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Reading and Restaurants

A new story at the Guardian on how McDonald’s is planning on distributing 15 million children’s books over the next few years through it’s happy meal program. What a great way to make parents forget that the food is terrible — they give us books!

Actually, the story made me think about the way restaurants are great spaces of reading. Menus, advertisements, warning labels (“caution: hot” or “employees must wash hands…” (but what about the rest of us?))

For me it was always the cereal box that was my childhood Bible. I’d read the ingredients every morning and play the same stupid game on the back…one…more…time. I was raised pre-liberal piety, so we ate a lot of sugar cereal in my house. A lot. I remember the boxes like it was yesterday, but it wasn’t just the sugar or the toys in the bottom. It was the words. Words were all over those boxes, weird ones too (Count Chocula?!). I’d munch away and read away because what else is there to do while sitting alone at a table underneath a microwave eating your breakfast as a kid (my brother was always late and still in bed).

There is clearly a strong association between early readers and a kind of hunger for reading — they often seem like they just can’t get enough of it, or once they start they can’t stop. I see it in my son now who has just crossed a new threshold of reading about mid-way through the third grade. He devours books. We use this kind of language all the time. It seems only natural that the food industry would be a big promoter of literacy (are we on the verge of bibliographic obesity?).

I’d be very curious to know more about this from the neuroscientists. Why are we so drawn to reading and french fries at a certain age? (Not to mention stupid plastic toys?) What’s so addictive about reading and letters? Either way, I’m really glad that companies are getting creative about the circulation of the written word.

For less nutritionally oriented folks, there’s always the art project Car 9 by Kayle Brandon, who put her book in the back of taxis as a way of having them circulate in non-traditional fashion. The circulation of print is just more fun than the digital because it’s so serendipitous and experiential. We search for digital texts, but books seem to find us.

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