Monday, January 17, 2011

what i like about my kindle (faces!) part 1

when my kindle hasn't been used for awhile, its screen flashes and the text of whatever i was reading is replaced by a black-and-white image. sometimes that image is an ancient-looking scene bound by foreign calligraphy. sometimes it's a portrait of a well-known author--jules verne, jane austen, ralph ellison.

these images sometimes bother me because they remind me of barry moser, the artist who does beautiful black-and-white prints of figures ranging from flannery o'connor and joseph conrad to potiphar's wife and jesus. that's not so bothersome, except that my ex-girlfriend loved barry moser prints, and i sometimes prefer not to think about my ex-girlfriend. or about love. or about my ex-girlfriend loving something or someone else.

however, dicey personal relationships aside, i really like this feature. in fact, i believe it could very possibly change the world for the better. it could even succeed where school, society, and our own misguided preferences have failed us.

since i'm making grandiose statements, here's another one: i believe we are a culture that doesn't like to think. i believe that we don't like to be challenged. we prefer our routines and simple comforts. our lives are hard, and so we take our life lessons and use them to build forty-two-inch tvs. we take that hardness and build sofas and lazy boy recliners.

when i come home from work, i slip past my dirty sink, my messy floor, my unopened mail, my hulking copy of Swann's Way. i pour myself a bowl of cinnamon toast crunch, and i eat my way through an episode of some meaningless drama, perhaps even a meaningful drama. i rarely do the hard thing--i don't invest time and energy into a fine meal, a community need, a new idea. 

and i think our book reading habits are a symptom of this cultural trend. fantasy, children's lit, mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi (excepting hard sci-fi), historical fiction, women's fiction, romance, and occupation-related material all sell relatively well, whereas that segment of publishing which keeps the language alive, which makes a think, which values a word, a phrase, an idea, well, literary fiction is simply managing to survive (see "pimp my novel" for a more thorough autopsy of genre sales). 

it's possible that i'm wrong and the lagging sales of literary fiction tell us nothing about our culture--though i may fight to the death to defend that notion--and it's possible, even likely, that we are not what we read, not entirely. 

but regardless of one's perspective on the relationship between what we read and how we live, i'm encouraged to see the bookselling segment of corporate america fighting back. i'm ecstatic that my kindle doesn't sport portraits of dan brown, stephenie meyer, and jk rowling. and i have hope that by highlighting texts that seems ancient (and therefore, somehow important) or famous figures from literary fiction's past, the kindle could implicitly prod its owners to consider again the classics. those images very well could be the seeds that lead us to supplement our escapist fiction and work-related texts with great literature.

and this sack of lazy bones likes that.