Our resident hound asked, “How would you feel if Reader’s Digest abridged one of your novels? What reservations (if any) might you have?
My parents had a subscription to Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, and I remember spending lots of time dusting them off. I read a few, but sadly not many. When we moved my mom out of the house where she’d lived over fifty years, I sold most of the collection to a woman who created decorative items like those shown here.
I understand that the series has now been renamed. It’s now called Reader’s Digest Select Editions, and they no longer have those distinctive black spines with the four title plates on the spine. Now, they look more colorful, and don’t seem to come in a uniform size.
Since most of the stories I write are considered short stories or novellas, I sincerely doubt that Readers Digest would even consider one of them. The Samurai’s Garden is my only book that fits the novel category, and at 60,000 words it’s still shorter than most popular novels. But IF one of my stories would be recognized in this way, I would be extremely honored. According to Wikipedia, “The Reader’s Digest Select Editions are a series of hardcover fiction anthology books, published bi-monthly and available by subscription, from Reader’s Digest. Each volume consists of four or five current bestselling novels selected by Digest editors and abridged (or “condensed”) to shorter form to accommodate the anthology format.” So that means that to even be considered, my book would be among one of the top-selling books for that year, which would in itself be amazing.
Would I be bothered at having my work “condensed”? Absolutely not. I trust Reader’s Digest to retain the heart of the story. Millions of potential new readers would have my book in their homes. I was about to conclude this post with a dig at people who are so in love with their own words that they can’t stand to have them changed, but decided that wouldn’t be very nice. Instead, I went looking for documentation from those who oppose the idea of having their words condensed. I discovered an article written by Otis McBride in the Peabody Journal of Education called “The Problem of Condensed Books” and thanks to my connection with the university nearby I was able to download it.
I read the article twice, because I wanted to understand exactly what specific objections the author had against condensed books. I THINK he was saying that readers generally skim anyway, and students should be taught to get mentally condense the content of the original works as they’re reading. But he said a lot of other things that seem to support the idea of professional editors doing the condensing. He does acknowledge that the authors of these books are generally happy with the job Reader’s Digest did in condensing their books, and I’m quite sure I would be in that category. The article concludes with the admonishment that condensed books are a serious problem, and that the only way to combat it is for teachers to guide their students toward making good reading choices: “We need to give good counsel, we need rapport with our students, we need to help in guiding their reading, encouraging their reading, stimulating their reading.” McBride, O. (1966). The problem of condensed books. Peabody Journal of Education, 44(3), 132-135. doi:10.1080/01619566609537411
The only thing missing from the argument was specific ideas for HOW to accomplish the task of discouraging students from reading Cliff’s Note versions of books rather than the books themselves. Since my target audience as an author is not made up of students whose lives may be impacted by what I write, I’m going to go ahead with my original notion and say that I would be pleased as punch to be included in a Reader’s Digest anthology of any kind, no matter how many of my words an editor decides to cut.