Sunday, March 20, 2011

In Praise of Reader's Digest Condensed Books and Toast

If you're much of a reader and not already on Goodreads, I enthusiastically suggest you check it out.  I always compare it to Facebook for readers, although you won't want the throngs of friends you may have on the former.  I keep my Goodreads circle to an intimate group of book club cronies and those whose opinions about books are of great interest to me - maybe two dozen or so.

While reading France magazine, I saw an interesting article about Toni Morrison (Song of Solomon, Beloved) and Michel Houellebecq (La Carte et le Territoire), who both recently received the prestigious Légion d'Honneur award in recognition of their contributions to literature.  I thought Houellebecq's novel, "a fictional account of artist Jed Martin's personal evolution as he achieves fame photographing Michelin maps," sounded interesting, so I hopped on the Goodreads app to add it as well as Morrison's books to my "to read" list.  I digress.

While on Goodreads, I saw the following review of Edge of Glass by Catherine Gaskin posted by my dear friend Heidi:

I was excited to find this story in a 1968 Reader's Digest Condensed Books Book. Is it just me, or are those books so comforting, like you're spending the weekend with your Grandma and as you read, she's making you some sort of delightful meal that somehow only she knows how to make? This is a super easy read, but really enjoyable.  

The review delighted me for several reasons: first, I simply adore Heidi and anything that comes from her brain.  Secondly, the book cover reminded me of the stereotypical 60s era Nancy Drew tomes, which was fun on its own.  Most importantly, though, I could relate specifically to her experience.
I used to spend summers at my grandparent's house in Mena, Arkansas, where I would blow dust off of and then devour their aging copies of Reader's Digest Condensed Books.  My grandmother would make me toast (not because I was incapable, because she was nice), and she would stack it on the plate with the buttered sides pressed together.  I found this ingenius, and it made the butter all warm and melty.  I took it as a particular gesture of kindness.  In fact, as I type this it occurs to me that I often feel a sense of surprise that my daughter doesn't realize what a tremendous favor I'm doing her when I do the same for her.  Or, perhaps like me, she does and never says anything - I didn't express that sentiment to my grandmother, but toast makes me think of her warmly (of course).

One of the books that I read as a condensed version was The Charm School by Nelson Demille.  I found it exceptionally intriguing, and years later bought a copy to read in its entirety, which I still have today.  I love the idea that a book can transport with not only its topic but the place and time you consume it - on deck on a sailboat in the Caribbean, by the shores of a quiet lake in Wisconsin or in a far less exotic and rather humble backyard under a tree on a spring day.

The Charm School remains in my short list of all-time favorite books.  It could be the story line, the memory, the sense of specific time and place or the feeling as a teenager that I was delving into adult-caliber reading.  Regardless, those are exceptionally strong sentiments, and Heidi's note brought them into a more brilliant light.

Here's to summer reading!


  1. After posting this, I read the following:

  2. How thrilled and honored I am to be mentioned in this post! "I simply adore Heidi and anything that comes from her brain."- this is now one of my most favorite accolades. You never fail to warm my heart, dear pal!
    much love,