Night Cheese: Winging the book report

It only takes me about 12 minutes to watch an episode of “The Daily Show.”

What laws of time and space, you might ask, do I bend to digest 30 minutes of television in a fraction of the viewing time required by most humans?

First of all, I don’t watch the commercials. But second of all, I usually don’t watch Jon Stewart’s interview with his studio guest.

I do watch his opening bit, in which he consistently delivers intelligent and thoughtful satire on hot-button issues in news, politics and media. So it comes as no surprise that he connects with a generation of liberal young adults, many of whom rely upon him as their primary news source.

Sometimes I watch the second bit, in which Stewart banters with one or more of his “special correspondents” before ceding the floor to their hit-or-miss segments.

But if the final third of the show is devoted to a guest other than a Hollywood A-list actor, I usually find myself turning it off.

Although this is not technically the case, it certainly FEELS like the majority of Stewart’s guests (and Stephen Colbert’s, for that matter), are obscure authors of some dry non-fiction book.

It’s not that I’m not an intellectually curious person. I am. I read (most of) The New York Times (online) (and Gawker) every day. I often watch TED Talks. Ditto Yale Open Courses. I go to museums and galleries to see exhibits I’m not required to see. Sometimes I read a book just because I want to. I even read the YDN.

And it’s not that I think authors don’t deserve a spot in the cultural limelight, exposure to a powerful demographic and publicity that could lead to better sales.

At first, I wanted to make the argument that by continuing to host these guest authors, Stewart alienates his younger audience, who would never want to read these books, while catering to, well, old people. Old people who live in Florida and are retired and spend all day reading after a morning round of golf.

But when I Googled a list of Stewart’s guests in search of the “boring authors,” I could hardly find any. Stewart has had plenty of authors on in recent months, but almost all of their book titles were appealing to me, and with another click I was impressed by their diverse backgrounds and qualifications. I wanted to read their books.

How could I want to read these books and learn about their authors when I see them listed in a Wikipedia article, but still find the segments with these same guests painful?

Could the fault possibly lie — the HORROR — with Stewart?

Perhaps.

But it’s not really his fault.

Understandably, while he does probably read some, Stewart doesn’t have time to read all of the tomes promoted on his show.

So for the segments involving books he hasn’t read, Stewart only has crib notes from his interns and his patented natural charm to go on.

You see, Stewart is like the cool, popular kid placed repeatedly in the ultimate anxiety-dream scenario: he has to give a the equivalent of a “book report” on a book he hasn’t read. In front of the book’s author. And an audience of millions.

The fact that Stewart may not have read a particular book in its entirety does not exactly impede his ability to conduct an informative, and even funny, interview. After all, most viewers haven’t read the book either.

But I realize that I look to Stewart to display the same passion and energy in discussing a given book as he does in his comedy monologue. I find myself wanting him to analyze the book’s argument as if he were a Yale professor.

And this is where the “Daily Show” guest segment necessarily falls short of my threshold for intellectual curiosity.

I’m not suggesting that Stewart up his weekly reading load to thousands of pages so that he is armed with the specific intellectual and emotional arguments to make me fall in love with a book I’ve never read.

(Actually, yeah, that would be great. Can we make that happen?)

Maybe cutting down on the guest authors, but going more in-depth with the books he does promote, would be a viable solution.

Oh, really, so you think I should just read all the books myself instead of relying on Stewart for a meaningful shortcut?

Yeah, I so totally would, but I don’t have the time.

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