Reader's Digest Condensed Books' "Condensed Illustrations"
*This set may best be suited for flickr's 'slideshow' display mode*

Recently my friend Topic sent me a nicely bundled little stack of loose individual pages torn from an assortment of old Reader's Digest Condensed Books.

Thanks for sharing, Topic!!

Long ago, she'd taken an artsy-crafty class in 'Books As Art Objects', in which old and tattered or defaced books were transformed into things of 'beauty'.
She said she found the end results and the class wholly unsatisfactory, but that she did find several pretty endpapers suitable for creative re-use on the boards from gutted Reader's Digest books.

She couldn't quite bear to just toss the illustrated pages from the gutted books, and saved them as 'fodder' for future projects.

Years later, while cleaning out her 'Crafts Cupboard', Topic was ready to release the pages that had languished unused for so long.
This time she saved them from the recycling bin by sending them to me.

I - - of course - - was fascinated, and here we are.

With few exceptions most of the illustrators responsible for these images go unnamed, and - - frankly - - many of them are less-than A-listers. ++

Following the rule more than the exception, the art here is by diligent working illustrators doing just another quick assignment. More than 'hacks' perhaps, but less than celebrities.

That so much of this stripe of illustration goes uncelebrated seems reason enough to post it here.

Not sure of the vintage of these images (though the reference data in that Wikipedia entry would probably yield many answers). They sort of scream 1960's and '70's, but Reader's Digest also seems sort of a world apart from any contemporary look...

I recall childhood visits to an Aunt's house.
She had dozens of the Condensed Books.
It seemed like about the only thing to read at her house were those books and Sears catalogs.

Even as a kid I remember a feeling that those Reader's Digest books were sort of sad and second rate, though it's obvious that many many people put them to good use.

In clicking through these images, I find I enjoy seeing them out of context, divorced from the stories that accompanied them.

As you go from one to the next, there are literally several different narratives happening at once. Some of them are recurring, some appear as curious non sequiturs, but gathered together as a whole they suggest some unusual plot twists in a very convoluted story.

I tried to present the pages here in the same random order in which they were presented to me. In doing so I soon began to feel that there is no true 'random'.

In making the conscious choice to avoid labelling the images in this set I was imposing some order upon them.

Likewise in choosing to include the snatches of text on some of the pages that had it, and the small choices made in cropping or adjusting the details of some of the pages. Even resisting the temptation to pair up some of the images that obviously go together - - all of these small actions removed random elements.

If John Cage and Merce Cunningham wouldn't necessarily be proud of me for my realizations, they at least would understand what I'm talking about...

I hope you'll enjoy these images. Enjoy following the threads and enjoy the random surprises.


++ I do know illustrator Robert Day. Hundreds of his one-panel cartoons ran in the New Yorker over the course of several decades.
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