Monday, June 22, 2015

For some reason, I remembered Reader's Digest Condensed Books today. I think it's because my parents subscribed to this service (although I never saw them crack a volume), and I first read Jaws in Condensed Book form. (I'm off to see Jaws on the big screen on Wednesday.)

Reader's Digest was founded in 1924 by US Army soldier DeWitt Wallace, who wanted something to read while convalescing from shrapnel wounds. His idea was to take existing content from popular magazines, and edit it down or even rewrite it into condensed form. Wallace was conservative and anti-communist, and the articles he chose for the magazine reflected this.

Each issue contained 30 articles (one per day), as well as a lengthier article (usually an excerpt from a recent fiction novel). Original content included "Word Power" (a vocabulary page), "Amazing Anecdotes" (seven or eight believe-it-or-not paragraphs), "Personal Glimpses" (seven or eight paragraphs of pithy personal observation from well-known authors), "Laughter the Best Medicine" (seven or eight paragraphs of real-life humorous occurrences), ("Humor in Uniform" (seven or eight paragraphs of funny stories from military life), "Life in these United States" (seven or eight paragraphs of folksy occurrences). The table of contents was on the front page, and the back page was usually a popular piece of 20th century art.

In 1950, Reader's Digest began abridging current novels and publishing them as Reader's Digest Condensed Books. Each volume contained five novels, although a large minority of volumes contained three, four, or six novels. Nearly all the novels were American, although a few were not. Nearly all the novels were recent, although occasionally there would be abridgements of new editions of older works.

Initially, there were four volumes a year, but in 1973 this expanded to five volumes a year and six volumes a year in 1991. The name was changed to Reader's Digest Select Editions in 1997.

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