Textual addiction

I have mention in previous blogs that, when at home, I live a lot of my life with a backdrop of the BBC Radio 4 station playing (though I cannot write with the radio on, nor with music on – another topic). On the Woman’s Hour programme yesterday, one of the guests mentioned her ‘addiction’ to reading. She was most specific about the use of the word, in illustration claiming to have had nothing to read one holiday but an old book on etiquette, which she had to read and then re-read in the absence of other literary matter.

I cannot locate what such an addiction, if indeed it exists, would be called in English. We have the terms bibliophilia or bibliophilism, of course, meaning the love of books, a bibliophile (or bookworm) being an individual who adores and frequently reads books. However, that is not the same thing.

Beyond the English language, I understand the Germans have the word ‘Lesesucht’ to describe addiction to reading, or ‘reading mania’, but I don’t know whether this is used in a serious, negative way—or even commonly still used at all.

Remember doing this?

The notion of Lesesucht appears to come from the time of the early novel, an 18th and 19th century fear that too much reading might be bad for one (particularly impressionable young women – wouldn’t you have guessed it?) The idea was reading might become too much of a distractor (from the more important business of keeping men happy perhaps). Or exposure to ‘romance’ novels, for instance, might over-stimulate the senses in most inappropriate ways.

We might still be concerned about children reading the ‘wrong sort of thing’ (whatever that means) or reading ‘too much’ (i.e. rather than socialising or participating in a physical activity) but by adulthood, these worries seem to disappear. Those of us who were the ‘nerd’ at school, preferring the company of a book to playground games, are absolved.

Addiction is the state of being physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance, says the Oxford English Dictionary. We may joke about being a reading addict, but do we mean it in the sense of something negative that we would wish to be broken off? (I am writing with reference to books here, fiction or fact, in print or electronically delivered, not text on social media, which is a somewhat separate matter).

The OED also offers a more informal use of ‘addict’, i.e. ‘An enthusiastic devotee of a specified thing or activity,’ in the sense we might speak of an addiction to shoes, a particular TV show, and so on. Indeed, a quick search into whether reading addiction is a genuine problem turns up largely humorous (and sometimes humblebragging) references by ‘self-confessed’ bookworms, none of whom appear in a hurry to get treatment.

Many of these ‘addicts’ do appear to be non-selective readers. “I’m not a reading snob. I’m just as likely to be reading a paranormal vampire romance by Kresley Cole as a historical epic by double-Booker-winner Mantel,” points out journalist Amanda Hooten in an article on ‘going cold turkey’ from her addiction written for the Sydney Morning Herald last year. She goes on to admit that “Reading was my fix,” though in context, it seems a pretty harmless one.

So maybe one sign of such dependency is, as the opening example suggests, when we stop discriminating—when we’ll read anything rather than have nothing textual to pass the time with, regardless of its quality or our interest in it. Reading and especially re-reading something we would class as not very good, or, at least, of zero interest to us personally, can be considered a waste of time, if nothing else.

I do recognise reading may become something beyond pleasure, offering a sedative effect—a type of tranquilliser, an adult version of sucking on a dummy (pacifier) to soothe oneself, perhaps. And I guess this compulsion may become a problem where it gets in the way of the rest of your life, displaces other activities that need to get done, or affects your health, relationships, and so on.

So if I want to stay in and read my next book rather than go out for the evening, is that to the detriment of social relationships? If I am unable to put a book down at 2 a.m. in the morning, with the alarm set for 5.30, is that dangerous to my health? Perhaps if this becomes a repeated pattern, I suppose, or becomes a way of avoiding the world (as often seems the case with other ‘drugs’).

True also, if I cannot resist finishing a few more pages (and then the a few more) before I get on with my paid work, or put reading before my children’s immediate needs, I can see that would become an issue.

Perhaps it is because we are so used to regarding reading as positive, life enhancing, pleasurable, that I really cannot make up my mind whether ‘reading addiction’ is an actual and serious condition.

Is there such a thing as reading too much? Is ‘reading addiction’ a genuine problem?

References
BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour podcasts https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00050ph
Amanda Hooten, ‘Going cold turkey on my reading addiction is a story in itself’ in The Sydney Morning Herald, February 23 2018.

