What's on Your Nightstand, Tom Cruise?

You've seen the book countless times — during commercials on daytime TV when you stayed home from school as a kid, in enormous displays in weird bookstores, alongside the strange people offering free stress tests as you change from the N/R to the 2/3 in the Times Square subway station. You know it spawned a religion. You know it turned Tom Cruise crazy. But have you ever actually read L. Ron Hubbard's masterpiece, Dianetics? Of course not. So in our current Scientology-infused era, Salon's Laura Miller gamely took one for the team.

The first thing you notice about "Dianetics" is that it is spectacularly dull. L. Ron Hubbard promises, in this seemingly endless treatise, that his "modern science of mental health" will cure everything from schizophrenia to arthritis, claims for which he presents no credible evidence whatsoever — unless you consider merely insisting that you've got evidence to be the same thing as offering it. But I am here to testify that "Dianetics" is a phenomenal remedy for at least one widespread affliction: insomnia.

"Dianetics" belongs to a category of books that will be instantly familiar to anyone who's done time reading the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts for a book publisher. This kind of book is typically an explanation of life, the universe and everything written by a choleric gentleman (often a retired military officer) who has holed up in a converted basement or former kid's bedroom to hammer out his ideas about how the world works — ideas that have for too long been disregarded by the incompetents and assholes around him. (If you are not familiar with this sort of book, know that you have the slush pile readers of America to thank for that.)

Oh, slush-pile readers, why couldn't you have stopped this one, too? Why? Why?

Stranger Than Fiction [Salon]