Here We Go Again…

Over the past couple of weeks, those of us who live in the UK have been subjected to this advert for the Amazon Kindle:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghYDpDaK5ds

In it, young children sit in parks and other lovely outdoor places that children who actually have Kindles probably don’t actually visit any more.  The kids talk about how much they love reading (on their Kindles) and how they love to lose themselves in the book, get to know the characters and all those other lovely things that reading has been for so many children for centuries before Amazon came along.

So, why, I asked myself, did this advert make me so angry?  I love books, I love children and I think that getting young people to feel those very feelings is nothing short of heroic.  So why was I so irrationally angry to see it happening? Sure, I hate that they’re reading Kindles instead of books, and I suspect that in ten years when they see that kids who did it another way can still revisit their childhood memories through yellowed and dog-eared books, the children in the advert might too.  But at the end of the day, if children are reading, even on a Kindle, it’s better than not reading at all.

So I spent weeks trying to figure out exactly why this advert promoted such rage in me.  Then I realised.  It reminded me of a scene from Mad Men when Don Draper tells the executives from Hershey’s Chocolate that he can’t create a cheesy ad for the chocolate bar that signified what it was to be a child.  Don says ‘if it were up to me you wouldn’t advertise.   You shouldn’t have someone like me telling a boy what a Hershey bar is.  He already knows.’

And that’s my problem with this advert.  Though they claim that it is the Kindle that creates the magic feeling of joy and adventure when a child reads, what they’re describing is a story.  And you don’t have to advertise stories because those of us who love them already know.  We get it.

Sure, books are products which are marketed, publishers compete for attention and authors make themselves into brands, but at the end of the day, every author, editor, publisher, literary agent and every reader knows that none of it matters as much as the story itself.

I used to think that there were some things that couldn’t be given a price tag.  Some things that were so precious and unique and intangible that no matter how pervasive capitalism got, no one could ever bottle and brand and market and peddle.  And that feeling the advert describes, that wonderful feeling that we already know was one of them. It’s not the Kindle that creates magic.  It’s the story.  And no one owns stories.

Amazon can sell books.  They can produce books.  They can even control the way we find, access and even read books.  But what you can’t do, what no advertising campaign and no brand can ever capture, is the storytelling. Stories are the antithesis of the giant international conglomerate, the uniform and universal, stale and impersonal company.  Stories are deeply personal.  They are tied to places and things and families and memories.  In my opinion, books and the very impulse to write them are just an attempt to extend the feeling of gathering around the fire to hear the news or snuggling up in bed with a parent to read one more chapter before the lights go out.  That feeling should be sacred.  It doesn’t belong to anyone and no matter how much money you spend on advertising, it’s nobody’s to package and sell and profit from.

I’m posting an abridged version of this as a comment on the video, so if you agree, consider liking it and getting it up to the top for others to read.  Then consider boycotting Amazon if, like me, you don’t want to think about a world that can commoditize the unique and magical feeling of being swept away by a story.

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8 responses to “Here We Go Again…

  1. I’ve been converted to the kindle (although I’ll never stop buying physical books), but I still agree whole-heartedly with this post!

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  2. While I’m sympathetic with your post, I think there are a lot more reasons fiction is written than “for the story,” and for gathering around a campfire to hear one more story. Virginia Woolf’s and Milan Kundera’s novels don’t exist for that reason. Jose Saramago’s fiction has little to do with traditional “storytelling,” nor does that of Philip Roth, Deborah Eisenberg, Wallace Shawn, David Foster Wallace, Tom McCarthy, etc., etc. There are many reasons to write and read fiction. Personally I never care what the “story” is, as anyone can wing a story. It’s the author’s voice, the author’s point of view, the author’s insights that decide if I’m picking up a book or not.

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    • You’re right, of course most literature, particularly the novel form, is more complex than just a simple story. What I meant is that I think all authors choose to write because they want their words to be read, to mean something to someone and communicate a thought or a feeling that they had and want someone else to understand or sympathise with. As you rightly point out, authors do that in many different ways. I suppose my point is that ultimately, in whatever way they do it (by focussing on plot, characters or narrative style) authors are telling something about themselves or their world which they want a reader to discover and think about and connect to them through. I suppose that connection between author and reader, however it manifests itself, is what I mean by storytelling. The most important thing for me though is that authors are the ones – not Amazon or Kindle or even a physical book, I’ll admit – who are responsible for the great things that happen when someone else reads what they wrote.

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  3. If kids read stories on Kindle (and it’s great they’re reading and Kindle is a fine thing) they won’t have that sudden amazing rush of memory when, in a secondhand book shop or even browsing online, you see the picture on the cover of a paperback that you read again and again 30 or 40 years ago and all your childhood comes flooding back. And that’s a shame.

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  4. You are always on topic. I couldn’t agree more.

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  5. I agree and I too am fighting a battle against Amazon (particularly now their tax avoidance has been exposed). Working in the West Midlands (where we don’t have London’s fantastic bookshops), it’s even harder to avoid them. Although libraries are my passion, I also love independent bookshops and so it’s wonderful to discover your blog!

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  6. I think part of your anger and disquiet is the same as mine: whether it’s about an eReader or a book, readers don’t need child actors to tell them how enjoyable it is.

    This advert is so insulting — the way most adverts are insulting — about what people are passionate about; it implies that it can persuade youngsters to do what educators somehow can’t, that the role models that real life youngsters crave — the ones that really read books for pleasure and knowledge — are inadequate or absent and that some corporate transnational can supply the role models that youngsters will want to copy.

    Who is the advert aimed at anyway? Is it kids? Are they really fooled? Is it parents? Will they be persuaded to part with the best part of a hundred quid or more for their precious child when all you need to do is go the local library, or local bookshop, or even spend a few pence at your local charity shop (heaven knows there are enough of them springing up in the high streets of every town and city as independent bookshops disappear)? And anyway, won’t parents think that what kids really want is the newest all-singing all-dancing interactive handheld gizmo rather than something with static words on the screen?

    Sorry, like you I feel appalled, sullied by this advert. Thank goodness for digital TV where you can record, pause, fast forward through such crass adverts or watch advert-free on terrestrial catch-up services. When you aren’t curled up with a book of course.

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