Reading for Short Attention Spans: Reader’s Digest Select Editions

I never cared much for condensed editions of books. For some reason, it feels like cheating to read the “CliffsNotes” or condensed version when you could put time and effort into reading the entire thing and get a better, more fulfilling reading experience.

Then I started living with a newborn. When you never know when he might wake up and need something, it is much easier to read a short book (like a BookShot, as I mentioned in my previous post) or something like Reader’s Digest Select Editions (known as Reader’s Digest Condensed Books before 1997).

Each volume contains four condensed novels written by popular authors. The four novels are typically of different genres, so there is usually something for everyone. Reader’s Digest has been publishing volumes of these books since the 1950s, so I can’t blame their emergence on people’s shortening attention spans today. I suppose they are a way for people to get a summary, if you will, of what is popular in the current market, kind of like those “Now That’s What I Call Music!” CDs that came out periodically and compiled all the Top 40 hits of the past several months.

So far, I have picked up two volumes of the Reader’s Digest Select Editions and finished one of the condensed books (The Things We Do for Love by Kristin Hannah). It was actually pretty nice to read a novel so quickly (even though that particular book was extremely sad). The book was broken up into very short sections (again, perfect for life with a newborn), so it was easy to put it down when I needed to do something else. Even so, as I finished the book, I wondered exactly what had been taken out of it to get it into its compact form. If I see the complete edition of the book in the library, I may take it out and read it to see just what was missing. Perhaps it was extraneous description or subplots that could have been removed without compromising the main plot.

I also wondered how difficult it is for the editors to condense the books and if the authors read through and give them the “OK” after they’ve been condensed. If someone was going to shorten something I’d written, I’d want to make sure they didn’t take out anything important.

Like BookShots, these condensed editions would be perfect for a plane ride or a quick read when you are missing reading but don’t have time to sit down with something requiring a lot of mental processing. Maybe they will become even more popular in this time of short attention spans. With four books under one cover, they are a little bulky, which might deter some readers, but I’m sure there is a way to read them on an electronic device, and if not, Reader’s Digest better get with the times.

Have you read any shortened novels from Reader’s Digest Select Editions? Did you enjoy them?

Reading for Short Attention Spans: BookShots

James Patterson, one of the most prolific authors writing today, created a series* of books called BookShots, which you’ve probably seen in airports or Walmart. They are very brief, no more than 150 pages each, and they’re designed to be action packed enough to keep you reading. Patterson didn’t write all the books himself; some are romances written by a bunch of different authors.

I recently read one of the BookShots, James Patterson’s Hunted, coauthored with Andrew Holmes. The chapters were super short, only a couple pages each, and that alone kept me turning the pages, even though I don’t normally care much for Patterson’s subject matter. Everything was very condensed, so there wasn’t much room for lots of character or setting development. The plot was actually good, well developed for such a short novel, even though there were a little too many gunshots and dead bodies for my taste.

BookShots would be a good idea for people who want to get into reading but don’t have a whole lot of time or energy to invest in longer novels. They cater well to the shortening attention spans of the American audience.

Personally, if I take the time to sit down and read, I want to be invested in the book, and most of the time, that requires something with complex characters and multiple subplots. Big fat books are very appealing to me, so BookShots seem like cheap shots. Yes, there is a time and a place for them, but they’re not the most satisfying reads in the world.

Have you read any BookShots? What did you think?

*It is not a series in the typical sense; it’s more a “style” of writing or a collection of different books that don’t all take place in the same universe.

Thursday Three #44

  1. There are only about 3 weeks left until the baby is due (give or take), and we have all the “stuff” we need, but I’m not ready. Supposedly that will all change when he is born, but I’ll have to see it to believe it.
  2. For some reason, I always end up reading Stephen King during the holidays, and I just finished his story collection Four Past Midnight. It is a good representation of King’s best work, and I found “The Library Policeman” to be the scariest thing I have read in a long time. Way scarier than some of his more recent stuff.
  3. This is a pretty interesting article on the danger of the addicting video game Fortnite. I’ve never played it and have no desire to, but it sounds like the addiction is comparable to what occurred with World of Warcraft or Runescape not too long ago. I wouldn’t say that Fortnite itself is the problem. The way the games are created (to foster addiction) is the problem.