JR: I wasn’t sold on Elliot Allagash when it arrived on my doorstep; I even looked at the cover and thought, “what the fuck does that say?” So I waited a few days and then picked it up, and holy shit was I blown away. While I finish the book (I’m reading it now) you can read this wonderful essay from Simon Rich, the author of Elliot Allagash. When I was growing up my father cut the cord off the television set and carried it around in his pocket, and allowed me one hour of television a week, which I saved for Miami Vice. My review of Elliot Allagash will arrive on the blog very soon.
Falling in Love with Books – Simon Rich
When I was ten-years-old, an alarming statistic hit the airwaves. Apparently, the average American child was watching over four hours of television a day. That translated to 28 hours a week, 112 hours a month and over 1,000 hours a year! By the time children entered college — assuming their TV-rotted brains even lasted through high-school – they had experienced more television than class time.
“It’s just shocking,” my mother said at the dinner table, shaking her head in disgust. “I mean four hours a day?”
“Yeah, it’s shocking,” I said. “I mean, four hours a day is nothing. I watch way more than that.”
I cleared my plate and headed for the TV room to watch my usual post-dinner shows: Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Blossom, Fresh Prince re-run, Blossom re-run, full length movie, etc. But when I reached for the remote control, my mom swooped it up and held it out of reach. That’s when I realized: my life was about to change forever. Within twenty-four hours, my mother had imposed a series of strict anti-TV laws – a series of draconian measures known commonly as the “TV rules.” Under these hated provisions, children were allowed just one-hour of television a day. As if this wasn’t cruel enough, we had to spent the rest of our afternoons engaged in the single worst activity known to man: reading.
Luckily, like the alcohol prohibition of 1919, the TV rules were completely unenforceable. All I had to do was hold a book in my lap while watching my shows. If I heard my mother coming, I simply turned off the television and opened the book to a random page. By the time my mom entered the room, she’d find her son in a scholarly pose, his eyes rapt, his mouth open, his little head nodding with awe. Sometimes the book was upside-down, but I don’t think she noticed.
Occasionally, in between shows, I tried to read the books “for real.” But they only confirmed what I knew already: books were boring and TV was fun. Then one day, during a Charles in Charge commercial break, I opened to a random page of The Twits. I had no idea who this Roald Dahl guy was. But I knew immediately that he was funny. Most of the books I’d read were dull, moral tales about children learning lessons. Here, at last, was a plot for me: two nasty people named Twit, torturing each other with one prank after another. I read a few quick chapters and by the time I looked back up at the screen, Growing Pains was on.
I quickly checked the book-shelf in our living room and was thrilled to discover that a number of these Dahl books were lying around. I consumed them as quickly as possible, thrilled by the jokes, the plot twists, the lack of commercials. And by the time I finished The Witches – can you believe the hero stays a mouse?? – I was an honest-to-God reader.
I still love television. In fact, as a staff writer for Saturday Night Live, I spend much of my life trying to keep children’s faces glued to NBC for as long as possible. But I will always write books in the hopes that someday, somewhere, some kid will pick one up – and forget about everything else. If you can do that, you know you’ve got a winner.