Reading is a pact. Stephen King, in his text On Writing, describes writing as a form of time travel. In the past, he writes words down on a screen. In the future, at least from his perspective, someone will read those words. He’s delivered words to the page and the page, at a different point in time, delivers the words to the reader. Only he says it much more eloquently.I feel, as I stated, that writing is a pact. I tell a story, I craft a plot, in fiction, I’ll take characters from point A to point B–though I might go the back way to get there. I will use syntax, mystery, timing, and speech as my tools. I will do this, because, as a writer, I have agreed to use my powers of creativity to produce prose.
Should that prose be read, all the better.
So, you may ask, what is the reader’s pact?
I think reading is a different kind of agreement. A reader devotes their time and attention to words on page and the ideas they convey. In exchange, the reader gets fuel for future conversations, ideas for thought, dreams, inspiration, imagination, a way to fall in love, or a way to cope with sadness. A reader gets what a reader wants and, if they don’t like it, all they have to do is close the book and set that writing aside.
If a reader does like what they read, they can turn the page and read more. If they like what they read, they can move on to the next story, the next book, the next link. A reader can do anything they like with what they have learned or felt from their experience. After all, it is their experience.
As a writer, I have to see that these pacts–the pact I have with the writing and the reader, as well as the pact the reader has with my writing–are seen through to their conclusion. Now, I can’t sit over every person’s shoulder and make sure they read my work, I wouldn’t want to. What I can do is make something that’s good enough that someone would choose to finish reading it and, maybe, feel good, or at least more informed from the experience.
I’ve used that word a lot. Experience. The experience of reading is something that exists between the writer and the reader. An uninterrupted transmission of thought from one point to another, even if decades or centuries might pass between them.
Except for one place.
With the birth of electronic reading as a viable, accessible format, many people carry not just their books in their hands, but their entire libraries. It’s a cheap way to get books out there and to build audiences that might not be able to notice otherwise. The idea of digital publishing is still something that’s changing. Because of that, the rival manufacturers are looking for any way they can to get an edge in the industry.
As Amazon tries to find a way to get more Kindles in the hands of more readers, they’ve started offering two versions of many of their devices. The price difference is $40 between the versions, but what are you getting for that extra money? Nothing. What does the cheaper version have that the expensive one doesn’t? Advertisements.
I cannot tell you how much this concept sickens me. When I read, I just want to open my book and read, even if it is a digital book. When I write, I hope eventual readers will think about the story, the thrill of the tale. I don’t want commercial breaks in what I’m doing for fun. I want to be the one who decides when to stop, when to pause, or when to take a break.
Do you think the quest to destroy the One Ring should be interrupted by an ad for Pampers?
Do you think it’s a good idea to read about debt consolidation in the middle of Walden?
Do you think there’s morality in looking at a blurb for a Presidential Candidate between scriptures of The Bible?
No, I didn’t think so.
I bring this up because I know others might be thinking about doing the same as Amazon.com has and I hope they don’t. These manufacturers are making something new and exciting. They are opening the door of readership to many who only read sparingly before. What, aside from money, does one gain from putting ads in books, especially when the prices of devices drop regularly at least once a year?
As I contemplate how I will step into this realm of digital reading, knowing that something stands between me and some of my readers. I wonder if the ads will make readers feel differently about what they read or will they shrug it off entirely. All I can say for certain is that I know what pacts I must hold do. I can only hope that I will deliver on those promises and create as positive of an experience as I can.