Why is it so hard to sit on BART and just be? Why this compulsion for something to read, to wrap our minds around, to distract? Magazine and newspaper racks line the wall of the BART station, just in case you come unprepared. Is it because without something to read, we might accidentally look at someone else? And worse, they might see us looking at them? People are always telling me to stop staring. And yet, besides the exhibitionists, doesn’t everyone secretly crave to be seen?
Well, alright, enough of that. If I’m going to read, I might as well give some thought to WHAT it is I’m reading. All this talk about how great reading is, how reading expands your mind. The literacy zealots would have you believe that books are inherently sacred. They are not. Books are like food. There’s fast food (And God help you if you try to blame McDonald’s for your own lack of self-control!) and health food and everything else in between. There’s eating for basic nutrition, for escape, for pleasure, for social reasons… just as there is reading for basic information, for escape, pleasure, knowledge, self-improvement… Shouldn’t what we feed our minds be at least as important as what we feed our bodies?
I think I’d rather sit and stare at other passengers than organize my trip around some collection of printed words whose sole purpose is to distract me, or worse, sell me something. I’d rather have a little human contact here and there than increase my alienation by keeping my head in a book.
Here’s a thought: maybe one way to have both (human connection and also distraction) is to read things that other people have given me. Last week, I read Sea Glass, by Anita Shreve, which Marla lent to me months ago. If I’d bought the book myself, I’d have been disappointed by it. But since it’s one of her favorite books, I guess reading it connected me a bit more to Marla. The Alchemist, which I read on Monday, not only connected me to Sonia, but also Madonna. (Not that I care.) And Girl-Child, read tonight, gave me scary insight into Tomi. She didn’t just give me the book; she wrote it!