Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Reader's Digest

Patty here, and I don't know about you, but I've always been a HUGE fan of Reader's Digest. For me, there was nothing better than sitting in the swing in my backyard and devouring page after page of articles on subjects I'd never studied. One of my favorite childhood memories was visiting my aunt Gail and digging into her stash of RDs (Reader's Digest for those of you not up with the lingo.) She had grocery bags full of these magazine so I could spend hours, reading about Joe's brain or laughing over the funny stories in 'Life in These United States.' Years later, someone sent me a graduation present of a years subscription and the first thing my mom said was "Someone knows you really well!" Yes, Momma, they certainly did!

Next year, Reader's Digest celebrates 100 years of publication, but it wasn't always the household word it is now. It all started with a wounded World War I soldier. Dewitt Wallace was reading many magazines on various subjects as he lay bedridden when he came up with an idea--a magazine with his favorite articles all in one publication. It would mean condensing some articles while re-writing others to fit his vision of the magazine, but surely, people would enjoy the wide range of topics as well as the humor his magazine would bring. He hoped to net five thousand dollars a year to care for him and his family, but he was surprised by the magazine's popularity. Within ten years, RD had almost three hundred thousands subscribers and a gross profit of nine hundred thousand dollars. That's fourteen million dollars in todays market! It also began issuing international copies in 1938 and by the time it celebrated its 40th anniversary, it was published in over 40 countries.

If you're unfamiliar with RD's format, it's simple. Thirty articles, one for each day of the month, are published along with such funny features as 'Life in These United States,' 'Humor in Uniform' and 'All in a Day's Work.' There were inspirations quotes from world leaders and dignitaries as well as actors and musicians. And of course, there was my personal favorite, 'Increase Your Word Power' which gave you a word along with three possible definitions. In the back, there was either a longer true-life story or a condensed version of the day's most popular books. (I read the condensed version of Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Suzanne for the first time in the Reader's Digest!)

As for me, I enjoy its medical articles. 'Cancer in a Carton,' an article about the link between cancer and smoking revolutionized our thinking on cancer and served as a springboard for other related articles on subject. I was particularly fond of the 'I am Jane's heart' or I am Joe's liver. And yes, I hide in the bathroom so I could read 'I am Joe's..um..well, you know. Those articles taught me more about human anatomy than my high school and college A&P classes combined! And an article on Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus in a recent RD might be the answer to my mother's degenerated condition these past three years! 

So, here's to you, Reader's Digest! Hoping you celebrate 100 more!

Multi-published author Patty Smith Hall lives near the north Georgia Mountains with her husband of 38 years, their two daughters, a son-in-love and two grandboys who are her joy. When she's not writing on her back porch, she's visiting with her family or working in her garden.


  1. Thanks for the post! I love Readers Digest as well, though I haven't read one for years. You're so right about the diversity of subjects in each volume. And I never got the connection before about the number of articles corresponding to the days of the month! I also loved the condensed books RD put out, again such diversity and you could "test out" different authors and subjects.

  2. Thank you for this post. I learned a lot about a publication I used to think was mundane. I have a new respect for RD now.

  3. I'm an RD enthusiast, too! I didn't know its history, though. Thanks, Patty!