Magazine Review

Reader’s Digest

At its best, printed words can unfold a picture in front of our eyes. One place to find those pictures in words is Reader’s Digest.

Every time an issue hits the strands, I find myself tempted to finish it at a single go. The pages are turned one after the other, spellbound by the gritty details – drawn by something more than curiosity. Stories, message, language – the magazine excels in all.

The vivid vocabulary produces a picture so vivid that I do not have to stretch my imagination to see what the writer intends to show. For instance:

…midway through the raucous event, she gestured for me to follow as she sprinted the length of the dock, dove into the cold water and set off swimming towards a distant floating platform. I watched her brown arms slice the water with power and grace.”


…the cabin rang with deafening blasts as the plane smashed into tree after tree. The passengers felt the fuselage roll to the right; and skid with an ear-splitting scraping sound – with finally coming to a halt.”

Or, take similes like:

as abruptly as the cutting of the umbilical cord, the music ends and separates us.’

or

To me it was the sound you’d get if you were folding up an air mattress, finally getting all the air out. A WHOOSH.’

What I am fascinated about is the way writers manage to give the words a special twist, as though putting a spin on a ball! And then transporting the reader, me, into an altogether different world of imagination – throbbing with life.

Right from the start, the elements of stories trap the reader in their net. The tempo is so built that the reader is forever wondering, ‘what next!’ Take, for example, a simple-yet-gripping headline and introduction:

THE LOVE I’LL NEVER FORGET”

The headline is nostalgic, is devoid of any ornamentation – yet appeals to emotions, arousing curiosity. The introduction heightens the already-built suspense by:

She was elusive and beguiling, and I was crazy about her, of course.”

By the time you are through the first paragraph, the magic has cast its spell:

Crookston, my hometown in Minnesota, USA, is a farming community of 8000 people, tucked into the northwest corner of the state. Not a lot extraordinary passes through. Gretchen was an exception.”

As a student of English Language, I remember having been told that a good story should always have an ending that brings it to a climax, and, better still, leaves with a message. The teaching is well-incorporated in the following concluding lines of the same story:

I emerged from the woods that day into a different world, and adult world, where memories of first love linger, but summer always ends.”

As a reader, I have never got an impression that the writer is hoping to impress by his knowledge of language with an overdose of pretentious words. The language, instead, naturally flows with the story without attracting attention. Even if I cannot grasp some of the words (which happens quite often) it doesn’t pose a problem. The meaning can easily be surmised from the context itself. For instance, I never knew that words like these could go a long way in adding an instant liveliness to the language:

“Feigned standoffishness”, “bloodied hand slumping over”, or for that matter, “sidling up to me”, “lurching out of control, pitching into a marsh.”

The compact pieces are preferred in today’s speed and chaos, as no one has the patience to sit through an epic. These snippets, sprinkled all over the magazine, serve their purpose of providing instant ‘booktainment’.

To add effects, at times the typeface is experimental. For example, the crux of the story is given in italics, while the rest is in a plain font.

Earlier, like the rest of us, I never paused to think about the underlying magic of the writings. But now as I dive deep, I see the secret of the success behind Reader’s Digest. The secret is to be natural. The secret is to have an in-depth knowledge one is talking about. The secret is having a keen observation. And looking at life from different eyes.

It reminds me of the following quote, which probably is the success of the magazine: “The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

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