A book is a stack of sheets of paper bound together with glue or stitching. If it contains lines of writing, we call it a book. If it is blank, it is either a notebook or the world-renowned bestseller Joe Biden’s Thoughts on the Contemporary World. If it makes any sense when you start reading its lines, it’s a book; if it doesn’t make any sense, wait, because you may be looking at the phone book — the book from which William F. Buckley Jr. wanted to extract members for a random government rather than having one made up of Harvard University professors.
For years, teachers have lied to their students about the benefits of reading. Reading is a high-risk activity. You could detach your cornea, or whatever it is that falls off inside people’s eyes, or you could go blind, or you could learn subversive ideas that make you less of a slave, or even, if it’s the worst day of your life, you could be gobbling down thoughts about sunrises and stars signed by tiresome Paulo Coelho, the very same phrases that female Instagrammers use for their bikini-pic captions to try to give depth to the fact that they want you to look at their boobs. Personally, I’d rather have an unsolicited bikini pic than a quote like: “So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.” Whenever I read it, I find myself asking: OK, Paulo, so the whole universe was in favor, but why do you not factor the mother-in-law into the equation? Is she from a parallel universe? But I digress.
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Reading causes serious foot injuries to some. This usually happens to those who are quite clumsy and insist on reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I have a friend who bought it and took it to the beach, and when he was walking along the shore, it slipped out of his hands. He lost three fingers, and the fourth can only be moved up and down with the help of a small crank; something similar happens to me these days with my middle finger, but my condition has nothing to do with David Foster Wallace.
There’s more. Reading can cause sudden sleepiness, fits of anger, laughing, crying, and other forms of insanity, and, if you practice it from a young age, it can cause you to grow four eyes. But, without a doubt, my biggest fear about reading is that the more we engage with books, the less time we have to form our minds by watching clever Indian jokes on TikTok, looking at plunging necklines on Instagram, and reading original insults in Twitter mentions.
It’s very important to keep kids away from books if you don’t want them to — instead of joining the typical “electrocute your mother and record it” viral challenge — recite Rilke as if they were, I don’t know, on drugs or worse. Today’s youth is being lost because of books.
It has been proven that people who read frequently and select their authors well adopt a certain critical spirit toward things in life, and that could cause you to break some of the commandments of contemporary single-mindedness. Are you insane? I don’t think you want something so horrible for your children.
Teenagers who read C.S. Lewis, for example, become convinced of the existence of the devil and then refuse to participate in Halloween parties, generating a lot of sadness for their friends and neighbors, and even more for the devil. Those who read Houellebecq, on the other hand, really believe that the postmodern world is a nihilistic dump and that European social democracy and its multiculturalism will end up making France a Muslim country. Am I speaking in the future tense? Anyway, those who read Cervantes discover that there are aberrant notions like honor, justice, nobility, and freedom. What’s next? Voting Republican? Going to Mass? I feel very sorry for this generation of degenerate readers.
It’s so sad to see these young kids, with their whole lives ahead of them, completely consumed like junkies by their addiction to reading. As a writer, I feel that I should walk around wearing a T-shirt with the same sort of warnings that come on cigarette packs; but, then again, I don’t want to be the first to do so. Let Obama, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, or Greta Thunberg — or any other reputable author — start.
In short, I confess that every day I feel more and more helpless when explaining to young people that they should not read all the time: that it is dangerous, that their brain will atrophy, that their life will become exciting and isolate them from the truly important things, i.e., recording sexy dances on Instagram, learning values from Lady Gaga’s philosophical posts on Facebook, dismembering the enemy on online gaming platforms, asking ChatGPT to do your history homework, stopping global warming with tweets, joining the liter of absinthe challenges on TikTok, and learning how to make chemical weapons on YouTube.
Translated by Joel Dalmau.