Last year—two years ago?—while reading Station Eleven, I came upon these brief lines, in which Clark is thinking of his boyfriend, Robert:
Robert in the mornings: he liked to read a novel while he ate breakfast. It was possibly the most civilized habit Clark had ever encountered.
As I read that line, I was eating breakfast. And I looked up from the table and saw that Felicia was also eating and reading, and next to her, Squish was bent over a book while eating, too. I laughed, and they both turned around, and I read the passage to them, and observed, “I guess we’re civilized.”
I have enjoyed reading with meals—particularly breakfast—since I was a kid, waking up too early for school, reading the comics pages with my cereal. Now, a few decades later, I'm soundly programmed: If I don't have something to read while I eat, I don't know what to do with myself. My mind wanders to how weird eating even is. Steve Jobs kept a closet of identical clothing, legend has it, so that he could reduce the amount of time he spent selecting his attire each day. Could we do the same with food? If I could take a pill that contained all the day's nutrition, would I replace mealtimes with that, and gain back the lost time eating? Forget pills; what if we could wear a patch through which we absorbed all those nutrients? Would we eventually evolve beyond needing teeth? Esophaguses? (Meet Big Bird's best friend, Mr. Esophagus.) Maybe mouths would go away, too, and we'd become skilled at communicating in nonverbal ways. Without mouths, our heads wouldn't need all that space devoted to a jaw, so wouldn't they get smaller, more compact? What might humans look like in a thousand thousand years if we stop consuming tangible foods?
Would we still read? If not for breakfast, would we even still know what books were?