As I get older, sicker, and more beset with claims on my attention, I find myself dreaming up simple rules for gracefully consuming my way through the world. As a person reliant on deeply industrialized and entangled societies for money, food, medicine and entertainment, I find that simple tricks help me feel sane. Heuristics are useful when navigating complex systems, be it 21st century America or your personal ethics.
The following rules of thumb might help if you feel overwhelmed with the incomprehensible amount of interesting culture to eat and be eaten by. Because books are the media that I chase and covet the most, I’ll use them here. Altering the immortal words of Gale: “So many books, so little time.”
1. When in doubt, don’t read it.
Err on the side of omission. You might die tomorrow—hell, you might die tonight—and wouldn’t you regret it if you slogged through fifty more pages of some book that just feels serviceable?
2. If the author’s a bigot, don’t read it.
This applies to Mein Kampf all the way down to that writer that said “I just can’t fuck any more NYU students with Jim Morrison posters on their wall.” With so much potentially transcendent literature written by not-immediately-obvious-assholes just waiting in libraries and in book stores, feel free to judge with severe intolerance.
3. If it’s new, don’t read it.
Like evolution, time is a critic without aim, but there’s a lot of literature that has been retold, copied, salvaged and painfully rebuilt because it’s wildly powerful or innovative to most people that engage it. The newer the book you’re reading, the more likely it’ll be buried by the sands of time.* Lately, I’ve been reading mostly ancient literature and looming works from a few centuries ago, and I’m having trouble returning to contemporary stuff. But this difficulty feels nice.
Today is Lunar New Year. Happy new year to those of you to follow that calendar. I don’t, but I like the idea of having two new years to celebrate. Also, I’m superstitious, and if one new year’s day isn’t what I wanted, I get another stab at it: today.
Like most Americans, I follow the Gregorian calendar. I grew up Catholic, so I never understood the whole lunar calendar thing, but I think the rest of my family – who are Buddhist – do. But it’s the year of the dragon. Dragons are cool. For those of you who watch Game of Thrones: how the fuck do you progress from dragons. Dragons enter the picture and it’s game fucking over, people.
Speaking of new year’s day: England didn’t accept January 1 as the commencement of the new year until 1752, when they adopted the Gregorian calendar. Other European countries were quicker to adjust, but England stood strong, until 1752 that is.