I’m one of the regular folk that always enjoyed Reader’s Digest

Published 5:06 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2016

On the first night of our Sutton Chapel revival, the preacher asked a question that had something to do with her message, but it wasn’t about God. It received a good response and got me to thinking.

“Has anyone ever read The Reader’s Digest?” was the preacher’s question. The people who go to revivals, these days, are mostly middle-aged to older and, although I was sitting on the front row (I’m the pastor; I had to), I think almost every hand went up.

I have to admit I had not thought of that venerable periodical for years. It was, at one time, a staple in just about every American home. You’d probably find it in the bathroom or the library as it is sometimes called. It was as good an example of Americana as Coca-Cola and blue jeans.

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It’s still published by the way, but “the old, grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be.” Of course, that could be said about anything that was born in 1922. That’s the year that the husband and wife team of DeWitt and Lila Wallace launched the magazine that would epitomize the middle decades of the Twentieth Century in the United States of America.

You know I like history. DeWitt Wallace was a soldier in World War I and had been wounded by shrapnel in France. He spent four months recovering from the wound and, avidly, read journal after journal of all kinds of interesting stories.

An idea was born in Wallace’s mind as he had so much time to ponder. He came up with the idea of condensing the long articles and stories into shorter and more easily read pieces. Put them all together in a magazine and offer them to people through the unique manner of direct mail. The Reader’s Digest was born.

At peak circulation, in the 1970’s, Wallace’s small magazine, half the size of regular magazines, reached about 17 million homes. There probably wasn’t a doctor’s office in America where the magazine was not available and dog-eared because it was read more than all the others.

I remember it well. It had something in it for just about every taste. I liked the innocent jokes of “Humor in Uniform” or “Life in These United States.”

Pate Ferry of Mesa, Arizona submitted this one from “Life in These United States.”

“A defendant was in court and was not happy with the way things were going. So he decided to give the judge a hard time. The judge asked the criminal, ‘Where do you work?’ The defendant replied, ‘Here and there.’ The judge asked, ‘What do you do for a living?’ The defendant replied, ‘This and that.’ The judge ruled, ‘Take him away.’ The defendant said, ‘Wait! When will I get out?’ The judge replied, ‘Sooner or later.’”

There was something in the magazine for everyone: articles on health, word games and puzzles, and even abridged versions of bestsellers. Who wouldn’t want to read a shorter version of War and Peace?

Probably my favorite section was “My Most Unforgettable Character.” Sometimes the character was famous and those were interesting. I liked, best, the ones that referenced a father or mother, a best friend who had chosen the road less traveled, or a teacher who had poured heart and soul into making life better for others.

The Reader’s Digest was always more popular with regular folk than with high-brow judges of great literature. It never won a Magazine of the Year award, but that doesn’t surprise me. I’m glad to be one of the regular folk who liked it.