I worry about my brain. I think it’s broken. I blame these little guys:
I used to read Kafka; now I watch cat videos. When I was a kid, I read a book a day. They weren’t the most challenging books—Jill and Her Pony; Misadventure at the Gymkhana; Jill’s Pony goes to the Glue Factory!—but still, they kept my brain busy. Reading occupied all of my spare time, and my most frequent whine was “Just let me finish this chapter!” When I wasn’t reading, I was devising methods for future reading; my parents were strict about lights out, so reading into the wee hours involved some cunning. I tried reading under the covers with a flashlight, but I was quickly found out, and the flashlight was locked away in a cupboard. Then I discovered that if I turned on the hall light and angled my bedroom door just right, I could read in the beam of light—so my parents removed the lightbulb, and for the rest of my childhood we felt our way down the dark hallway at night like the soon-to-be-slaughtered in a horror movie. Cue another brilliant plan: the sofa in the living room faced away from the hall door, so if I crawled silently out to the living room, I could slide myself and Jill’s pony under the sofa without anyone noticing—and the noise from the TV would disguise the sound of my pages turning! This plan worked well until, peeping out from under the couch one night, I accidentally witnessed some post-watershed TV debacle involving a man, a woman, and a very bloody pair of scissors, and had to confess my sofa-crime the next day in order to receive PTSD counseling from my mother. She gave me a hug and told me TV wasn’t real, and then my parents moved the sofa to the other side of the room.
All of which is to say: reading used to be really important to me. And now I watch cat videos. I watch videos of people in Russia driving eccentrically. I look at photos on Facebook. Here is a photo of a bowl of ramen that is about to be eaten by that Swedish woman I met once at a party. I play Candy Crush Saga (don’t pretend you don’t play Candy Crush Saga). I look things up on Wiki—last week I looked up sea otters, Catherine of Aragon, and the tiny island nation of Palau—but I remember nothing. I tell myself I’m reading an insightful Longform essay about autism, but really I’m just google-imaging fat tuxedo cat (try it; you’ll squee yourself). My brain wants screen candy.
I thought the Kindle might help—I’ll trick myself into reading by putting my book on a tiny screen!—but the Kindle is such an appalling device that mostly I just end up ranting instead of reading. I know, I know, a bricks-and-mortar bookstore dissing the Kindle—quelle surprise! But seriously, what a daft piece of technology. It looks like it was ripped from the dashboard of a 1982 Lada. The user interface was designed with someone other than a human being in mind (an excitable squirrel, perhaps?); it’s awkward to hold in bed, where all the best reading is done; and even with the font set at its tiniest size, it takes about three seconds to read a single page, meaning that every three seconds you have to jab at that dim little screen and hope the very next page comes up. Sometimes the very next page does come up; sometimes you jab a little too far to the left and the previous page comes up—ah, previous page, what happy memories of three seconds ago!—and sometimes the Kindle gets all whimsical and skips gleefully to an entirely random page, at which point you realize it was never intended to be used as an e-reader, but rather was designed to be a challenging electronic game called Find My Page! You can try to find your page by selecting “Go To” and then the chapter, but this is no help if you don’t remember the name of the chapter you were just reading, or if the chapters are hundreds of pages long. Or you can “go to” a Loc (location) in your book, but alas this is impossible, because you don’t know your location. Why would you? It’s an entirely meaningless number; a long book has thousands of locations; and memorizing the location at the bottom of each tiny, stupid page would take longer than reading the tiny, stupid page itself. So you’re screwed! Silly you! Pick a location at random, go back, pick another one, and now get ready to jab at that tiny, stupid screen eighty-three times until you reach the very next page. See? Ranting, not reading.
Nope, the Kindle didn’t work. I think the only way to rescue my poor brain is to risk public humiliation. So here’s the Malvern Books book group pledge: in the next two weeks, I will read and finish a book (an actual book, with booky smells, obviously; not a mere collection of dimly lit locations), and then I shall come back here and tell you all about it. If I don’t keep my pledge, feel free to call me a colossal nitwit, and we can all stop pretending there’s any hope for my neurons. I’ll give in and buy a little bib and a sippy cup and just stare at poorly shot ten-second films of cats falling off counters for the rest of my days. You can mop the pixelated dribble off my chin when you come to visit me at the home.
If you’re feeling similarly afflicted with internetitis, or if, you know, you just want to read a book, feel free to join me. Our book group requires no baking, no use of the phrase I just couldn’t relate to his character, and there will be no ten-minute breaks in which we discuss crafts and Kegels. I will serve Negronis and day-old beans. And the book we’ll be reading is Spring Snow, the first novel of Yukio Mishima’s The Sea of Fertility tetralogy. Mishima was recommended to me by two dear friends. That other dear friend, Wiki, tells us that Mishima (1920-1975) is considered one of the most important Japanese authors of the twentieth century and, more interestingly, that he founded a private militia and committed suicide by seppuku after a failed coup d’état (dude totally stole Joyce Carol Oates’ exit strategy!) Here’s a 1969 interview in which he looks dashing whilst discussing Japanese nationalism:
So, who’s in? Let’s step away from our screens and spend the next two weeks immersed in Mishimaland. If you’re reading the Vintage Books edition, you’ll need to tear through twenty-eight pages a day, which should still leave a little time for—