Dinner with a Book: White Noise

White Noise

Friday nights are not what they used to be. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Cross your heart and tell me honestly –  are you sure you want your pre-lockdown Friday nights back? 

I guess that depends on how you spent them. All night bar-hopping can be fun, yes, but how much do you miss waking up to that slap of remorse on Saturday morning?

Going to movies is certainly missed – but thanks to Netflix at least there are options. What I am longing for most, though, what I’ve truly got an appetite for, is dinner somewhere nice. Flickering candles, starched napkins, the background buzz of fellow diners. I miss the leisurely perusing of a menu, now replaced with the wearied scanning of instructions on yet another supermarket deal.

Guess what – those dinner places miss us too; and more than that – they need our support as they struggle to stay afloat. The once guilty ritual of a takeaway has become a good deed! Tap in to those karma points and order something local. 

What ‘Dinner with a Book’ will do is provide you with a delicious theme and good company. ‘Company’? I hear you ask. 

But no, we won’t accompany you ourselves, and we won’t suggest you break the rules with illicit meet-ups. For what is better company than a good book? 

Let’s start this Lunar year with a new routine: stop by your library, get the book, then pick up that takeaway. Come home, set up the solo dinnertable of your dreams, and live your Fridays anew.

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Don DeLillo  – White Noise

It’s been a year since we collectively emptied store shelves and ran ourselves into product shortages, so when I read Don DeLillo’s words on supermarkets and their ability to give us ‘the sense of replenishment,… of well-being, the security and contentment these products bring to some snug home in our souls’, I do not take them lightly. It would probably take years of research to psychoanalyse what the hell happened, but White Noise, published in 1984, gives a helpful foretelling insight: when faced with death, modern society has two means of refusing to process it: by uncontrolled and greedy consumption and/or by immersing itself in the technological sublime.

Jack Gladney, the main character of the book, is the chairman of Hitler studies at the College-on-the-Hill, he is a father and a stepfather and an ex-husband and a husband, and seems middle-class comfortable, though terrified by the prospect of dying one day. That thought is brought forward by a chemical disaster at a nearby plant – ‘Airborne Toxic Event’ – which infects Jack with a high possibility of cancerous mutations in the future. His wife Babette, seemingly a cheerful and outgoing person, battles her own existential crisis by signing up for human trials of a miracle drug that is supposed to make you unafraid of dying. They spend their days taking care of kids, teaching and working, wrapped up in the cosy white noise created by technology: TV, radio, media.

That world is hyperreal and TV dictates the way to perceive reality. For instance, when the chemical spill happens, Jack waves away the possibility of danger, because he has never seen ‘a college professor [like himself] rowing a boat down his own street in one of those TV floods?’ It is ‘people in low-lying areas [who] get the floods, people in shanties get the hurricanes and tornados. I’m a college professor’. Rings a bell? I distinctly remember how we all watched with incredulity last January the events unravelling in China and did nothing because, well, this was not supposed to happen to us. Then it happened. Then in order to process it we ran back to Netflix and looked for answers and explanations in movies like Contagion, Outbreak, 93 Days and the like.

In many ways this book is incredibly timely now. It asks all the right questions: how to live in the new age of technological hyperreality (that we are now forced into, unavoidably)? What is this obsession with consumerism? How did we grow so think-skinned as to ignore ecological disasters that our lifestyles are causing everyday? 

I ordered a Fish Sando from Milk Cafe, but I have two options of takeaway for you. If you want to immerse yourself into the culture of blind consumerism, then you can’t do better than follow what Jack Gladney and his family do in the book: go to the nearest KFC and get yourself the greasiest meal you find, eat it in your car, facing front, not talking to anyone. The second option is: doesn’t matter what you choose, walk to pick it up. Don’t order it online. For one act of rebellion, cut your ties with the app/website that was suggesting things to you, and go see the people who cook the food you will eat. Maybe getting to grips with reality today means taking a step outside of the cushioned technological comfort zone, and escaping its white noise if only for a bit.

‘Dinner with a Book’ is a new Londnr feature created & written by book blogger, Yelena from Foliovore.

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