On Not Reading or Even Listening to The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I don’t think The Omnivore’s Dilemma is going to happen for me, even as an audiobook, even on a long drive. I zoned out completely at the start of the corn facts, disappearing into the fugue state of memories (past adventure, lost love) and fantasies (future adventure, found love) where I spend most of my time when not actively engaged in extreme sports mercifully demanding my total mental presence.

I only came to when the voice said, “End of Disc One”—of twelve. That’s a lot of corn. Too much corn, which, if I understand correctly what little of The Omnivore’s Dilemma I did absorb, is America’s problem, too.

This confirms my long-standing belief that I can only absorb verbal information through my optic or cochlear nerve in the form of a narrative arc concerning 1) adventure 2) love or 3) preferably both. I can also breeze through stories of people sticking it to the man, existential philosophy about our confusing urges to both live and die, and things that make me laugh.

My brother cleverly suggested Cliffs Notes. I often avail myself of these frowned-upon resources in order to then semi-ghostwrite privileged adolescents’ English papers about books which neither they nor I have actually read, which is my complicated hustle in this complicated economy. It pays better than growing corn, even with government subsidies.

Any ethical dilemmas I might have about this hustle are resolved by my firm belief that all literary criticism and analysis–and in fact all secondary source material–are complete bullshit, and academic writing is both an intellectual and aesthetic atrocity perpetrated on humanity by a small and unfairly empowered coterie of anhedonic people who are afraid of primary source material in all its forms. Primary source material includes: 1)  books people write themselves about their own ideas and experiences and 2) experience itself, a.k.a., life. Secondary secondary source material, literary criticism and analysis and all academic writing are therefore 1) a denial of life itself and 2) an exercise in mental, physical, and psycho-spiritual oppression. For these reasons, I rationalize, reducing the alienated intellectual labor of homework to a commodity not unlike corn, and selling my own ability to do it not unlike a farmer sells corn is not inherently bad, especially since man and woman are alone in a godless and non-dualistic universe in which the very existence of such things as “good” or “bad,” “man” or “woman,” or “morals” or “ethics” are an illusion.

“That sounds like the kind of thing that could get me laid,” remarked a climbing buddy once as I rambled verbally in this vein, trying to distract myself from the terror of rambling physically down what he had accurately described as “the sketchy descent.” “At least by me,” I thought in reply, though out loud I was making what I think of as my “slab noise.”

Call the above the Semi-Unified Theory of the Ethical Omnivore. There are no Cliffs Notes on The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but there is an online teacher’s guide to The Omnivore’s Dilemma. There are a few pages of discussion questions, which I would rip out if this guide were on paper and not a PDF. I always rip out book club discussion questions from the backs of books I read because I despise prefab discussion questions almost as much as the essays one might write in response to them, and because Dead Poets Society.

I will never forget the dismay I felt in the first grade when we were issued our “readers”–anthologies of supposedly age-appropriate literature compiled by corporations and then sold at great cost to the New York City Public Schools in what is no doubt a coveted contract–and I saw the questions at the end of each and every story.

We would often take turns reading aloud, which, unlike listening to an audiobook, was superfuckingboring and led to my first encounters with suicidal ideation while probably also being very traumatic for the dyslexic kids.  Then we had to answer the dreaded questions. This took the most fun thing I had ever heard of thus far in life–reading–and turned it into the least fun thing I can think of in life—homework. The point of reading as I understood it was to, as posters in the library promised, travel to other worlds, escape one’s own, and have inside one’s own mind the thoughts and experiences of others. Answering a question about the plot or details of the story afterwards was a huge buzzkill, in my six-year-old opinion, and a waste of time. I had, and still have, no desire to prove to a teacher or anyone else that I understood what I read according to their limited rubric. My understanding of what I have read is a private intimacy between me and the author, and I want to hold it in my mind and heart where it can fuel the wild journeys I undertake in my fugue state.

The teacher had a bigger, fatter textbook, labeled “Teacher’s Edition,” containing the answers to the questions, printed in red. I know this because I was so curious about what was in the Teacher’s Edition that sometimes, I would wait until the teacher was out of the room, sneak up to her desk, and look in the Teacher’s Edition until I heard the telltale clack of her high heels on the linoleum in the hall.

I did not know that one day I would be able to obtain through a worldwide network a Teacher’s Edition of my own, cheat on the answers, and go on to the next audiobook on reserve at the library, which is about a friendship between two writers than ended when one of them killed herself at the age of 39. Now that ought to be more compelling than corn.

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