In Print, 2010
I’m reading Harold Evans’ memoir, My Paper Chase. Evans is the former editor of the Sunday Times and The Times of London, and also former president and publisher of Random House.
As he pursued his “paper chase,” Evans became interested not only in journalism, but in the look and feel of newspapers. He goes so far as to claim that he’s “addicted to print.” He describes:
“An addiction to print means that you get your fix by looking at the shapes of letters in type even when the words don’t make any sense.”
To illustrate his point, Evans describes an early assignment to Scandinavia:
“I felt compelled every day to scour the Norwegian, Swedish and Danish newspapers without understanding a word. It was a guilty pleasure to be relieved of the burden of comprehension.”
“…a guilty pleasure to be relieved of the burden of comprehension.”
I love that line. My work typically calls for a lot of reading. That, added to other interests, often leads me to a point of information overload. When that happens something has to give. It doesn’t have to take long. But I do have to step out and decompress. At times like this I appreciate some kind of entertainment that doesn’t call for much comprehension. Television does that for some people. Exercise does it for others. “Summer books” are, by definition, supposed to be light.
I turn to movies, sometimes documentaries. I prefer stories that will draw me in completely and distract me from whatever overload I’ve been experiencing. But to be honest, I don’t set the bar high. I try to avoid completely mindless movies, though the other day my wife did find me dozing in front of a movie starring the comedian Carrot Top. “I was asleep,” I claimed. “It must have come on after the Benjamin Henry Latrobe documentary.”
“Right,” she answered dryly before leaving the room.
I haven’t yet gotten to the part in My Paper Chase where Evans tells how he decompressed during the first 30 years of his career. It seems he was always traipsing around England rooting out one injustice or another. One day it might be convincing the Public Health Service to provide basic cancer screening testing for women. Another it might be seeking a posthumous pardon for an innocent man wrongly executed. He might be leading a team determined to get the real story of Soviet spy and double agent Kim Philby, or shedding light on the plight of Thalidomide children.
Whatever he did, I’ll be his wife caught him dozing at least once in front of The Benny Hill Show or Coronation Street. No burden of comprehension there!