A couple of years ago I tried to be all smart and sophisticated so I downloaded all of the works of Plato onto my Kindle. And I sat there and read for a little while, and I tried really hard, to furrow my brow, to give off the image of a man thinking, really thinking, like a deep serious thinking. After a while I realized that I didn’t need to try that hard, because the text was so complicated that I really didn’t have to put any effort into looking confused, my brow was actually furrowing naturally. This went on for like twenty minutes, and then I started getting bored. I really wanted somebody to come in the room and be like, “Wow, Rob, you really look like you’re working on something pretty tough, what is it?” and I’d say, “Oh, you know, just Plato, just brushing up on some Plato.”
But nobody saw me. My wife walked by, but she didn’t ask what I was reading. And after her sitting across from me for like five minutes, I finally said, “Hey, don’t you want to know what I’m reading?” and she said, “No, not really.”
And then I told myself I’d take a five minute break, let all of that philosophy sink in. But that was it. That was the last time I opened that. I read for like twenty minutes and the progress bar at the bottom of the Kindle hadn’t even moved up one percent. There’s no way I was going to get through any of that.
I took some philosophy classes in college. All prerequisite stuff. It was all really tough, not the class, but the assignments. “Go home from class, ignore all of your friends playing Super Smash Brothers down the hall, close the door to your room and read seventy-five pages of Descartes.” Actually, that was pretty much my entire college education, choosing between going to the library or staying in and watching The Boondock Saints with everybody in the dorm. No thanks. I’ll just take a B please.
Every once in a while I’ll read an article or book about a famous person, a writer, Abraham Lincoln, somebody accomplished. When writing about how smart somebody is, the word to use is devour. This person devoured books and newspapers. They devoured Plato.
Besides being an overused word, devour never connected with me. I like reading, but devouring the classics? Being able to not only read an old book, but to sit there and be unable to pull myself away from the page? That’s something that I don’t have inside. One time a couple of years ago I downloaded a bunch of old books. I started with Crime and Punishment. After spending an hour just trying to get through the first ten pages, I realized the enormity of the challenge ahead. Still, I pressed on. I wanted to prove to myself that I could finish one giant old book. It took me forever, but finally I did it.
And then I looked at all of the other giant books I had downloaded, War and Peace, Moby Dick, Infinite Jest, not to mention all of that unread Plato. There’s no way. I just can’t get myself to be engaged. And these are all recognized masterpieces, right? What’s missing from my life, what does somebody else have inside of them, to be so engaged in a book that, right now, I can’t sit through for even ten minutes? I want to be able to feel like that too.
I’d probably have to have no electricity, I’d have to live by myself somewhere with nothing else to do. But that can’t be all of it. There are people out there who study this stuff. They have to like it. What are they getting that I’m not? What am I doing wrong?
And then I think about the word devour again. And the only thing I can think of that comes close to applying in my life are comic books. For a good eight years, from high school through college and a couple of years after, I read comic books religiously. I would buy basically every single comic book that came out each Wednesday. And yeah, I guess you could say I devoured them.
I had to stop eventually. My collection grew to be way to big, like I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do with all of my old comics. They’re taking up space. Everybody thinks that comics have some sort of collectible value, but I don’t buy that at all. If I go to a comic store and buy an issue, it’s going to be the same copy of the same issue that you can find numerous printings of in any comic store across the country. It’s simple supply and demand. All of the old comics are valuable simply because, at the time, nobody hung on to their old books. And so the first appearance of Superman is really valuable just because there are only like ten copies left.
But modern books? Every fanboy in the world keeps his or her comics sealed away in plastic bags. There’s no chance of anything becoming rare or vintage, unless the publishers decide to restrict the supply. And why would they? They’d sell less comics.
I don’t even know what I’m talking about. It’s probably because I never paid attention during philosophy class. It hurts too much to really think about what all of those old Greek guys were talking about. Like Plato comparing the soul to a charioteer trying to handle two horses. Or Nietzsche imagining staring into the abyss. Please. I don’t even know what any of that stuff means. When somebody writes my biography, it’s just going to be photocopied reprints, the Infinity Gauntlet and the Squadron Supreme and the Secret Wars and Maximum Clonage and the Age of Apocalypse and the Crisis on Infinite Earths. And nobody’s going to buy it. Or even write it. They’re all already written.