, I have some of his Reader’s Digest condensed books, which he gave to me before his passing and I have put them with my own and cherish them greatly. After all of these years (some of his are from the early 70s) these hard covered books have held up really well. They’ve certainly held up much better than the paperbacks I have in my collection. So, there’s certainly good value for money, there.

In my opinion, the condensed book club service of Reader’s Digest has done a great job at exposing so many people to the wonderful world of books and reading. The products they produced were of good quality and good value for money. And during the days before the all powerful Internet and the disposable world that it has ushered in, many people who didn’t have easy access to books still got to read because of the Reader’s Digest. To say that the world would have been better off without their books is very short sighted and, quite frankly, insulting.  If you have RD condensed books and don’t want them, don’t let them go to waste, send them to me!  I’ll read them and display them proudly on my bookshelf.

But, what ever the case, I’m very fond of my collection of Reader’s Digest books and to look at them on the shelf brings me such warm and loving memories of my father. My world would not be the same without them. I miss you, Dad.

I happened across this respectful article, by Phillip Marchand, Remembering the Reader’s Digest Condensed Library.  Seems like I’m not the only one in the world that enjoys theses books.

Join the Conversation

  1. your article brought me back memories.. I was the only avid reader in my family/neighborhood…

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I’m glad that the article brought back some memories for you. I hope that they were all good memories. For me, even though computers and digital content has been such a major part of my life and career, there’s nothing that can replace the joy of reading from a book…. condensed or otherwise. 😉

  2. “Another benefit, at least for me, that came with reading these condensed books is that I was able to finish each story without losing interest, which usually happened when I tried to read “regular” novels.”

    Reading novels in their original unmolested form teaches you longer attention span and you seem to have missed this opportunity to learn an important life skill. This seems to be the norm in 2021AD when everything has to be instant, free, copyable and usually dumbed down to please the ever growing short-span majority.

    Back in the day I did try to read these versions of books, but when I re-read a couple of books I had read in their original full form I realized that everything that actually made the story alive and vividly painted on the canvas of my imagination were missing, only the core was left alas in somewhat reduced to an almost meaningless shadow of the original piece of art. What brought the story into this conclusion? Who are these people and what is their backgrounds and motivations, what drives them to act the way they do?

    A good story and it’s surroundings has to be built, even short stories which may be just a few thousand words long can build an universe not known to mankind with just a few sentences, hence this is the hardest form of literature art but extremely rewarding in its purest form.

    But not chopped and dumbed down by an editor.

    I think you pretty much fool yourself thinking you are reading *books* when you pick up one of these chopped down versions, It’s like cutting everything else but the smile off Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and calling it a painting.

    It’s excellent you do read, but maybe you should give an actual novel another try.

    Just my 2 cents.

    1. Thank you for sharing your opinion with me. I understand your point, but I don’t think I’ve “fooled myself” of anything. There’s also plenty of authors out there who just seem to want to show you how smart they are or just cater to their own egos and include a bunch of waffle to a story that really bring nothing important to the table. Or they just need to fill out a novel to please the publisher.

      This happens a lot these days with franchise authors. You can see it happening from novel to novel. The first one is interesting and holds the reader’s attention. But, as the franchise goes on, the books are just filled with pointless drivel, with a story that could have been told in two “good” novels, rather than three or four drawn out books. The Eragon series, by Christopher Paolini, is a great example of this and is foremost in my mind as I’ve just read them recently. Books three and four of this series was utterly boring and could have been told in one book, or even in the second book of the series. Obvious to me, this author just caved in to the publishers and wrote to sell books, not to tell a good story. I probably would have enjoyed the series more with some good “condensing”. Knowing how to forge a sword in such detail really didn’t give the story any more depth for me. I can appreciate the Mona Lisa without having to know how it was painted. LOL!

      The other thing I don’t really appreciate is some of the language and gratuitous details some authors use in their writing when it comes to sex or violence. It’s good enough for me to know that a murder was committed with a knife (for example) and I don’t need to know what organs were cut out in the process (unless it’s an important part of the plot). So, I know that, for the most part, a murder mystery in an RD condensed book isn’t going to turn my stomach when I read it.

      I have read that some authors actually liked what Reader’s Digest editors had done with their books… so it isn’t just me. 😉