Verbal detox™ – an aid to digestion (in fewer than 50 shades)

We had a great response to our verbal detox™ limerick challenge and I urge you to read all of the entries in the comments section of my previous column. The editor and publisher of The Media Online chose Karen Jeynes as the winner of an African Cream Music CD of her choice and one of their stylish Madiba T-shirts with his face drawn using the words of his speeches. This is her limerick:

An archaic ed who loved to overwrite
Opened a .doc and got such a fright
An infinitive split
the writer had writ
So with vigour and red pen the ed took flight

 “Digested Read” – the epitome of verbal detox™?

One editor who probably has little cause to use her red pen when editing the work of one of her regular columnist, is Claire Armitstead, books editor for Guardian News and Media. The columnist? John Crace.

Crace is a feature writer for The Guardian newspaper and author of several books. His regular Guardian Books column is called Digested Read. He explains the idea behind the column as “rewriting a book in 700 words in the style of the author. The primary goal is to entertain … but it’s also intended as a (semi-) serious critique… Literary criticism does not have to be dull to be serious.”

To me, nothing demonstrates the ultimate extreme of the verbal detox™ principle better than Crace’s ability to distil the essence of a book, adopting the author’s tone and style, often to hilarious effect. The Guardian calls his work an “incisive pastiche” of popular books. (Don’t you just love the word ‘pastiche’?)

I was lucky enough to hear him speak at the Open Book Festival last year. He entertained us with tales of ‘reviewing’ books by rewriting them to the length of a column (which he terms digesting them) in order to make them easier for us to digest. At the end of each column he further distils the essence of the book into a phrase or sentence, called “Digested read, digested”.

Will an Apple a day keep Gwyneth Paltrow away?

Crace read two columns to us. I wish I could reproduce the high-pitched voice he used for his précis of Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook, Notes from my Kitchen Table. Crace put these words into the mouth of the cloying actress/singer/blogger/author/cook/mother/model/nutritionist/style icon/fitness guru :

“When my daughter, Apple, was six months old she informed me she was a vegetarian.”

(If the actual book is written in the style of her blog,, she need not prepare her acceptance speech for any literary awards. “Imbibe”, “gnarlyness” – really? )

In my previous column I ranted about Oscar acceptance speeches. So now you know the real target of my irritation. It appears Crace agrees with me, as he ends his review of Paltrow’s book with:

“Digested read, digested: Thank you, thank you for . . . indulging me.”

The allure of mediocrity

Although it is hard to choose, my favourite Digested Read is his biting review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by the narcissistic and sadistic Amy Chua.

He manages to convey in a few words the inertia and spinelessness of Chua’s husband, who looks on passively throughout the poorly-written book as she brings their children up with military rigidity and cruelness. Crace refers to him as “American Pussy Father”.

“The digested read, digested: Never has mediocrity seemed more appealing.”

Cutting to the bone

I have not succumbed to the hype surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James. It’s not my cup of tea, so to speak. But I loved Crace’s take on it, which this extract reveals:

“I love you, yet I have to go,” I sob.


“Because we’re only going to get to the bottom of your commitment issues after you’ve spanked your way through the next two books.”

Crace is my verbal detox™ muse for his ability to present his readers a simpler version of the often cumbersome original.

After all, isn’t the central purpose of a detox to aid digestion?