Monday, July 18, 2011


And now comes the news that Reader's Digest is up for sale, and the company may break itself up (Reader's Digest publishes a large number of magazines), and there's no guarantee that Reader's Digest itself will continue.

From the time I was old enough to read, Reader's Digest was a mainstay in our house. Not only did my parents subscribe to the magazine, but both my parents and my grandparents had a selection of Reader's Digest Condensed Books on the shelves. (For those who missed out on that unusual bit of publishing history, Reader's Digest Condensed Books were just what the name implies: they offered abbreviated versions of recent books, generally edited to about half or two-thirds their length. I thought of it as the book version of a fast-forward on a VCR or DVR--it made it possible for people to condense the entertainment experience. Sure, authors hated the idea that someone else had thrown away portions of their work... but I guarantee you that it led to a lot of casual readers discovering authors that they liked enough to buy in individual volumes later on, because my parents and grandparents did just that.)

A lot of people described Reader's Digest as the best family magazine ever--lots of short articles on a variety of subjects, which meant that almost every family member could find something to read. My parents always kept a copy of Reader's Digest on the magazine rack for just that reason--if anyone in the family was bored, Reader's Digest was guaranteed to offer a few minutes of idle entertainment.

And Reader's Digest was a neighborly institution. When everyone was finished with an issue, it was never thrown away--instead, it was given to a neighbor so that the magazine could entertain others.

Today, if we want a lot of brief articles on a variety of subjects, we just click on internet links for a while--but in the pre-internet days, Reader's Digest was the best source for diverse reading. And I appreciated the fact that it, like the comics that I read as a child, it instilled positive ethical values and educated while entertaining.

Not sure that Reader's Digest will fail, but it's just one more bit of bad news for readers and for the publishing industry... and it's another part of my childhood that may be fading away.

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