Wednesday, March 3, 2010
When I was growing up, the shelves in our house held row upon row of books. Or at least, the best parts of books -- books boiled down from an unwieldy 400 pages to their 80 page essence, cleansed of all the fatty, non-nutritional bits such as adjectives and subordinate characters. I’m talking about the Reader’s Digest Condensed books.
Each Reader’s Digest Condensed Book anthology was a full house of popular fiction – two inspirational novels and three filthy ones -- delivered by mail 8 times a year. As I recall, the inspirational tales were printed on brown butcher paper so one could, presumably, skip straight over those to the good stuff.
My parents never read the Readers Digest Condensed books, they certainly never bought them. No need to buy a cow when we had the public library.
No, the books must have been passed along to us by neighbors, just as my mother’s friends would pass her their old Vogues and Harpers Bazaar. I loved Vogue. Though only 10 at the time, to this day I remember a photo with the caption, “I’m walking my hair!” that showed a model swinging her long gold braid in the sunshine. I made plans to start walking my hair too.
But even the most frugal middle-class household had a subscription to Reader’s Digest magazine, filled mainly with dreary articles ( “I am Joe’s Liver”), save for the joke pages and quizzes. For awhile my whole family would sit down to take the How to Increase Your Wordpower quiz. As native speakers, we kids argued about any definition we missed. No surprise there, we argued all the time anyway – for sport, in deadly earnest -- often losing sight of which it was this time. I suppose that’s why my parents eventually decided to let us each increase our wordpower on our own time.
Old copies of Reader’s Digest ended up in the reading room, as ubiquitous to the middle class bathroom as a fuzzy beige rug, little shells of scented soap, and guest towels.
… Or did you have company towels? Or both? Something never addressed in the Wordpower quiz was the crevice, crevasse, canyon that exists between company and guests. I remember an argument I had with my best friend as to the difference. It was my contention that in the visitor hierarchy, company reigned supreme, and only company could use the best towels. All visitors, however, fell under the umbrella of guests, which meant everyone except those actually living in the house had permission to use the guest towels.
Suffering from the insidious side effects of wordpower, I would argue about anything.