Steve Jobs, Books, and an Idea

I make no secret of my love for Apple and its products. I’ve owned Macs since my college days. Currently, I own three Macs and I’m looking to buy a fourth. I have an iPod and an iPhone, and when I baked an apple pie for Thanksgiving, I was sure to put the Apple logo on it.

(Think I’m kidding?)

Anyway, my love extends to Apple’s CEO and King of Reality Distortion, Steve Jobs. As I watched the streaming keynote from yesterday’s Macworld Expo, I had to be physically restrained from pre-ordering a MacBook Air (with the solid state option, of course. God, that thing costs a lot! When Steve Jobs says, “It’s a little expensive,” you know you’re talking serious coin.)

I tell you all of this so that you know how deeply it hurt me when Jobs said in yesterday’s New York Times, “the fact is that people don’t read anymore.”

Steve! You’re killin’ me here! This is how I make my living, man

Actually, what bothers me isn’t that he said it. It’s that a persuasive argument can be made that he’s right. I’m not saying he IS right. I’m saying we live in a world in which — depressingly enough — the response to “people don’t read anymore” can’t really be a hearty laugh and “Do the trees grow upside-down in the fantasy world you live in?”

I don’t want to get into this too much, but it occurs to me that we are living in a time when some really terrific books are being written and published, a time when there are talented people out there creating some wonderful books, some of which are from big publishers, some of which are from small publishers. The internet, though, makes it possible for all authors to sell their wares, no longer restricted by shelf space at the local book store. If your publisher is too small to get noticed by the big chains, well, your book can still be sold online or through other venues and get some attention.

We should be living in a renaissance of reading, but we’re not.

So.

Reading Jobs’ thoughts about books made me drift off — as I often do — into my fantasy world, a lovely place where interesting things sometimes happen.

The first thing that I thought was this: Wouldn’t it be great if all of those insipid “entertainment shows” started asking celebrities about books? Like, if the reporters on those shows just decided, “Every time I talk to Jake Gyllenhaal or Jamie Foxx or Eliza Dushku or whomever, I’m going to ask ‘What’s the best book you’ve read recently?'”

Just a simple question. But it would inject books back into the popular discussion, give the ol’ printed matter some more mind-share. And that would be nice.

And look at it this way — the first time the question was asked and some celeb was caught flat-footed, every other celeb out there would make damn sure he or she had a good answer for it. Because nothing — NOTHING — succeeds in this world as motivator better than the prospect of public embarrassment. (You know it’s true.)

So then we would have shiny, sexy people talking about books. Maybe not a lot of ’em, maybe not a lot of talk, but at least Joe and Jane America would be used to hearing books discussed when getting their dose of entertainment news. And maybe the idea of reading would filter through.

Not saying people would suddenly be reading ten books a month, but hey — even if everyone out there read just ONE MORE BOOK than they would have otherwise, isn’t that a good thing?

Since it’s MY fantasy world and I make the rules, I then went one step further. This one will give you a good chuckle, I guarantee. But go with it and imagine such a world and you’ll find it’s a fairly pleasant place, I think.

What if authors refused to sell their movie rights unless the studios agreed to attach a 30-second PSA to the film promoting literacy, books, etc.?

Stop laughing. This is a fantasy world, so we’re allowed to believe in elves, dragons, unicorns, a unified Democratic Party, and authors grabbing Hollywood by the short hairs.

Think about it. Hollywood NEEDS books. A substantial percentage of movies are adapted from books. And the immediate benefit to the author is a nice Hollywood paycheck and a boost in book sales.

But what if authors got together and decided that it’s not enough to help out one author at a time? What if we decided to help the cause of reading in general?

Look, a 30-second PSA is no big deal. The studios already attach previews to their films. They sell ads, for God’s sake! They take money for product placement. Logistically, this is no different. Philosophically and karmically, it’s a great deal different.

Imagine going to see a movie adapted from the latest big bestselling novel. The previews end, the lights go down, and then…

The screen lights up with Some Big Star sitting at a table.

BIG STAR

The movie you’re about to see was adapted from a terrific book.

(holds up book)

We’re very proud of the movie we’ve made and we know you’re going to love it. But the movie wouldn’t exist if not for the author who put in the hard time to write this fabulous book.

We had to make some changes to the story in order to make our movie. That’s just how it is. So you really owe it to yourself to go read the book, if you haven’t already. After all, the book inspired us to make this movie, right? So you’ll probably enjoy the book, too, and you really deserve to see the author’s original vision.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the movie. Then, when it’s over, consider going to your local bookstore or your local library, and see the story in a whole new way.

Thanks for watching…and reading.

Oh, God, I know — I’m insane, right? But the fantasy gets even BETTER from there. I imagine bookstores teaming up with movie theaters: You bring in your ticket stub and you get a discount on the book. A great cross-promotional opportunity. Libraries could set up in theater lobbies to sign people up for library cards.

There are a million different things that could be done. In my fantasy world, they all happen.

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