I’m fascinated by the recurring genre of reading propaganda. It would be interesting to know the extent to which it rises and falls around changes to the materiality of reading. Certainly its prevalence today is trying to address the problem of technological change.
This video from the Library of Congress is interesting in the way “reading” actually means “reading books.” It’s associated with getting on a train, i.e. being cool or trendy. But the train is of course a bit retro, as is the conductor’s stamp (of the book as ticket). These ads tell us important things about the way we understand technologies of reading. In this case, books are old, but therefore potentially cool. They are thought of as portable, but also transformative — you don’t just take them, they take you places. And of course where they take you is a misty fantasy world (with requisite allusions to Hogwarts). Trains may be fast, but they are slower, more contemplative than the digital information infrastructure is thought to be. Slowness, time, dreaming, and being child-like — these are the recurrent ways we have tried to understand the value of reading for at least the last 200 years.
And then there is the truly hilarious: Julian Smith’s “I’m Reading a Book” with the refrain, “Don’t you ever interrupt me while I’m readin’ a book.”