Wednesday, June 11, 2008

John S. Zinsser Jr.

I read today that John S. Zinsser Jr. has died at the age of 84. I can just hear you asking, "Who is that? I haven't ever heard of him." Well, I hadn't heard his name either until today but he had a profound impact on my young reading life. Mr. Zinsser was the long time editor of the Reader Digest Condensed Books, one of the staples of my summer reading when I was a young bookworm.

Readers Digest Condensed Books get short shrift in the book world. Those who are "serious readers" don't consider them worth anything. After all they are "edited and condensed" therefore they can't be good. Well, I would beg to differ and I would consider myself a serious reader.

RDCB's were an integral part of my summers. I spent many an hour reading through the numerous RDCB's that happen to inhabit the shelves at my parent's cottage. Now a days there are a lot of books hanging around the Cottage waiting to be read but when I was younger and didn't have the luxury of a drivers license or the money to buy books when I wanted the only thing that I had to read were those RDCBs. I loved them. I am not that old (stop laughing Ashley) but there was a time when Borders or Barnes and Noble weren't yet existent. The only places that I could obtain books were the library or the local "5 and Dime" (very limited selection). If I didn't remember to bring books with me to the Cottage then I was doomed. See, I was one of those kids (and still am) who had to have something to read. It was a physical need. I was lost without books.

Readers Digest Condensed Books introduced me to some of my favorite authors and encouraged me to read their books in the unabridged additions. I remember reading Jane Eyre for the first time in a condensed version. What young girl doesn't thrill to the darkness that is Mr. Rochester. One of my most favorite books was read first as a RDCB, In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. I doubt that I would ever have read anything by Rumer Godden had it not been for that summer encounter. She continues to be one of my favorites and I look for copies of her work with regularity. In fact, my book club will be discussing In This House of Brede next week for our monthly meet.

Of course, there were plenty of other RDCB that were not that memorable. Books that reflected the times in which they were written. I have many vague memories of books read, scenes preserved in memory long after the title of the book is lost. I also remember vividly the look, feel and smell of those books. They continue to sit on the same shelf in the back hallway, waiting for someone to pick them up and read them. That someone may just be me when the girls and I spend 10 days with Mimi and Papa next month. I may have to break out some of my old favorites just for old times sake and to say a belated thank you to Mr. Zinsser who made them all possible.


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