A Spot of Indigestion

During school days, summer vacations broadly fell into two categories, ones where you would be busier than Gordon Gecko shuffling from one camp to some class or ones where you would catch an afternoon nap listening to Grandmother's stories. While I didn't exactly listen to stories in the later years, my vacations did follow the second track more or less faithfully. Lazy, relaxed and yes, filled with books. In fact, there was a bookstore near our house which had a small library in the back. I finished that one year. Admittedly I gave the M&Bs a wide berth but otherwise all the books that a 12 year old might read were devoured in no time. It took little for boredom to set in again. I experimented with picking up the World Book Encyclopaedia and reading entries at random but that lost its appeal much too soon.

Then one day I discovered what was hidden behind the World Books. Let me explain. The bookcase in which the World Books were stored initially had started life as a display cabinet and was far too deep. It was built into the wall and as such there was no way to estimate its depth from the outside. Hence there was a stash of books neatly lined up behind the display books, no doubt kept there by my mom who hates clutter and who must have patted herself on the back for thinking of this clever hiding place. Before the suspense gets to you, let me emphasize that I hadn't discovered a Marilyn Monroe edition of Playboy. I must also warn you that all this reminiscing is a build up to a rant (I do seem to do that often, don't I?).

You see, what I had discovered behind the encyclopaedia were old issues of Readers' Digest. Issues going back to 1973. It was this treasure trove that kept me entertained for many days after that. Not just summer vacations, but these issues became regular reading and there was a time when there used to be at least 3-4 of these under my pillow. As far as I could remember, we had had a subscription to RD. But there was something about those issues, maybe what one would call timelessness, that retained their readability 20 years past the date on the cover.

Sadly, I think they have lost it. And it hasn't happened today, its been happening over the past couple of years - ever since they redesigned it and it became worse when taken over by the India Today Group. The 'Win 17 kgs of gold' gimmick just re-enforced the down-the-drain feeling. Not surprisingly, the American Edition displays an even lower expectation of what constitutes a 'Reader'. The issues I have been reading for about 6 months are barely one third the thickness of the childhood ones but seem to have atleast five times as many advertisements.

Its a sign of our times perhaps that we see articles like '10 ways to...' and '5 things that...' in here, a publication that is (I suppose) aimed at the somewhat discerning reader. If I want to read articles like these, there are always those magazines at the supermarket checkout counter. Where are the human interest stories? Where is Drama in Real Life?

In fact, the whole redesign is very picture and graphic oriented which is totally unnecessary in my opinion. It is looks like a presentation, full of bullets and list and large fonts where you try to cover up the lack of material with every clip art in your collection. Due to the large number of advertisements, and obviously advertisements are full of pictures and color and large fonts jumping out at you, sometimes an article gets lost in all that clutter. Its not that hard to miss an article which uses the same sort of stock images of people doing the same kind of everyday activity portrayed in advertisements. Frankly, it looks like the management types have taken over everything, and ruined it in the process.

My last point may be a very small one but it is one which annoys me no end. A business reply post-card stuck in it after every few pages makes it impossible to hold the spine in one hand and flip the pages. Trivial, I know, but its the small things that make a difference.

I guess I will have to stick to the dusty yellowed pages for my reading pleasure. Old is truly Gold.


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