I’m officially on a reading binge; I’m not confident it’s any better than a Netflix binge.
In either case, you’re subjecting yourself to information glut. It’s just that reading demands a much slower digestive process because the volume of information is significantly smaller. I don’t know the numbers (nor do I care to check myself on this conjecture) but I imagine in a single frame of a television show or a film is more information than an entire book. Just consider all the sensory input of watching just a few seconds of a show. It’s mind-boggling that we process any of it. Ultimately, we process what we’ve learned to process, i.e. we select particular details from an abundant environment and generate meaning from there. We see mostly what we’ve seen and already internalized, and construct a narrative out of ourselves. So whenever we watch a show with friends, we’re constructing different experiences based on our singular backgrounds. Pretty cool.
Not sure where I was going with that. Anyway, reading is a meal that you enjoy over a much longer period of time, so no matter how big the meal is, you receive it as though you are the finest dining establishment imaginable. Television isn’t fast food as much as it’s an instantaneous and unrelenting CiCi’s buffet being crammed into our mushy brains. Why am I attacking television? It’s great! Unlike what my flimsy food metaphor suggests, you never want to purge! You just keep gorging! Pretty cool.
I’m lost again. Reading? Reading. Oh yeah, that activity that’s privileged as somehow morally superior to other forms of consumption. I don’t buy it. I get it, and I get that I ought to prioritize reading above, say, watching television or film, but…no, thanks. I’ll eat it all. Variety is the key, if I may appropriate genetic truths and make this argument sort of scientific.
“But your brain is shaped by the content and the form of information you…”
Pretty cool. Moving on.
I followed up All The Light We Cannot See, The Fire Next Time, and Born Standing Up with Mary Roach’s Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (and I’ll have Citizen: An American Lyric finished shortly after I compose this post). I’d dined with Roach before in her hilarious, illuminating space exploration, Packing for Mars, which made me understand and appreciate the incredible, varied challenges of any manned trip to the red planet. Check it out. It’s great. Gulp takes you deep into your own digestive tract, and into the weird medical and marketing history surrounding the thing that is so completely us: the gut. Trust your guts? You have no choice; you are your guts, or at least, you are the innumerable hosts of bacteria living in your gut.
As with Packing for Mars, there’s so much delicious information in the text that it’s hard to summarize. It’s a series of wonderful treats that have to be read to be believed. In other words, I’m too lazy to recapitulate things like: doctors’ reckless, pretty much unethical treatment of people in the service of science; the cultural contingency of taste and disgust (duh); “people like what they eat rather than eat what they like,” hence the importance of variety in a child’s early diet; Fletcherism, which was a real campaign in favor of viewing chewing as economic policy; the amazing properties and powers of spit; why crunchiness is so appealing, according to tenets of evolutionary biology (it signals fresh and safe, but on a sociological level, it gives us a feeling of power and conquest); “people eat physics,” because that’s an actual written line in the book; “sensations interpreted as live animals in the stomach,” because that’s not only an actual written line in the book but the title of an actual article in the annals of medical and scientific research; people do a lot of weird experiments, like seeing if worms can eat their way out of a predator’s stomach, like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Vol 2; Elvis Presley died of “mega-colon,” which is as awful as it sounds; the mythology of fire-breathing dragons comes from the reality of a snake’s capacity to belch fire; we should not succumb to the culturally inherited “ick” factor surrounding our gut, because we’re only expressing contempt for the literal core of our being. Listen to your heart, sure, but show your gut some attention too. You’re nothing without it.
Okay, so I ended up summarizing a few interesting things, but that’s because “we’re basically a highly evolved earthworm surrounding the intestinal tract,” OR, “a big pipe with a little bit around it.” Pretty cool.