Abridged Books and the Friends of the Library Book Sale
Originally published April 7, 2019 in the Chillicothe Gazette
by James Hill
“A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read,” said Mark Twain. I understand that. I love to read and do it daily, but there are some books that I end up skimming.
Although far from a classic, I recently picked up the James Patterson/Bill Clinton book, The President is Missing. It’s not my normal fare, but it was the most checked out book in the library system last year and I thought I’d give it a try. Less than halfway through though, I started reading just the first line of every paragraph. Then I started skipping paragraphs. Maybe I was just impatient, but I honestly don’t think I missed anything. The whole exercise got me thinking about abridged books.
Remember Reader’s Digest Condensed Books? They are quickly recognizable, uniform in size with red, brown, and blue cloth and gilded lettering. Each volume contains four or five pared-down popular novels—think Sidney Sheldon, Belva Plain, Alex Hailey. The main story is there, but without all the hubbub and superfluous text, presumably. In middle school, I remember reading a couple off my grandmother’s shelf; Time and Again by Jack Finney comes to mind.
At one time, these books were ubiquitous. You found them in every thrift store and at every yard sale. Their popularity, no doubt, was due the ease of the acquisition (mail order), the price (cheaply produced), and the fact that someone else was selecting the titles for you. They were popular authors, seldom classics, occasionally nonfiction, and easily digestible.
I’ve worked in public libraries for over thirty years and you could always count on an abundance of condensed books being donated to the library (along with back issues of “National Geographic”). Although there was a time when public libraries bought abridged large print and audio books (mostly because the publisher had to make the story fit), abridged regular print books were never something most public libraries added to the collection. So, inevitably, the “Reader’s Digest” books went to the Friends group for their book sales.
Nowadays, seeing a condensed book is rare. “Reader’s Digest” quit publishing their collections in 1997. Online sales are the new books-by-mail. How long until nostalgia kicks in and folks are clamoring for a complete set? You can already find them on eBay.
This is National Library Week and the Friends of Library’s annual book sale starts on Wednesday with a preview sale for members at 4 p.m. (and yes, memberships are available on site for $3). The sale runs through Saturday, April 13 until 12:30 p.m. in the Main Library Annex. For a complete schedule, visit the events page at www.crcpl.org. Prices are a reasonable fifty cents per title or $5 for a box full. There are thousands of books for sale and you never know what you’ll find, maybe even a condensed book or two.
James Hill is the Director of Chillicothe and Ross County Public Library and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 740-702-4162.