Friday, March 04, 2016


The Modern Reader

Robertson Davies (1913-1995), The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks (New York: Viking, 1986), p. 516:
In a news vendor's today I noticed a pile of books with bright covers, which proved to be such titles as Dreiser's Sister Carrie, and Romains' Jean Christophe. Wondering idly how such long books were crammed into such a small space I picked one up and found that it was marked "abridged for the Modern Reader." Laughed out loud, and a few people stared at me, as if I were mad. But I was delighted by the shoddy flattery of that word "modern." It implied that the modern reader was a very busy fellow, who had no time to be bothered with the windy nonsense even of first-rate authors; he had to have everything boiled down for him, so that he could gulp the essence in an evening's reading. The real fact of the matter is that many modern readers are pin-headed neurotics, who have not the staying power to read a great book at full length. They must have it cut so that they can read all the bits which describe how the heroine went to bed, and with whom, and any murders which may creep into the tale. Beyond that, they can't understand and don't care. Modern reader! Pah!
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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