Since the world is ending on Saturday - I'm not sure of the time, the reason, or the parking situation, but enough people seem to agree on the date to have convinced this recovering Catholic - I suddenly find myself needing to make a number of choices: What to wear (comfy clothes, or the most extravagant outfits?) what to eat (extra creamy mac and cheese, or foie gras with caviar on the side?) and, of course, what to drink (gulps of Jack and Coke, shots of peppermint schnapps, or glasses of Dom Perignon while alternating between shots of Jack and schnapps?).
For literary types, however, the most important questions are actually these: What are we reading before the apocalypse, and what volumes are just not going to be flying off the shelves if the world ends in a steaming, smoking ball of vengeful divine wrath before the next episode of SNL?
As regular readers of Publishers Weekly and those who list the Frankfurter Buchmesse among their Facebook friends already know, the sale of diet books will be thin this week.
Nobody who doesn't already have great abs or thin thighs is getting them before Saturday. Will it truly be important to look twenty years younger for the Grim Reaper? Not that I'm bitter, but I hope the GR gets to Suzanne Somers first so that she can learn what the "forever" in "forever sexy" really means. (Ever see that third panel in "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch, Suzanne? Svelte won't help.)
And although such bestsellers as "No Time Left," "Born to Run," and "Heaven is For Real" might draw those who never before glanced at them-their titles giving an advantage over others with ones like "I'd Change My Life If I Had More Time"-they're probably not going to grab new readers.
Nor are books like "The Happiness Project" or even the most nicely illustrated volumes on crafting, scrapbooking, learning Photoshop, or finding your own parachute (unless it's literally about finding your own parachute and, while you're at it, finding your own machete, your own gas-mask and your own zombie-fighting equipment.)
Books on achieving sobriety, collecting Hummel figurines, putting an end to deforestation, and finding Prince Charming will languish, unopened.
But we're also not going to have time to luxuriate in existential angst. We're tossing Foucault (and Foucault's Pendulum, for that matter) to the wind. We're not going to be looking for fad philosophies or perusing books by obscure and idiot scholars. We're not going to worry if books are under-theorized, overly sentimental, or if their bibliographies seem a tad incomplete. Yes, I have colleagues who will be looking for errors in the Book of Revelations, just so they can mark little pious notes in the margin, but they're in limbo already.
I have many more friends who will be reading the New Testament, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Talmud, the Koran, and "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" the way W.C. Fields said he was reading the Bible: this is, looking for loopholes.
It'd be interesting to see what we'd read if we actually considered ourselves an endangered species. We'd have to give up the pretence and get with the program; we'd have to read only what we know (or believe) we'd love and skip those books we've been carrying around as accessories or using as table decorations.
Anthony Trollope's "The Way We Live Now." Because it'd just be too ironic, right?
Any book by a cast member of "Jersey Shore," "Mob Wives," "The Hills," or "American Idol."
Any book by Pioneer Woman, Vampire Lady (a.k.a. Stephenie Meyer), and/or Sarah Palin (or any of the Palinettes). Life is now way, way too short for cutesy and coy arguments about buttering your own biscuits. Who wants to spend the apocalypse with tea-swilling uplifters?
Any book by Charlie Sheen. Sheen might well have brought on this cataclysm. Did you know that one of his books of poetry was being auctioned at Amazon for 5k? No kidding. I'm hoping that means hell froze over.
Any book by an entertainer who only has one name: Cher, Madonna, Liberace, and The Donald come to mind. They're only interested in fulminating over their extreme specialness. When the meter is running, do you want to spend time with people who are so blank all they need is a letterhead?
Margaret Wise Brown's "Good Night, Moon." Not only is the book about death-what did you think all those farewells were really about?-only now we'll be nighty-night for a long, long time.
"The Book of Revelation for Dummies." I'm not making this up. I wouldn't dare, just in case. And it can be ordered for overnight delivery, if you're interested.
"The Bartender's Black Book, Updated 9th Edition." Even though you might end up distilling your own liquor from car batteries, you'll still need to know whether to use olives or a twist.
Dorothy Parker's "Complete Stories." Parker will make you laugh out loud, but also reassure you that you won't be missing all that much if you don't make Saturday night's date. Or any other date, ever.
Fyodor Dostoevsky's "The Idiot." Because, dear reader, those who believe they are not going to have to face life, the world, and all that comes with it-for better and worse, for richer or poorer-on May 22nd, already have a book with their name on it.
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