All-or-nothing Reading

I have loved to read for my entire life. My dad likes to tell the story about how I was about two years old and was delighted to “read” The Cat in the Hat to anyone who would lend a lap and an ear. The twist is: I wasn’t actually reading it–I had the whole thing memorized after countless prior read-alouds by my parents.

Most of my early- to mid-childhood memories involve books and reading. I was always the kid who was happy to read and play alone in my room, quietly entertaining myself, while my sister required lots of companions and accessories to keep her busy. I took books on car rides and vacations, I saved my pocket money and used it to buy new books, and I was always in the advanced reading group in school.

The thing about the way I read is this: it comes and goes in spurts. Sometimes (as in the past couple of weeks), I realize that it’s been a while since I’ve read a good book (or read anything at all for pleasure), and I’ll pick one up. Normally, though, once I’ve started, I can’t stop. I don’t know how to read a book at a normal, leisurely pace; once I start, I don’t know how to put it down. (Reading is one of the few things in life that I’m willing to stay up late for, which says a lot about my passion for it.)

I tear through books as fast as I can, not wanting to miss out or fall behind: I forget that the plot only progresses as fast as I read it–that I’m actually in control of the speed of the events unfolding. I read obsessively, letting my current book absorb nearly all of my free time, to the point that I start to fall behind on other areas of my day-to-day life. Laundry doesn’t get done, errands aren’t run, I go a week without getting one good night’s sleep.

Then, after a frenzied period of reading, I quit cold-turkey, abandoning the habit for weeks, months, or–during bad times–even years.

My approach to reading is akin to that of a mostly-recovered addict who allows herself lapses every now and again, with internal promises like “I can control it; it’s not that bad.” Or, “There are worse habits to have.” I know there will always be some sweet comfort in returning to my habit. The pleasure of an escape from my everyday life sits right there, waiting for me, on my bookshelf.

I can’t be the only person who approaches reading like this. Right?


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