Lately Iâ€™ve noticed that my friends, who were already much busier than I am to begin with, have been doing Things for the Benefit of Humanity. Apart from their own jobs theyâ€™re devoting time and energy to cleaning up the environment, or raising money for public education, or mentoring young people in their professions. So Iâ€™ve been thinking of something I can personally do for mankind, something specific, none of that vague, general â€œI wish for world peaceâ€ stuff. (Face it, thereâ€™s never really going to be peace in every corner of the world, because humans are a troublesome lot. At best we can only hope not to wipe each other off the planet. Thereâ€™s an entire school of dystopian literature about societies that achieve order by tranquilizing the citizens, but Iâ€™m getting ahead of myself.) For the record, I love humanity, itâ€™s people I canâ€™t stand.
Now what can I do. What abilities do I have. Well, I can kill cockroaches. Hand me a tsinelas and put me in a room full of the repulsive little creatures. I can even take down a flying ipis by throwing a tsinelas at it. But there are way too many cockroaches in this city (I estimate billions) for me and my tsinelas to make a dent on their population. What else? I supposed I could mentor young people in my profession, once I figure out exactly what my profession is. Seriously, Iâ€™m from the school of Digression and Parentheses, and really shouldnâ€™t pass on my bad habits to the next generation. Plus Iâ€™m almost certain there would be a body count.
I could do counseling. I already get email from total strangers telling me about their personal crises. Occasionally I am accosted by people Iâ€™ve never seen before and will likely never see again, who proceed, unbidden, to tell me the stories of their lives. Some of them even know what I do for a living. They actually want to be written about. On second thought, this is a lousy idea, and the body count would be even higher. Iâ€™m a little sympathy-challenged. Like I said to a girl who had attempted suicide in the past: â€œIf you were serious, you wouldâ€™ve sliced the other way.â€ And what kind of advice am I equipped to dish out? â€œIf you cut your nails too short, you wonâ€™t be able to unlock that thingy on top of your i-Pod.â€ Or, â€œAccording to special relativity, everything that happens has already happened, so donâ€™t make too big a deal about itâ€â€”advice I donâ€™t even follow myself. Still, if it werenâ€™t for the fact that I find much of human behavior mind-boggling, I would make an interesting counselor. Just the other week I told my friendâ€™s eight-month-old son, whose middle name is Roger (after Federer): â€œServe and volley, kid. Live and die at the net.â€ He mustâ€™ve understood me because he nodded. Then he drooled.
This weekend while prowling the shelves at my neighborhood bookstore, I was struck by an idea. (It occurs to me just now that â€˜struckâ€™ is the perfect word to describe how an idea arrives in my brain: from seemingly out of nowhere, like a swift blow to the head, but without the pain, and with a split-second supernova effect, like a jillion light bulbs. You know how on Sesame Street a sudden idea was represented by a light bulb? Ever think about how you think? Philosophers do it professionally, but I prefer to hear from neurologists. I remember the thrill of reading Oliver Sacks for the first time. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. And How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker. Again, Iâ€™m getting ahead of myself.)
This is the idea: Iâ€™m going to campaign for Reading. Iâ€™m going to devote time and energy to persuading (and if necessary, forcing) people to read books. In my personal observation, there just isnâ€™t enough reading going on in this city. Ever sit alone in a restaurant reading a book? Before long, someoneâ€™s going to come up to you and ask whoâ€™s with you. Are you waiting for your friends? Can they sit with you until company arrives? Because surely you canâ€™t be sitting alone, reading a book by choice. How do you explain that the book IS the company?
Consider all the time you spend in traffic, fuming and fidgeting, staring at billboards (Which are being taken down, so you now have an unobstructed view ofâ€”omigod, is that the sky?! Instead of billboards, we should just project ads onto the sides of buildings. Like in the Ridley Scott classic Blade Runner, an adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, one of literally hundreds of books by Philip K. Dick), losing your mind. If youâ€™d been reading a book, you wouldâ€™ve spared yourself that aggravation. If youâ€™d been reading a book, your body would be stuck in traffic, but your mind wouldâ€™ve been somewhere else entirely: hunting orcs in the Misty Mountains, investigating a murder in Delfzijl, or surviving a Brooklyn public school in the 1970s by believing you have superpowers.
READ ONE BOOK A WEEK. It can be done. Let me make a plan and Iâ€™ll get back to you.