Ah, the power of reading.
That moment when, as a kid, you first pick up a book and read it on your own. The thrill of meeting strange people, falling in love with them, and putting them down to go eat a sandwich. The death-defying thrill of walking down the street with your nose stuck in a book, narrowly avoiding passersby, blithely singing about how provincial the townspeople are. The thrill of victory when you put the completed story down. The agony of cliffhangers. The smell of the pages. The ability to acquire new friends from foreign countries, each with a wealth of experiences, then trap these people in a designated area of your home, forever, to take out and play with whenever you choose. It would be creepy, but it’s called a library.
And now Amazon’s using it all to sell Kindles.
I know that this is what commercials do. They take the joy of some Powerful Life Experience and channel it into a product. This isn’t Dove soap. It’s accepting your inner beauty! This vacuum is having a mother who cares about you. This Totino’s Pizza Roll will stop those beefy bullies from rifling through your son’s backpack at school! This toilet paper will Transform Your Life In Unspecified Ways. This fun ear-wax remover will keep you as far away from that one harrowing episode of “Girls” as it is possible to get! This CD set isn’t just a ’70s hits compilation — it’s a return to an era when your hairstyle was in favor and before Something Dreadful happened to music. Mm, Downy. Youth.
And now, reading — or, as Amazon sees it, a fun activity you can do on a proprietary Amazon device.
This is strange to me, too, for its suggestion of a generation growing up doing its reading on devices. They sit in trees with e-readers as though it were the most natural thing in the world. My hesitation, I know, means that I am beginning to be outdated. I remember the way things were before they were different.
But there’s still something vaguely unsettling about this.
Reading has its own cult. Scratch almost any reader and he or she will wax lyrical about books — their magic, their lingering power, the characters, the transportive power of a few neat sentences. Shake any tree and 16 different, beautiful, heartfelt, well-crafted essays about the power of reading will fall out and bounce on the pavement. Show us someone reading for the first time, and we will cheer with open throats.
The commercial is there to channel all these feelings into reinforcing the notion that –reading is something you do on a Kindle. They’re powerful feelings. And Kindles are so cheap, these days…
The sea change in publishing and bookselling continues. Amazon is at the center of much of it — new ways of selling books, new approaches to compensating authors, cheaper books, changes to the publishing apparatus, the ever-expanding book-jungle. The more Kindles in the hands of first-time readers, the more Amazon’s control of Reading expands — the truer it becomes that reading is just something you do on an Amazon device, as bookstores shut their doors and publishers struggle.
So watch the commercial with a grain of salt. Yes, reading is amazing. But it’s not a proprietary activity. Not yet.