It made for an irresistible headline: The CEO of Facebook—a platform perceived by many as a frivolous, even pernicious, digital time suck—announced last week that he would be reading a book every two weeks and would post his choices on a page called “A Year of Books.” The tongue-in-cheek question: Was Mark Zuckerberg actually encouraging people to turn away from his very own platform?
Of course not. The man has shareholders after all. The more serious question heard round the Internet: Is Zuck the new Oprah? That makes a little more sense, although Zuckerberg is more a name than a face. Neither he, nor his brand, have Oprah’s warmth, and the first book he’s chosen, The End of Power by Moisés Naím, looks short on narrative appeal, although its lengthy subtitle “From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be” at least tempts us with the proposition that it’s okay not to be Mark Zuckerberg.
Adrienne Lafrance, writing for The Atlantic, thinks the book club could signal a different transformation: one where Facebook becomes a bit more like Google or Amazon. Amazon, after all, started as an online bookstore and now delivers everything from news to yak bone medicine bracelets.
While her analysis makes a commerce-directed Facebook sound plausible, my own sense is that this Year of Books move is one part total world domination, and nine parts public relations. It’s been a long time since Facebook was the latest thing, and to keep their users (and their advertisers), they’ve got to keep coming up with new ways to seem relevant. On one hand, the Facebook book club is a neat path to some free press. On the other, it’s a subtle way to remind users about Facebook pages and groups. If The End of Power isn’t your bag, you can always form a group (or join an existing one) to discuss the latest novel by Jodi Picoult.
If you have plans to make 2015 your own year of books, will you be reading print, e-books, or a mix of both? New subscription-based services like Kindle Unlimited offer not only increased savings for voracious readers, they’re also helping to drive down prices for stand-alone e-titles. But print is far from dead. Recent studies show that light emitting e-readers can screw up your sleep, and that print books beat all kinds of screens for factors like comprehension, in-depth processing, and empathy. Author Miranda July points out in a recent interview that we actually breath less when we’re online, and that single-purpose objects such as books reduce heart rate and increase focus. So if your New Year’s resolution is to get healthy, reading real books could be a part of that, too.
Because of these factors, or maybe due to simple affection, sales of print books actually increased in 2014. This month and next, our Well Done book club, The Coffee Ring, will be reading print copies of What We See When We Read by Knopf associate art director and cover designer Peter Mendelsund (another great reason to choose print: the cover). It takes a close look at how text is translated and transformed by our imaginations, our memory (especially of film adaptations), and our personal inclinations. We’re looking forward to turning the pages, in all their old-fashioned, haptic glory.
Book labyrinth at the Last Bookstore by Johnnydeezwax (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABook_Labyrinth-_the_Last_Bookstore.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.
Yak bone meditation beads (http://himalayantraders.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Tibetan-Buddhist-Yak-Bone-Coral-Turquoise-Inlaid-Healing-Mala-Meditation-Beads-3.jpg) via Google Image.
Miranda July photo by Steve Rhodes (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c8/Miranda_july_by_steve_rhodes.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.