Taking The Dickens
There’s an inside joke amongst booksellers – especially those in the second hand trade, when someone comes in with a stack of those Reader’s Digest “Condensed” versions of Charles Dickens or Bram Stoker or Jane Austen. They have lovely binding, gold print spines, embossed hardback covers – the works in packaging. Only one problem. They are utterly worthless. I remember seeing one “condensed” edition of a Tale of Two Cities which had judiciously omitted the famous opening line ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ and cut straight to the action. It was almost worth a purchase purely for laugh value (but the manager would have had my head).
The editors’ names have all been forgotten, and these obscure “rewrites” of classic texts lie unwanted on the shelves of the bourgeois aspirational households of whom the books were subscribed. Because let’s be clear, the only people who would buy them are mail-order subscribers, locked into pre-commitment for a book by some fancy marketing footwork and sales copy. The have no idea what they’re ordering in advance and probably don’t care, but it’s important to have some culture in one’s life. And everybody loves Dickens, right?
You get what you pay for.
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