“New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity.” — The New York Times
In a press conference held this morning on the steps of the New York Public Library, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a sweeping new set of legislative initiatives designed to combat what he called “the silent scourge of public health — jumbo-sized novels and epic-length works of nonfiction whose inflated proportions are,” according to the Mayor, “keeping readers on the couch and off of our city’s bike paths and squash courts and out of other venues for healthy exercise.”
Struggling to hold aloft a copy of George R.R. Martin’s 1,040-page fantasy blockbuster A Dance With Dragons, Mr. Bloomberg called out authors and publishers for engaging in a “campaign of addiction” that chains readers to bulked-up works of prose and threatens to produce a generation of “prematurely retiring escapists, whose only muscular development is in the fingers used to turn page…after page…after page.”
Although the negative impact of lengthy works of fantasy and science fiction were a key portion of Mr. Bloomberg’s presentation (which included testimony from a teenager whose obsessive need to finish the 1,472 pages of Stephen King’s “uncut” version of The Stand caused him to miss his high school graduation), the Mayor did not fail to indict the publishers of nonfiction “life-stoppers,” as well — like Robert Caro’s recent 736-page bestseller The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4, which was brought forward for display on a specially reinforced portable bookshelf.
“Perhaps the most insidious aspect of this sort of publishing,” Mr. Bloomberg said, indicating the new entry in Caro’s still-uncompleted multivolume study of the 36th President’s life and career, “is the message it sends to our young people: one of the nation’s most esteemed writers, at the age of 76, still hasn’t finished this one damn book.” He then produced a large graph which showed the economic impact of sleep deprivation on readers who sat up late to finish The Passage of Power‘s electrifying account of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights act. The graph indicated higher rates of worker absenteeism, garbled power-point presentations, and assembly-line inattention, with a specific example of a bakery worker in Queens mistakenly adding blue dye to 1,398 red velvet cupcakes. The Mayor cited these findings as “irrefutable evidence” that what he called “midnight prose-binges leave our great city with virtual zombies, feeding off of the productivity of those of us responsible enough to just watch Mad Men and go to bed.”
To illustrate the “invisible cost” of heavy books, Mr. Bloomberg introduced a group of aides wearing lead-lined vests — each one the same weight as the 2560-page, four-volume “Twilight” series — who labored through everyday tasks (participating in a Zumba class, applying for a home equity loan, and asking a waiter what else besides quinoa is in the quinoa salad) made more onerous by the weight. “Breaking Dawn?” quipped the Mayor as he narrated their struggles. “More like Breaking Backs!” Meanwhile, a second set of aides — each wearing a plastic necklace representing the weight of a single issue of Us Weekly — glided through turnstiles and hailed cabs with no significant effort. The Mayor himself spontaneously broke out a few hip-hop moves and then tried to repeat them wearing a “Twilight” vest and knocked the podium over. (Some observers felt that this incident was staged.)
Mr. Bloomberg was quick to point out that exceptions to the new regulations against weighty books would be plentiful. For example the rules would exempt celebrity biographies of any size as unlikely to take anyone more than a single sitting to dispense with and as “mysteriously light, no matter how long.” Audiobooks, “if sufficiently stimulating to accompany a 45-minute cardio workout,” would be legal and possibly exempt from city taxes.
Advocates for Doorstoppers United were not available for comment, as they were all still trying to finish David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, as their bedside tables groaned under the weight of The Pale King.
Bill Tipper is the Managing Editor of The Barnes & Noble Review.