Dispatches | April 13, 2011


Growing up (and no, that picture isn’t of me), I spent most mornings before school sitting at the kitchen table facing a wall of cereal boxes.  They were useful as a Great Wall of sorts from my barbarian little brother on the other side, but more than that, they were something to do.

Now, as documented in The Telegraph, British supermarket Asda has had a bright idea–putting fiction on the backs of boxes, rather than the usual jumble of word searches, mazes, and the like.  They are starting with excerpts from Roald Dahl–which seems to me an excellent mix of entertainment with quality writing. What a novel idea!

Puffin, the publisher collaborating with Asda seems to be on to something.  There is undoubtedly much more demand on our attention, particularly for young people, so why not slip them a bit of literature when they are still bleary-eyed enough to be easy targets.  And someone must be reading these boxes if the big brands are bothering to print them (on the back, I am sure, of oodles market research).

As of now, Puffin is planning to use punchy excerpts from Dahl’s more popular novels, but who’s to say they won’t turn the Asda brand box-backs into a cereal-serial,maybe even one featuring new work.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic if children were waiting as impatiently for the new box of Count Chocula as they are for the next episode of Phineas and Ferb or the release of the new Pokemon game (word on the street is it’s pretty good).

Would the same thing work for adults?  Would anyone ever say by the water-cooler, “You’ve got to check out the latest Special-K.  It’s the chapter of Don Quixote where Sancho Panza throws up all over Don Quixote.” (Ok, maybe not that chapter, it is a bit too well-rendered for breakfast reading).  Maybe this isn’t the right media for adults, but the idea isn’t too far out there.  Dickens serialized most of what he wrote, as did many of his contemporaries.  There may be an opportunity for a resurgence of serialized fiction, even if it doesn’t happen in newspapers or magazines.

There are novels now being published on tweet at a time, so why not.  Perhaps the adult equivalent to the cereal boxes would be serial fiction on Starbucks cups or desktop tear-off calendars, let alone all the various electronic media.

It’s early and I’m bleary-eyed and I haven’t had my cereal yet.  So give me a hand, where else could we slip in some literature, be it for the kiddies or the grown-ups?  I’m off to see what my generic frosted mini-wheats box has to offer.

Mike Petrik is an intern at the Missouri Review, and a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri.