The Incredible Book Eating Boy

It’s been a while since I’ve written about one of London’s books. The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers is one of my favorites. It’s about a boy who eats books (the book itself has a bite out of the back cover).

"Quite by accident," the boy discovers eating books makes him smarter (plus he just likes the taste) and so he eats and eats and eats. Eventually he’s smarter than his teacher, smarter than math geniuses, smarter than Ken Jennings. He hopes to be the smartest person on earth.

"But then things started going not so well."

He gets sick, but that’s not the worst part. “Everything he was learning was getting mixed up… he didn’t have time to digest it properly.” Eventually the boy can’t even speak without his words jumbling and his brain overloading. Sadly, he has to give up eating books.

One day, after a while, the boy picks up a book, “but instead of putting it in his mouth… Henry opened it up and began to read. And it was SO good.”

And thus our hero learns that sometimes doing something the hard way or the long way is actually the best way. That’s one moral for the story anyway.

I was talking to friends the other night about the pitfalls of excessive reading and this book came up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt just like that little boy, cramming my head full of stuff, giving myself no time for proper digestion. And so the words get all jumbled and the ideas mix with one another until they’re swashing around in my mind, a muddied sea of opacity.

I know someone right now who I think may be in a similar spot. He reads so much, so quickly. I wonder if he isn’t adrift on that same opaque sea, struggling to separate his own thoughts from others’, struggling to recall who said what and in what context.

Lately I wonder if this isn’t the greatest problem of the information age—too much, too quickly. Our minds need time to sort and analyze and catalog. At least with DSL we could think as the pages loaded. Now, I’m onto some new theory or interpretation within seconds, no palate cleanser between bites.

I’m happy to take a lesson from The Incredible Book Eating Boy—a lesson in pace.

(BTW The art in this book is AWESOME. All reclaimed book pages, pen drawings, collage-stuff. AWESOME.)