Kindle’s popular highlights are pretty much the only reason I would have to read anything on a Kindle anymore. I have successfully boycotted Amazon for books and most other things for the last several months, but I still find myself amazed at the popular highlights, mostly because of their extraordinary mediocrity. I’m pretty sure that most people just highlight something popular because they see that other people have highlighted it, and they think that necessarily means it’s important — and I’m pretty sure that there has to be a cadre of people who are trolling the popular highlights. Some of the highlights in the Song of Ice and Fire books just made no damn sense. There were whole passages of “Hodor Hodor Hodor” that got highlighted by at least tens of readers.
In any event, Amazon released a list of the most popular highlights of all Kindle books, and while most of them are insightful or at least novel on their own (which IMO is the point of highlighting? I could be wrong), others, isolated from their context, don’t make much sense. For example, from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:
“THEN YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED!”roared Black. “DIED RATHER THAN BETRAY YOUR FRIENDS, AS WE WOULD HAVE DONE FOR YOU!”
Also — nitpicky, but whatever — the passage of The Hunger Games in which the rules of the Hunger Games are explained isn’t particularly useful. Like, would you quote that in a paper? (I say no, you could paraphrase and cut down your quoted word count.) Would you come back to it as guidance later on? The book hammers the rules home throughout the narrative, so it’s not like you’re needing a reminder. It doesn’t give you any insight about Katniss, it’s just exposition. And yet it’s one of the most popular highlights on Kindle.
Of course, all of this is coming from a woman who does this to books she loves…
…So take from that what you will. I’m just looking at this list and going, all right, these are the most popular highlights on Kindle, but what does it tell us about our reading habits or what makes great literature? I’m just going to hazard a guess: I think that highlighting on Kindle is more a way for the reader to feel like they’re interacting with a real book than it is a method people use for critical reading or even, necessarily, to mark ideas they think are profound or want to come back to. I also think that it’s a way of feeling like you’re part of a reading community (ergo highlighting merely because other people highlighted — I’m not going to pretend I haven’t done it). But I don’t really see that these are identifications of great writing, nor do I think they’re representative of what makes the novels included on the list as popular as they are.
To me this raises the question of how we read, especially how we read popular fiction. What’s your reading and highlighting strategy? I’m very curious.
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