I Was Reading Before It Was Cool
Yep, I was the girl with her nose in a book and the thick glasses that everyone laughed at. While other kids played video games or hung out, I holed up in my room, solving mysteries with Nancy Drew or savoring Anne of Green Gables’ romantic imagination. And the “required” list in high school? I’d not only raced through every title – by sixth grade, no less – I loved them! Still do. To Kill A Mockingbird, Animal Farm, A Separate Peace, The Friendly Persuasion … dog-eared and well-thumbed, they occupy places of honor on my bookshelves.
Those shelves had my neighbor’s 14-year-old daughter staring a few years ago – and not in a good way. She might have been regarding a cockroach instead of Gone With the Wind’s inch-and-a-half spine. “It’s a terrific novel!” I enthused. “All about Tara, and Scarlett, who’s in love with the wrong guy, and Rhett, the right guy – he’s tremendous, so witty and-and urbane-and…” The disgust was deepening: had a rat joined the cockroach? My voice weakened as much as Melanie’s when she confronts the dead Yankee. “Wanna borrow it?”
“I don’t read,” she said flatly. She’d come over because she’d locked herself out, her mother wasn’t home from work yet, and she needed a bathroom. Otherwise, this cheerleader-who-never-reads was way too cool even to talk with an adult like me, let alone enter my house. Then she continued in The Tone – you know, the one that implies you are not only the world’s oldest but its dumbest fogey. “Um, like, whaddaya do with all these? Read ‘em?”
I was too chastened for anything more than a nod.
“Wow.” Still giving me The Tone. “My friend read a book once. I was, like, why?”
Ah, but then along came Kindle. And suddenly, reading is cool!
Everyone’s reading – the waiter on the bus to work, the receptionist sneaking peeks at her Kindle between asking your name and which dentist you’re seeing that day, the construction worker on a break. Even celebrities Kindle, though I bet they wouldn’t be caught dead with a “real” book in their hands: Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Clay Aiken. Perhaps most surprising of all was a rumor in 2009 that George Bush and Dick Cheney own Kindles (who knew they were literate?).
Hard to believe Kindle’s only been around since November 2007 – but it was cool from the very start: its First Generation sold out in 5½ hours. This despite the studious origins of its moniker. Amazon hired “well-known Bay Area graphic designer Michael Cronan” and “his wife and partner, Karin Hibma,” to name the device, according to printmag.com. Ms. Hibma sounds more like a New-Age bureaucrat than someone promoting a pop-cultural icon as she explains, “Michael came up with the name through our usual practice of exploring the depths of what the potential for the new product and product line could be and how the company wanted to present it. Jeff [Bezos, the CEO (of Amazon)] wanted to talk about the future of reading, but in a small, not braggadocio way. … we wanted it to be memorable, and meaningful in many ways of expression, from ‘I love curling up with my Kindle to read a new book’ to ‘When I’m stuck in the airport or on-line, I can Kindle my newspaper, favorite blogs or half a dozen books I’m reading.’”
Poor Karin now veered outright into Uncool Country: “I verified that [the word ‘kindle’] had deep roots in literature.” I hear my Cheerleader-Who-Doesn’t-Read laughing, don’t you? But onward we plow: “From Voltaire: ‘The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others and it becomes the property of all.’” Printmag.com adds, “No other name could hold a candle to Kindle.”
Hey, kudos to Kindle! Has anyone since Dr. Seuss made books this cool? Even Ms. Cheerleader has succumbed: her mother tells me she’s demanded a Kindle for Christmas.