In all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.
Seeing someone reading a book you love is seeing a book recommending a person.
My sister once gave me a book entitled 50 Things You Must Do Before You’re 30. She gave it to me for my thirtieth birthday, because my sister is funny, and she also helpfully ticked off on the contents page all the things in the book I had in fact done. Number forty, fly a kite, and number forty-eight, spend a whole day in bed. Actually she was wrong. I’ve never flown a kite.
But this got me thinking about how much I hate— well, my sister, but also this book, and all the books like it. I mean, fifty things you must do. Not “could do,” not “might enjoy doing depending on who you are,” but must do, or you’ve failed. I mean, who is this who’s speaking to me? Is that you, God? I assume not, because God’s own book on the subject, Hundreds of Things You Must Do and Not Do At All Times, Ten in Particular, is already a well-known publishing success story. No. It’s not a message from God. It’s a message from… some guys. You know, no one in particular, just some guys somewhere with a desk and a computer, who took the perfectly decent idea of telling people about interesting or exciting things they might not have thought of trying and realized they could make more money by turning it into an exam. Some guys who had the nerve, not only to set themselves up as the arbiter of what we must do, but also to set a sodding time limit on it.
After all, for almost all of human history and indeed for most people today, two things to do before you’re thirty have been more than enough: survive and procreate. With maybe a third, if you were extraordinarily leisured: try to find a way not to mind too much about death. And these two or three things have been more than enough of a challenge for almost everyone who ever lived until just a couple of dozen years ago when incredible advances in first-world standard of living made it possible for some guys to take my staggering good fortune at being one of the first people in human history to have both leisure and choice, and turn it into a way to make me feel inadequate for not having been to Barley.
So that is why I would like to see all of these books pulped, and the some guys forced to write to all purchasers saying, “Dear Sir or Madam: We regret you may have bought or been given by a funny sister a publication from us which may have given you the impression that your life has been a failure if you reach the age of thirty without paragliding. Sadly, the book contained a misprint, which was all of it. We are therefore reissuing it as a free postcard, entitled 2 Things to Try To Do Before Or After You’re 30, but not survive and procreate anymore because these days most people who can afford books survive till thirty anyway, and it turns out you don’t have to procreate if you don’t want to. Instead, the book will now read, in its entirety, ‘One, be kind. Two, have fun.’