Thursday, December 6, 2007

Memory lane

On 11/26, in reference to William Kent Krueger’s Thunder Bay, I posted that one of my very favorite reads from my high-school years was Hal Borland’s When Legends Die. Like Thunder Bay, which sketches the eventful life of Ojibwe medicine man Henry Meloux, When Legends Die tells the absorbing story of a Native American, Thomas Black Bull, a Ute Indian, who gradually learns to prize his special identity and tribal heritage.

It wasn’t long after writing that note that a memory tugged at me: Didn’t Reader's Digest publish this as a condensation in the 1960s? When I searched my shelf of Select Editions volumes going all the way back to Number One (published in 1950), I saw, to my delight, the words: When Legends Die staring at me from the spine of Volume Four 1963! (A little before my editorial time: I was eleven.) I thought: This is going home with me one weekend soon, for some quality private time.

Then I couldn't help scanning the tables of contents of some of the other volumes lining my office, and so many of my past vorites are all there: The Caine Mutiny (1951), The Spy who Came in from the Cold (1964), and The Flight of the Phoenix (1964)—all great reads, and all, incidentally great movies, too. When DeWitt Wallace started Reader’s Digest in 1922, he sought to publish reading material of lasting value. As far as I’m concerned, these titles prove his success. And to the editors here today in Pleasantville, N.Y., they are potent reminders of a weighty legacy that we aim to sustain. The bar is high, and we vigilantly search for the best of the best to meet the challenge.

One of my top picks from 2007 as a candidate for future favorites lists of this kind is The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig (featured in Volume 1, 2007). If you have any personal favorites like these from the annals for Select Editions/Condensed Books, we’d love to hear about them. Sometimes talking books is almost as much fun as reading them.


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