Friday, June 12, 2015

"Would Reader's Digest Ever Condense SF Novels?" The Bitter Musings Of An Aging Reader.

Did you know Reader's Digest still publishes "condensed books"?


Man, those suckers used to be staples in weekender cottages and suburban bathrooms. I recall years when my parents returned from the annual Children's Hospital Book Sale with cartons full of these volumes. Reliable door-stoppers like Herman Wouk were rendered to more palatable page-counts. Quite the service, really.

Just a little tidbit of information I discovered this morning, since the question of their existence came to mind whenever I picked up something by Neil Gaiman.

It's not him -- it's me.
I've just pushed past the halfway-mark of American Gods, so the likelihood of completion is very high. But picking it up and opening the book is only always a conscientious decision on my part -- akin to picking up my guitar and practicing scales. Once I get rolling I usually find myself enjoying the activity. But more than 30 minutes of it is difficult to manage.

I'm not entirely sure what's going on, here.

A big part of it is readerly preference: as with Stephen King, I suspect a reader either loves Gaiman's work, or is indifferent to it. I've read (heard, rather) Gaiman's Anansi Boys, and pored through the first two volumes of The Sandman. He's clever with concepts, steers pointedly clear of prosaic pyrotechnics, yet still manages to evoke the surreal -- all very good reasons to become a Gaiman devotee.

And yet, no matter what the medium, I get impatient reading him. I don't, finally, invest myself in his characters. Once I've finished American Gods, I will almost certainly be finished with Gaiman.

Which is kind of painful to admit, because I pretty much adore the man's concepts. A war between the ancient pagan deities our ancestors imported from the homeland and the modern pagan deities we've created since is a kick-ass concept. But 500 pages is roughly 250 more than I'd care to read on the matter.

Blasphemy, I know. Gaiman's faithful don't just embrace the original content, but everything extra besides. They hardly need my aging eyes and addled brain among their august ranks. But if, say, Reader's Digest were to focus their quarterly efforts on Gaiman's catalogue, I might just join both companies.

Post-Script: Maybe Neal Stephenson is another "condensed books" candidate? And, hey: check out what this woman does with RDCBs. Pretty cool!

10 comments:

paul bowman said...

Hesitating to comment — but you already know I’m not the reader I could be. I do have the Sandman books, at any rate, and have spent a good deal of time with them. Not purely for pleasure at first; I tried to write a longish paper about comics, my last term of college in ‘98, and Sandman seemed like important material. (Undoubtedly I’ve told you something about this.) Naturally it was for pleasure too, but in the end, the books left me generally appreciative of Gaiman (and collaborators — some of them anyway), not longing for more. When I hear about American Gods, much as it sounds like stuff that should appeal to me on one level or another, I’m wary. It warrants attention, but does it warrant a place on the list? So far the answer’s no.

Darrell Reimer said...

If you apprised me of your Sandman fan-dom, I don't recall the conversation. Have you gone back to the books recently? What appealed/still appeals? Like I say, I've only read the first two volumes. There were some stand-alone issues that stood out -- pleasantly -- but the larger story-arc lost me in the second year. It could be I just need to stick with it. I'm certainly more willing to do that with comics than I am with just words on paper.

paul bowman said...

Well, memorable and affecting it certainly is, but I'm not exactly a fan of the series. I don't think I've talked about it very much. Just a couple of times that I can recall referring to it in posts. Once, a good while back, was about an artist I have remained kind of a fan of ever since, Kent Williams: http://quareidfaciam.net/kent-williams/. The other time was in some of the noodling about Hellboy: http://quareidfaciam.net/supermen/.

Why not a fan, though, probably isn't a simple discussion. I like both characters (a good handful of them anyhow) and story-arc, at least in outline. (More than I can say for the Mignolaverse, where it's really just characters and some elements of execution for me. Still, I'm more a Mignola fan than a Gaiman fan, funnily enough.) The question goes deeper than this, though, because I have an ex-fundamentalist's, would-be-Catholic's interest in mythologies, and sharp as Gaiman is, widely-read as he is, deft as he seems to be, I can't take him very seriously on the subject matter. Or rather, maybe, I want to take him more seriously than he intends or permits, and underneath what enjoyment there is in various of the stories, I'm always a little pissed at him. Maybe. It's complicated, bro. More to be said I expect.

Darrell Reimer said...

Yeah, there's always a trace of Gaiman's own coolness (in more than one sense of that word) that slips into the work. It tends to put me off as well. Which is somewhat hypocritical of me: were I to approach the same subject matter, I can't imagine adopting any other posture (to wit: my recent paganist puffery). Mignola's narratives strike me as the work of an improv artist. The deft ones (improv artists) cast a penetratingly deep and immediate appeal -- and Mignola is very deft.

Am grateful for the return to Kent Williams' gallery, btw. He's the real deal, isn't he? I'm seeing a bit of Egon Schiele, a little Lucien Freud, without the cynicism of either. I love it.

Darrell Reimer said...

Hm. Mr. G. yacks with Kazuo Ishigiro about the longevity of stories, among other things.

paul bowman said...

There's certainly more to say about Mignola. I think of him as related to the Jack Kirby Gaiman & Ishiguro briefly consider in the interview there, creator or intuitor, in a few strokes, of characters or types that others are going to return to in a bunch of ways.

What Kent Williams does with the human subject might be the opposite of what I'm thinking of as Kirby's and Mignola's sort of specialty. Small wonder that he didn't stick to comics, maybe.

Is this the box Gaiman's locked in, in a nutshell? — “I love the idea also that sometimes, if you’re actually going to write realistic fiction, you’re going to have to include fantasy. For example, having friends who are very religious and who live in worlds in which God cares about them, and their dead ones are watching them from heaven – these are normal, sane, sensible, 21st-century people, but if one were to write about their world, you would need to write in terms of something that would be recognisable as either magical realism or, possibly, fantasy.” Someone so well-read ought to be able to see much more in worlds of people who experience God as caring for them, you'd think.

By the way, Happy Birthday, Darrell. Whatever your secret is, keep it up.

Darrell Reimer said...

Thanks, man.

Yeah -- you could also say this quote tips his hand to reveal some of the fantasies he's concocted for himself. So maybe now the "SF" stands for "Solipsist"?

Susannah Black said...

So many things, except that Paul just got back here with his supplemental Mountain Dew. So I'll limit myself to this:

a) yeah, re Stephenson, except that would I really want less time with his stories & characters? They're sort of like those really demanding friends whom you none the less enjoy. Am towards the end of Reamde, and basically what I resent is the actual physical burden of the book. It's like five pounds. Paul, stop touching my leg.

b) re Gaiman, am a sucker. Got a lot of my theology from Good Omens before I had to ditch all that theology, but still enjoyed it.

Darrell Reimer said...

Susannah, I'm grateful you were able to fend off Paul's amorous advances long enough to weigh in on this matter.

Darrell Reimer said...

There is something "familiar" to Stephenson's writing, isn't there?