Musing while munching a bowl of Wheaties, a thought came to me. Not only do we owe the practice of eating breakfast cereal to an evangelical strain of Christianity, but we also encounter the early morning ideas that stay with us through the day. Cereal boxes start our day. Advertisers and marketers know that images are important. If successfully done they stay with us and may influence future purchasing choices. In the case of Wheaties (which I’ve always liked) the box shows some athlete or other, implying that we’ll be champions too if we partake. We are what we wheat. Now, I don’t follow sports. I can tell a football from a basketball, but watching grown men (usually) chasing one about really has no appeal to me. I don’t eat Wheaties to become big and strong. (At my age you don’t want to get bigger.)
As I ponder my fodder, I wonder what it would be like if we put pictures of people reading on our cereal boxes. Would we experience a massive renaissance of literacy if cool people were shown with a book instead of a ball? Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for exercise. I’m a fidgety sort of guy who doesn’t sit still well. I like to get out and jog or walk. I don’t mind doing household repairs. I like to move about. But reading is one of the great rewards I allow myself. When work becomes dull, I look forward to an evening of reading (I tend to do my writing in the morning, before the mental exhaustion of the day kicks in. Wheaties are, after all, a morning food). It’s kind of like living in pre-television times, I suspect.
Among the publishing industry the fate of book reading is a constant topic of discussion. Or, not to put too fine a point on it, book buying. Reading itself is doing fine. If, for example, you are reading this you are probably doing so on a screen but you’re still reading. You don’t have to pay for reading, and it passes the time. No, the crises is getting people to buy books. People like yours truly buy books even when many are available free online. I spend at least eight hours a workday in front of a computer screen, and by the end of it, nervous and twitchy, I need a break. I need a physical book. And maybe a physical constitutional walk. If only my breakfast cereal encouraged others to explore the joys of the literary life—but then, I’ve got to get going; my Wheaties are getting soggy.