What Happened When I Tried to Read a Whole Book

I do not blame the internet, let’s be clear about that. I blame my own inability to imbibe the internet responsibly. Before the internet, I probably read two books a day. I read exceptionally quickly; I have always looked at a page, and instead of reading word-word-word I see paragraph-paragraph-paragraph and it goes in like GULP, and then I turn the page. It’s a decent party trick, and it’s been good to me. In recent years, I have not been good to it. If I’m doing a formal book review, I turn on “Scholar and Gentlewoman” mode, and all is well, or if it’s, like, the new Zadie Smith or something, but I’ve almost entirely broken my ability to pleasure-read a single book in a sitting without screwing it up.

The other night, I wanted to play with it, so I picked up John Ed Pearce’s “Days of Darkness: The Feuds of Eastern Kentucky,” a book which (although excellent) seemed like a nice bridging mechanism between “reading a whole book” and “screwing around on Wikipedia.” This is an actual account of what followed.

1. Look at cover — Is Hatfields & McCoys on Netflix Instant? I still can’t believe Benedict Cumberbatch lost the Emmy to one of those guys. Is the Star Trek Into Darkness trailer up yet?

2. Hatfields & McCoys is not on Netflix Instant. It’s on regular Netflix. Change queue.

3. There is a new trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness. Watch it.

4. Walter Koenig is still alive, right? He is. He’s only 5’6! He was born in Chicago. It’s nice to have positive representation for Russians in space things, though. Ugh, that stupid drunken stereotype in Armageddon. Like, Jesus, how do you think they managed to get Sputnik up there if they were tossing vodka bottles around constantly? What year is this, that we can’t have a competent Russian astronaut in an American movie without being threatened?

5. Is there a statue for Yuri Gagarin? There is.

6. Open book — There’s a map of the counties of Eastern Kentucky, the feuding counties are in grey. Hey, there’s Harlan! Oh, man, Timothy Olyphant is hot. I hope there are more people from Deadwood in the new season. It’s nice to see John Hawkes getting work, maybe he’ll swing by.

7. Read three quarters of a page — become curious about moonshine. Are people still moonshining? Do people actually go blind from moonshine? Yes.

8. You know what was a great book about mountain men? “Christy.” With that creepy song about hanging your head over and hearing the wind blow. Ugh, and they all had hookworms and were sewn into their underwear. I should read that again.

9. Read second, third, and fourth page. Flip to photo insert.

10. Is “The Turner Mansion” still around? It doesn’t look like it. Which is surprising, because I would absolutely stay there if it were a historical B&B.; Remember that B&B; I stayed at for the wedding on the Cape? With the wicker bed? I should listen to “Vampire Weekend,” it’s been a while. The woman on the cover of their second album was so pretty. Did they settle that lawsuit? They did.

11. Tweet: “…attorney who put an end to the Martin-Tolliver feud by leading a small army that wiped out most of the Tollivers.” That’s one way to end a feud?

12. Google the two beautiful women on the last page of the photo insert whose father and brother were killed in one of the feuds. Could my hair look like that? Did they wash their hair a lot? Is that school still around? Yes. Oh, it was built specifically to bridge the feud gap for the families who sent their children there. That’s neat.

13. Read fifth, sixth, and seventh page. The author clearly is on Team McCoy. “…most of the other Hatfields were little more than thugs. I cannot find grounds for admiring Devil Anse, who not only engineered the two instances of brutal murder but lacked the backbone to commit them himself and sent his underlings out to do the slaughtering.” Does Costner play McCoy or Hatfield? Hatfield. Good, because I like Bill Paxton better.

14. Read eighth page. The introduction is over.

Maybe what’s happening, right, is that people used to be able to know just enough. You could read the book, and know THAT AMOUNT about the feuds of Eastern Kentucky, and feel pretty good about it. But now, of course, you’re aware of what’s left to know, the overwhelming, “Nothing”-esque tide of data you’re flicking past. That any single fragment of this or any book represents thirteen years’ worth of information you do not have, but could have, if you wanted to. So how much do you actually want to know? What things are you content NOT to know? And why do you watch so much television, anyway? You could speak Mandarin by now, if you applied yourself.

15. Use “Notes” app to write: “every night, read two chapters of a book without internet access, then floss.”