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?