Reader’s Digest books: Read and Digest

MikeachimThe Everyday14 Comments


It’s recently struck me that Reader’s Digest, one of the most popular magazines in the world, is a paper-based blog.

Staunchly populist – and conservative and anti-communist, depending on the era – the magazine has been publishing condensed news stories and adverts in a visually arresting fashion since 1922. It’s uncluttered, breezy and the kind of thing you’d read when you’re waiting to do (or putting off) something important. There are lots of adverts. The reader’s comments are important. It’s distinctly bloggy.

(As a 15 year old budding writer, it made me want to write in. I submitted a few pieces to their Laughter Is The Best Medicine column, hoping to win some pocketmoney. And…nothing. Evidently I’m not funny – or I am funny but wholly useless in conveying it).

But this post isn’t about the magazine – it’s about the books.


My gran had groaning shelves of Reader’s Digest Condensed Reads. While the family caught up on familial gossip downstairs over tea & biscuits, I’d work my way through the bookcases, looking for anything violent or racy. I was entranced. 4 books in one book! It was like something by M. C. Escher.  But then came the terrible, bleak day when I discovered the full meaning of the word “condensed”, and realised that these books had bits taken out (probably the violent and racy bits). It was worse than when I set my wind-up Evel Knieval on fire for the full-bore stunt spectacle – and discovered I couldn’t put him out. It was bad.

But there are the other books.

InSearchSouthPacificI’m reading one right now. It’s part of the People and Places series, and it’s called In Search Of Australia And The South Pacific. And I’m enjoying it immensely. The writing is superb and the photos magnificent. It’s the kind of coffee-table book that has you poring over it for hours, leading to awkward situations when it’s not your coffee table.

The thing is, most Reader’s Digest books are this good. It’s curious. You’d expect them to be plainly-written regurgitations of facts you’re wearily over-familiar with already. In my experience, that’s not the case. (Flaw in this argument: maybe I’m ignorant. Remedy: disregard entire blog post. Kthx). They’re usually high-quality overview reference books, the kind to bring your children up with. The good ones are well worth hunting down – particularly the atlases.


And the great things is that hunting them down is easy. As anyone knows who has received Reader’s Digest promotional material through their letterbox, or put differently, ‘As everyone knows’ – there are approximately 500 of these books written and published every second. Fact. And this has been going on for decades, so there are at least…oh, you work it out, I’m too busy thinking up my next ludicrous exaggeration for artistic effect.

There are so damn many of these usually damn fine books in circulation that all second-hand bookshops and charity shops in the West are stuffed with them. Amazon has barrowloads.  They’re everywhere. Close your eyes and walk ten paces with your arms outstretched: chances are, you’ll bump into one on the way. Another fact.

And they’re all like reading really good blogs. (The useful kind, not like my kind of blog).

So next time you’re browsing the shelves of your local tome-vendor, pull out the Reader’s Digest books and have a look. You might be pleasantly surprised.

This post was sponsored by….no, not really.

Images: thenoodleator, avern, phalinn.