What the Kindle’s most-highlighted passages tell us about the soul of the American reader


From The New Republic:

Amazon keeps track of which passages Kindle readers highlight most, which means the company can offer a new version of the old serendipitous experience. Only this one is data-driven: The company also keeps a running list of the most highlighted Kindle passages of all time. Instead of a cozy tete-a-tete with the idiosyncratic mind of a stranger, you get the reading equivalent of a giant rave, a warehouse pulsing with usually private emotions turned into shared public expressions. It’s a glimpse into our collective, most interior, and most embarrassing preoccupations.

The most immediately noticeable thing about the list is how Hunger Games-heavy it is. Nineteen of the top 25 most-highlighted passages are written by Suzanne Collins, who is not exactly known for a glittering prose style. That breakdown would suggest that Americans are mostly obsessed with teenagers and dystopias, which, while not entirely untrue, is also useful reminder that this is a numbers game. Bestsellers will naturally have the greatest number of underlines, and there are certain kinds of bestsellers that are more likely to be read digitally. These include books aimed at teenagers that a massive number of adults have embraced (potentially embarrassing), books in the public domain (free), and self-help books (potentially embarrassing). Taken together, they suggest that your average Kindle reader is a creature caught in permanent adolescence, but yearning to improve. Oh, and he’s cheap.

On the young-adult front, some of the most-liked Hunger Games lines don’t have much resonance beyond the tales themselves—descriptions of places and events in the novels. I can’t explain why a critical mass of Americans were intensely interested in the sentence “‘I just want to spend every possible minute of the rest of my life with you,’” Peeta replies.” (Actually, I can explain, but Team Peeta is a whole different essay.) Other passages, though, are more obvious candidates for underlining. After all, the thing that makes you pick up the pen is something that you recognize from your own life, or that makes you recognize something about your own life. The most-noted line on all of Amazon is from the Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and it reads like something from the prologue to a self-help book: “Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” The Eeyore-ish affirmation is echoed by No. 4 on the list, another Collins special. “It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.” In terms of existential despair, however, those are topped by No. 12 on the list, also from the trilogy. “We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”

Continue reading the rest of the story on The New Republic