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.