So farewell then to one of the great pleasures of my youth and one to which I was very much planning to return in my old age – the Reader’s Digest UK.

After 86 years, this – may we say iconic? I think we may – monthly publication has called in the administrators, citing the notoriously challenging magazine market in this upended era of the internet as the reason for its decline and final fall. No more Amusing Anecdotes, Humour in Uniform, Points to Ponder, Quotable Quotes or Personal Glimpses. You will have to find other ways to prove that It Pays to Increase Your Word Power and move yourself Toward More Picturesque Speech.

The satisfyingly chunky issues of Reader’s Digest (if you haven’t had the pleasure, they were half the size of a standard magazine format and about twice as thick) became a famous staple of doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms almost from its inception.

It was founded in 1922 by Dewitt and Lila Bell Wallace, two years after they got married, and was launched from the basement of a speakeasy in Greenwich, New York. Not the most obvious home for a staunchly conservative magazine, but it didn’t stop it becoming a phenomenon. Within seven years it was pulling in $900,000 a year, via 290,000 subscribers, and was well on the way to becoming the international bestseller that would peak with over 23 million readers worldwide.

I became one of them at about the age of eight, when I discovered my grandma’s collection, neatly stacked on top of and below her bedside table. They were just the right size for my childish hands and I quickly became absorbed by the seductive mixture of quizzes, features and dramatic real life stories that seemed so long to my young self then that it would be many years before I realised that the Digest was in the business of condensing books – indeed, digesting them, one might say – rather than commissioning original stories.

No matter. I read about the intricate workings of the eye, the discovery of a woman’s brain tumour by the strangely hollow sound she heard when she scratched a certain spot on her scalp and, best of all, the true life tale of a man called Poon Lim. His merchant ship was torpedoed during the Second World War and he survived for 133 days at sea on a life raft before he was rescued by collecting rainwater in a canvas jacket, fashioning fishing hooks out of a torch wire and nail, drying the fish over a hemp line and drinking the blood of seabird he caught after a storm wrecked all his precious provisions. I had never read a true-life tale before and its details have lived in me for nearly 40 years. I would love to read it again. I suppose I could track down the book it came from on the internet, but that seems rather inappropriate in the circumstances.

A digest is a taster for a multitude of things – more than you could, for most of history, easily lay hands on via your own efforts. Those chunky tomes brought me myriad delights and exposed me to stories, scientific discoveries, daft jokes and family anecdotes (probably too many of which I still remember 40 years on, instead of where I put my keys, the Christmas decoration and…and…that thing, you know, that I need for the doodah. It’ll come to me).

Reader’s Digest will be remembered with great affection by millions. Without it we are that little less civilised, that little less well off, that little bit more dependent on the internet and to being worn to a single, homogenous mass by its algorithms. I learned “homogenous” from It Pays to Increase Your Word Power. It really does, you know. It really does.

QOSHE - The death of Reader’s Digest is no laughing matter - Lucy Mangan
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The death of Reader’s Digest is no laughing matter

24 0
01.05.2024

So farewell then to one of the great pleasures of my youth and one to which I was very much planning to return in my old age – the Reader’s Digest UK.

After 86 years, this – may we say iconic? I think we may – monthly publication has called in the administrators, citing the notoriously challenging magazine market in this upended era of the internet as the reason for its decline and final fall. No more Amusing Anecdotes, Humour in Uniform, Points to Ponder, Quotable Quotes or Personal Glimpses. You will have to find other ways to prove that It Pays to Increase Your Word Power and move yourself Toward More Picturesque Speech.

The satisfyingly chunky issues of Reader’s Digest (if you haven’t had the pleasure, they were half the size of a standard magazine format and about twice as thick) became a famous staple of doctors’ and dentists’........

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