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View Full Version : Readers Digest condensed books. How did they work?



underthecity
02-22-2010, 02:09 AM
There was a thread in B&BC about Readers Digest possibly going under, and some talk about their condensed books they used to sell.

I remember my grandparents having these, but I never read them.

How did those work, exactly? How were they "condensed" and why? What was wrong with the full versions? What was cut out from them? Subplots? Dialogue? Characters? And who did that cutting?

And what did the original authors think of the condensing?

I've always wondered this.

backslashbaby
02-22-2010, 02:20 AM
I don't know why, but I remember these!

I read them when I was younger because my parents had a few. I remember a spy story that I knew a lot about from reading, but my dad had read the actual novel and it sounded like a good read in its entirety.

Have you ever heard a book on tape that's been abridged? It takes fewer hours to listen to. A bit like a movie version of a book sometimes.

Interesting question! I like them fine if the author gives their OK, although nothing can replace the entire book.

Medievalist
02-22-2010, 02:21 AM
RD editors; cut for word length, and anything was up for grabs. Stuff that didn't drive the plot, for instance. They wouldn't add anything other than tiny grammar issues if they cut out part of a sentence, but most of the cuts were sentence or paragraphs in length. Anything "racy" was cut, btw. Not so much literary "classics" as popular fiction. And authors got royalties and a chunk of money upfront.

BrooklynLee
02-22-2010, 02:41 AM
This reminds me of the first time I read "Little Women." Actually, I learned later, it was a severely abridged copy of the book, though I don't know if it was a Reader's Digest version.

Anyway, someone had given it to me as a gift, and I read it in grade school. A few years later I was reading a contemporary young adult novel that referred to a character wanting to make herself cry so deciding to read "the part in Little Women where Beth dies."

I was like, WHAT?????

I went to the library and took out the book, and discovered that the copy I had at home was not remotely complete.

I've not been a fan of abridged versions ever since.

Jamesaritchie
02-22-2010, 03:11 AM
They mostly worked pretty well. One huge advantage of condensing the books was that two or three, sometimes even four, novels could be published in a single book.

Many were kids books, otehr were for adults, but were really aimed at older adults, or for those who really aren't big readers, as well as anyone with a hectic lifestyle.

Essentially, they turned novels into novellas, and usually did a pretty darned good job. You can still find bazillions of these things at rummage sales, Goodwill, and in retirement communities.

Matera the Mad
02-22-2010, 03:11 AM
The RD books might make good examples of over-editing. :)

Jamesaritchie
02-22-2010, 04:12 AM
The RD books might make good examples of over-editing. :)


I think they make a better example of hor you can tell any story at any length. Most I've read were good enough that'd you'd never know they were condensed, unless you read the original version.

the addster
02-22-2010, 07:27 PM
My folks had a ton of those, my mom bought them because they looked good in the shelves in the living room. You know, hard bound, all the same size. That's how my folks thought of books, as decorative. I don't think actually reading them ever occurred to them.

I did read them. Like others have said, they told the story. I do have to say they did give a rather eclectic knowledge of 1960's popular books.

Grrarrgh
02-22-2010, 08:23 PM
I remember these. I didn't realize they were condensed at first, then once I figured it out I stopped reading them. I really don't like condensed versions of anything. I want to read all of what the author wanted me to read. Well, all of it that got past the editors & publishers, anyway. :)

maestrowork
02-22-2010, 08:48 PM
I used to read them and they were still too "difficult" for me back then. LOL. I then started to read abridged versions. Now I can read the real things.

Did I get an A in English or what?

backslashbaby
02-22-2010, 08:56 PM
I used to read them and they were still too "difficult" for me back then. LOL. I then started to read abridged versions. Now I can read the real things.

Did I get an A in English or what?

You put us to shame, dammit! Yeah, that's an A :D

Sargentodiaz
02-22-2010, 09:52 PM
I had to be six or seven when I first started reading. My favorite was when the Reader's Digest came in, followed by the one with all the abridged stories. I think those editors were awesome because, even after reading the short version, I'd later read the whole things with as much enjoyment as if it was new.
I also loved Life, Look and the other magazines that came in every month - and don't forget my grandmother's huge collection of National Geographic.

Claudia Gray
02-22-2010, 10:20 PM
I read them all the time when I was a kid -- four novels would be contained in one hardcover, and my grandparents had subscribed to them; I think you would get four of the compilations in a year, and they'd probably been doing that for decades. Although the concept doesn't appeal to me at all now, it was actually a pretty good way to get a young kid reading adult books.

IceCreamEmpress
02-23-2010, 12:33 AM
And what did the original authors think of the condensing?


Obviously they were on board with the idea, or it wouldn't have happened. It was a big paycheck for little work from the author (the condensing was done by in-house folks at Reader's Digest) and it's not like it would cannibalize your other sales, because the people reading the condensed books weren't generally book-buyers.

Shadow_Ferret
02-23-2010, 02:15 AM
Reader's Digest might be going out of business? :(

I love their short humor pieces.

KathleenD
02-23-2010, 02:33 AM
This reminds me of the first time I read "Little Women." Actually, I learned later, it was a severely abridged copy of the book, though I don't know if it was a Reader's Digest version.

Anyway, someone had given it to me as a gift, and I read it in grade school. A few years later I was reading a contemporary young adult novel that referred to a character wanting to make herself cry so deciding to read "the part in Little Women where Beth dies."

I was like, WHAT?????

I went to the library and took out the book, and discovered that the copy I had at home was not remotely complete.

I've not been a fan of abridged versions ever since.

I'm struggling to imagine how on earth you could condense Little Women to the point of leaving out Beth's death and have it make any sense at all.

aadams73
02-23-2010, 03:11 AM
I'm struggling to imagine how on earth you could condense Little Women to the point of leaving out Beth's death and have it make any sense at all.

I'm scratching my head over that one, too. It's only, you know, a massive plot point.

Claudia Gray
02-23-2010, 09:36 AM
I thought Beth died in Good Wives. Am I wrong? Haven't reread in forever.

IceCreamEmpress
02-23-2010, 10:28 PM
No, she dies in Little Women.