Condensed Books

I read recently that George Orwell lamented that ‘the indiscriminate reading of books can be an exceptionally, thankless, irritating and exhausting job’. Pity the poor reviewer who reaches this point, seemingly caught up in a never ending whirlpool of books, trying to meet what seem to be impossible deadlines.

Like many avid book readers I usually feel a commitment to reading the whole book before passing any sort of judgement on its merits. Although, I have to admit that with some books landing on my desk, I probably feel a little like the reviewer at the halfway point, that speed-reading is the answer for the rest of the book.

Unfortunately, I’ve come across too many stories where excessive narrative interrupts the flow of the plot, as if the author has fallen in love with the power of description, rather than the story.

The Reader’s Digest Condensed Books book club, published after the Second World War for nearly 50 years, was very popular with readers who, presumably, were not inclined to read the full version of the original book. The concept was successful, with over a quarter million members joining the club to read books that, as the author, James Playsted Wood, put it: ‘retained the spirit and style the author had intended, in the shortened version.’

Which, in our current age, may explain James Patterson’s latest offering: BookShots, thrillers of less than 150 pages, aimed at readers who want to read a thrilling, page-turner for an hour or so, reaching the end as quickly as possible.

We live in a fast moving world where many of us are rushing around trying to get things done. Travelling to work, appointments we mustn’t miss, meeting deadlines, and so much more that contributes to a stressful day. But some travellers take advantage of the commuter train to read a book, contentedly turning the pages, engaging in another world, losing, if only for an hour or so, the daily stresses of our own world.  

This is the power of the printed word and the pleasure it offers to all of us.

Hopefully, BookShots and similar offerings will encourage more non-readers to explore the wonderful world of the printed book, long or short, and the great writers who produce them.

Just a final thought: The French novel Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus was published in ten volumes in the 17th century. Said to be by Georges de Scudery, but usually attributed to his sister Madeline, the novel at around 2 million words and over 13,000 pages long, is reputed to be the longest novel ever published. But who was ever brave enough to review it?

W.L.