The Soul of the American Reader

As some of you know, it is possible to highlight e-books on your Amazon Kindle.  What some of you may not know is that Amazon collects all of your highlights and ranks them. I learned about this today from reading Noreen Malone’s piece at The New Republic on the soul of the American reader.

It looks like American readers are obsessed with The Hunger Games triology (19 out of the top 25 highlights), Jane Austen, the Bible (the most highlighted book), Steve Jobs, habits of highly effective people, and evangelical spirituality (especially David Platt and William P. Young).

Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography makes several appearances in the top 100 (debuting at #66) highlights.  3880 Kindle users highlighted his famous passage about moral improvement and the cultivation of virtue:

1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. 2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation. 3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. 4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. 5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing. 6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

I wonder if these are college students who have been assigned The Autobiography in class?

The highest ranked highlighted quote from a history book is Laura Hildebrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionThis quote comes in at #161:

Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty. 

Other observations:

Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, first appears at #264.  1677 Kindle users highlighted this quote: In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”

1651 Kindle users highlighted this quote from G.K. Chesteron’s Orthodoxy: “The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

The first quote from the Bible comes in at #376.  It is Philippians 4:6-7
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The second most highlighted Bible passage is–you guessed it–John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  It comes in at #468.