E-Book Tarnishes The Reader-Book Relationship

Commentator Andrei Codrescu is upset that passages on his eBook reader are highlighted. This happens automatically by a crowd-sourcing program. Codrescu says it takes the privacy out of reading.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The Kindle e-book allows readers to highlight their favorite passages and if enough people mark the same sentence, every Kindle user can see these so-called popular highlights.

Well, some Kindle users seem to enjoy seeing what others find meaningful, but not commentator Andrei Codrescu.

ANDREI CODRESCU: I wish somebody told me, don't take candy from strangers when I made my first tax-free Internet purchase. I wish that I had remembered the first one's free, which is how dealers make new junkies. I wish that every cliche humanity acquired to protect itself from its history of bamboozlement and trickery was sewn on every shirt pocket by a smart mom.

I won't enumerate each new snare in the house of virtuality, enclosing what remains of our human bodies as the net tightens and we, the fish, thrash about. But here's a new one. I'm reading a new book I downloaded on my Kindle and I noticed an underlined passage. It is surely a mistake, I think. This is a new book. I don't know about you, but I always hated underlined passages in used books. They derail my private enjoyment.

When somebody offers perception of what's important, something moronic, usually, which is why I always prefer buying books new so I could make my own moronic marks. But moronic or not, it was all between me and my new book.

And this thing on my Kindle is supposed to be new. And then I discovered that the horror doesn't stop with the unwelcomed presence of another reader who's defaced my new book. But it deepens with something called view popular highlights, which will tell you how many morons have underlined before so that not only you do not own the new book you paid for, the entire experience of reading is shattered by the presence of a mob that agitates inside your text like strangers in a train station.

So now you can add to the ease of downloading an e-book the end of the illusion that it is your book. The end of the privileged relation between yourself and your book. And a certainty that you've been had. Not only is the e-book not yours to be with alone, it is shared at Amazon which shares with you what it knows about you reading and the readings of others. And lets you know that you are what you underline, which is only a number in a mass of popular views.

Conformism does come of age in the most private of peaceful activities -reading a book, one of the last solitary pleasures in a world full of prompts to behave. My Kindle, sugar-coated cyanide.

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SIEGEL: Andrei Codrescu is the author of "The Poetry Lesson," which is available for Kindle, but highlight at your own risk.

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SIEGEL: This is NPR News.

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