“It’s like reality television, but for books!”

Going to the gym is indulging in irony. Any gym you go to there will be thumping music, television and magazines. Unless you’re lucky enough to remember to bring your book or your iPod, you’re in a situation where you can spend an hour or more staring at other people or at the equipment, or pass your gaze over cable TV or a magazine, or sometimes switching between the two. The content of both cable television and the magazines is guaranteed to be interspersed with commercials and content that might as well be a commercial, all driving you to a vague sense of unease that can only be cured by purchasing or indulging in the flashing images and the ads in the sidebar. I get hungry for specific and unhealthy pseudofood while at the gym, while images of Ore-Ida frozen potatoes, Haagen-Dazs ice cream and Tyson frozen chicken nuggets tempt me.

Yesterday I picked my poison in the form of Real Simple magazine, which was nicely provided by my gym for my distraction. Flitting my gaze between Wolf Blitzer and faux simplification, I eventually found an article that seemed worth reading by A.J. Jacobs (author of The Year of Living Biblically. ) Of course, I didn’t realize he was also the author of The Year of Living Biblically, I only knew that he was the author of the upcoming book The Guinea Pig Diaries, whose title I discarded due to me not particularly caring until now.

The article was an abridged excerpt from his new book, focusing on the actual effort to simplify and organize life by unitasking. It turns out, in case you didn’t know, that any feelings of increased productivity by multitasking is a lie. We actually lose productivity when we try to multitask, and I would argue, lose some intimacy with our surroundings making multitasking at best a time sucker and at worst downright dangerous (eg. talking on a cellphone + doing anything else.) The excerpt read like an article in the Shambala Sun: unitasking as a conscious effort of mindfulness and full experience of a singular action. There were elements in the excerpt that included contemplations on patience and the hard work that is bringing your mind back from distraction. All good lessons, and a great reminder to me, as a chronic multitasker, that I should take this lesson to heart.

I found myself a little disappointed, though, when I found out just who the author of this piece was. This is based solely on the fact that A.J. Jacobs is a writer who basically logs a portion of his life, then packages it into a book. It’s what happens when you turn a blog into a book. It’s reality television, with the pretense of being unscripted, but packaged into a book giving a more virtuous veneer to a genre that I’m not sure deserves attention. I’m not saying that A.J. Jacobs is a bad writer – in fact, I enjoyed reading the excerpt and think that he made some valid points, however, this is just one book in a string of books where he sets off on a quest for the purpose of his own self-discovery and then writes about it.

Maybe I’m jealous. I’m a blogger (though, if not for Google Analytics, I would not believe anyone read this thing), and I’d love to be published some day – but not for the content of my blog. I do have to wonder, though – what makes these bloggers-turned-published authors more deserving of royalties than the next guy? A.J. Jacob’s schtick seems to be putting himself in awkward situations and writing about it. Julie Powell, author of Julie and Julia, turned her blog into a best selling book, and now a well-received Hollywood film starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. Why shouldn’t any person’s mundane life be profitable?

I aspire to high art. I can only believe that my art background before college, and the two years at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago infected me with this idea that there is good art, and there is bad art (or non-art, if it’s really bad), and I know the difference. Maybe we, as a culture, have reached a state of media saturation, of too many choices, leading us to consume junk food for our brains as well as our bodies. It’s not that junk food is bad necessarily, it’s just in the quantities that we’re consuming it.

You know, necessitating us to buy our gym memberships to balance the chicken nuggets and fries we had for lunch.

One thought on ““It’s like reality television, but for books!”

  1. I’m reading. And deeply resentful of bloggers-who-publish, as they all seem to have giant publicity budgets, and thus make money from their books. Unlike those of us who, for some stupid reason, continue to write fiction.

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