Reader's Digest Condensed Books show up at the store like a never ending line of lemmings--marching to extinction with the help of my hands. They're the only books that I can put out on the free shelf and know that they'll stay there until someone needs books for the set of a high school play or an art project. They're the only books that I never feel guilty about when I take them out of circulation.
"Jump!" I say, as I drop them over the cliff of the dumpster. But it didn't stop the lemmings and it doesn't stop the books. Try as I might, I can't keep up with them.
I wasn't all that familiar with Reader's Digest books until I opened the store. Growing up in the 50's, I had seen them on the bookshelf at my parents' house and have vague memories of them arriving in the mail for a few years in my childhood. But, mainly my parents were library goers. And thrifty. Even the promise of "four books for the price of one," couldn't keep them subscribed for long.
When they started arriving at the store, there was a part of me that thought I should hold on to them because at some point they were going to be collectables. Particularly at the rate that people seemed to be getting rid of them. They were the first thing I saw at garage sales and thrift stores. You couldn't go to an estate sale without seeing a shelf full. People dropped them off anonymously in front of the store and ran.
"They're fading away like the olive green shag carpet and pink toilets of the 60's," I thought. Except that they weren't.
They're hanging in there like Elvis. And, to my surprise, they just keep coming--still available by subscription, in hard cover of paperback editions, although they're now now called Select Editions.
I'm a firm believer that reading anything is good. Want a western? Go for it. A romance? Okay with me. You learn something from everything. And reading is for entertainment too. Maybe condensed books have a place in there.
But as I dabble with writing, the very idea of condensed books bothers me. I find it hard to believe that if I ever managed to write an actual book, I'd happily agree to let someone cut 3 out of every 4 words I had labored over. It doesn't seem like something to be happy about.
Getting an agent, yes. Seeing your words in bound form, yes. But getting a call from Reader's Digest saying they want to cut your book by three-fourths. That seems like an insult to writers and readers.
"Four Books for the price of one."
"Not exactly," I think, as I head out to the dumpster.