Ugh, Reader's Digest Condensed Books. I can't really imagine a more anti-book concept. Four seemingly random bestselling novels are "condensed" so that they can be stuffed into one volume so folks who don't care about reading can decorate their mustard-yellow and pea-soup-green living rooms. Everyone knew some family who "collected" them, could have been your own. It was always a depressing sight to walk into someone's home and see these books; these weren't people really interested in reading or collecting books per se. Reader's Digest Condensed Books were just another knick-knack taking up space on shelves.
They were one step up from junk mail and so were most of the authors published (do you remember such musty-crusty authors of yesteryear as Taylor Caldwell, Howard Fast, Conrad Victor, Victoria Holt, Helen MacInnes, or Morris West?). They devalue everything I, and countless others, love about books as objects. To me these things are exemplars of the horror of middle-brow American taste throughout a sizable chunk of the 20th century.
And then add the artistic crime of tampering with an author's intent for his work by removing anything that wouldn't upset the sensibility of your average viewer of "Hee Haw" or "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom," and you get the literary equivalent of Spam and Kraft Singles on white bread with mayonnaise and yellow mustard. Plus these things (along with National Geographic mags) were the bane of the used booksellers' existence; no one would buy them secondhand and I can only imagine the landfills they're choking up now.
All that said, aren't these illustrations (by Stanley Galli) for the 1974 Reader's Digest version of Jaws pretty cool? Yeah, I thought so too. I saw it once when I was a kid, was blown away by it, and I literally only found it again last week on eBay. So wonderful to see how the story was imagined before the movie.
For the literal-minded who still can't quite keep all those characters straight (why, Dostoevsky's publishers should have thought of this!):
A nerve-wracking scene in the novel in which nobody gets eaten; probably the inspiration for the two old guys who get the pier pulled out from under them when they try to bait the shark with a Sunday roast.
Poor Alex Kintner's mom. Here she looks the right age; in the movie she looks like his grandmother, right?
Hooper and Ellen Brody have a fling in the novel (she'd dated his older brother in college). At a dinner party, Brody watches warily but never catches on. Makes for some tension on the Orca later, as if hunting a 25-foot man-eating great white shark weren't aggravating enough.
Hooper never makes it back from his little shark-cage foray. He's pretty douchey in the book so nobody's really sorry to see him go. His last thought is something like, Oh my god, those jaws are going to reach me, but you won't find that line here.
And the climax. Awesome. Except Quint doesn't get eaten and the shark just sorta dies quietly. You can bet Quint's immortal line "I can see your cock, you bastard!" was tastefully deleted.
And finally: Brody finds the way to go home.