Images:
books’, ninocare
at night, Thomas Tangelder

26 thoughts on “Textual addiction

  1. This is an interesting topic. Reading addiction is never something I’d considered. Seems like some kind of extreme form of escapism or wrestling with issues of control, like “addiction” to anything that’s good for you (health food, exercise, etc.). Fodder for thought. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, for all I am big reader myself, I can see the need to ensure books complement but not replace overall life balance. Thank you for reading and taking time to comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am always in the process of reading a book, sometimes two, and listening to a third (not at the same time, of course). I probably spend a couple of hours most days with my nose, or ear, in a book. Since I learned to read as a wee thing, I’ve been addicted…and happily so. 🤓

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Recognise the two or more books on the go – it’s nice to have one fact / one fiction, or one ‘literary ‘ / one ‘popular ‘ fiction. Safe to say, most of us wouldn’t accept a cure if we were offered one.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. No, we wouldn’t. 🙂

        Like

  3. I was listening to that as well. Soon after I started needing reading glasses we went away for the weekend and I realised with horror that I had forgotten my reading glasses. Cyberspouse couldn’t see why I needed them as we would either be with our friends or watching TV in our room at the B&B! I insisted on going into Boots and buying a pair off the rack!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Being on holiday without reading matter is horror. Though I still read a lot of print books, there’s where the ereader has value, download a new book from almost anywhere with less space / weight taken up.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think I suffer with this as well!! I cannot tell if it is a strength or a weakness. But I’m embracing it as part of who I am, and never letting anyone dissuade me of its appeal. I love this post. So relevant.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re very kind. It’s reading addicts anonymous here and we all seem pretty content with the compulsion.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. As a reader who became so addicted I had to become a writer to survive and fulfil my need, I have to keep pushing for new addicts – welcome to the clique. Now all you have to do is add an extra bedroom/bookcase room every few years … and keep reading

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Aha, one of the recognised, if happy, side effects: not being able to let the books go once they are read, but needing to be surrounded by them.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. 🤔I’d imagine bibliophiles are emotionally well-balanced, well rounded individuals who understand when to place the book down, go and be a little more productive so the word addic never applies!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, bibliophile and reading addict are distinct – and knowing when to stop and give room to other life matters is key.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think addiction to good books even extreme I will take it any day – Loved the German word – thanks as always for the beautiful share

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    1. Thank you for reading. It’s great finding words in other languages that fill gaps in one’s own. German seems good for this, I guess because of their many compound nouns.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree and if we keep using, it will become mainstream soon 😊

        Like

  8. I don’t know what “reading addiction” is… I think if a person can feel “obsessed” about any “thing/topic/person/and so on”, then he might have some kind of addiction. I personally- don’t. Sometimes i dont read for months. Some weeks I read a lot, non stop.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder if that’s being a binge reader! But I agree there’s no need for a label here in reality – most of us are not suffering an obsession, we’re enjoying ourselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I guess I’m a binge reader & writer 🙂 all or nothing … it’s just more fun that way. I love my breaks too :))

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      2. Obsessed = under long time. I don’t think we should call it obsession if it lasts only 1-2 weeks 🙂
        My mum called me: One day girl. Because I was always obsessed during 1 day ONLY (movie, hero, person)…to the point – I was kinda dying haha 😆
        And the next day – Im forgetting. What? Who? Where? Never happened lol I’m not interested & moved on.
        What about you?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Growing up there were short-lived obsessions too, ‘fads’. I guess is part of growing up, sorting out and sometimes displacing one’s feelings, or looking for an identity.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Sommerset Maugham traveled with a huge canvas bag full of books. He could not live a day without reading. “I would rather read the train schedule than read nothing”.
    I suscribe. I read every day. No matter what. Even if we come home late after a dinner party, I will read at least a few pages.
    Reading addict? Guilty as charged your honour.
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That quote sums it up perfectly, thank you. Also have a weakness for Maugham – I can picture him on a 1930s steam train, leather luggage, first class of course. I know what you mean about needing to read before sleep – sometimes just knowing the book is there open…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Clears your mind from the surrounding world. Good medicine.
        And yes, I can see Maugham perfectly as you describe him. Holding a cigarette holder maybe?

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Well, I was going to say this addiction is good and harmless, but the way you put it gives me a little pause.I like to read , and when it’s a very good book I can’t put down, I get cranky if I have to put it aside for something else – I really want to know the ending! And yes, when I was younger, I’d read anything, be it good or bad, or just the shampoo label in the shower, the cereal box while eating, plaques, road signs while travelling, even the plates of the cars ahead … ok, maybe that’s what you mean by addicted, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was the same as a kid – anything to read was better than nothing. I get perplexed that my kids are not big readers. I still read a lot, but it is true that lack of available time means reading less than I used to – so perhaps I am not ‘addicted’ after all.

      Liked by 1 person

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