Photo of William Butler Yeats reading, or rather, ‘getting his fix’.

“Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit, and I suppose that this is neither innocent nor praiseworthy. Of that lamentable company am I. Conversation after a time bores me, games tire me, and my own thoughts, which we are told are the unfailing resource of a sensible man, have a tendency to run dry. Then I’ll fly to my book as the opium-smoker to his pipe. I would  sooner read the catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores or Bradshaw’s Guide than nothing at all, and indeed I have spent many delightful hours over both these works.

At one time, I never went out without a second-hand bookseller’s list in my pocket. I know no reading more fruity. Of course to read in this way is as reprehensible as doping, and I never cease to wonder at the impertinence of great readers who, because they are such, look down on the illiterate. From the standpoint of what eternity is it better to have read a thousand books than to have ploughed a million furrows? Let us admit that reading with us is just a drug that we cannot do without – who of this band does not know the restlessness that attacks him when he has been severed from reading too long, the apprehension and irritability, and the sigh of relief which the sight of a printed page extracts from him? – and so let us be no more vainglorious than the poor slaves of the hypodermic needle or the pint-pot.”

W. Somerset Maugham, ‘The book bag’ (1951).

“It would be wrong to think that because I read books, any books, some over and over, I enjoyed them. I did not read for pleasure; I was an addict. I read for greed. I jammed books into my brain like a compulsive eater glutting herself, gobbling up one book so that I could gobble up another. My reading was mostly displacement activity; when other children were playing, or getting exercise, training in some sport or hanging out with their mates, I was reading. The only alternative was a boredom so heavy and slow that it squashed my soul flat.”

Germaine Greer, in The Pleasure of Reading (1992).

“To a considerable extent reading has become, for almost all of us, an addiction, like cigarette-smoking. We read, most of the time, not because we wish to instruct ourselves, not because we long to have our feelings touched and out imaginations fired, but because reading is one of our bad habits, because we suffer when we have time to spare and no printed matter with which to plug the void.”

Aldous Huxley, ‘Writers and readers’ (1936).

I really like how ‘matter of fact’ and unpretentious these three esteemed writers plainly describe their need to read. They do not think themselves, as readers, to be ‘superior’ to those who do not read, but simply acknowledge that reading is to them, just a ‘bad habit’ that they can’t help but indulge in.

I think it’s probably safe to say that this is one bad habit that none of us are in a hurry to be cured of, anytime soon. Though the same sentiment should probably not be encouraged in regards to the other related bad habit that we indulge in – book buying! 😉

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7 thoughts on “Friday Feature : On Reading As An Addiction

  1. Hi, I recently came across your blog and have been enjoying your posts. What struck me about the quotes above is that only Maugham seemed to be saying something positive about reading – the only one to enjoy it.

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    1. Hi Lisa, thanks for dropping by! Yeah, it does seem to sound like that, doesn’t it? Or maybe for Greer and Huxley, they just wanted to emphasize that they did not always go about their reading with pleasure in mind. But as with most addictions/ bad habits, the act of indulging in it will still yield pleasure to a certain extent.

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  2. I’m definitely addicted to reading! I enjoy it for its own sake, of course, but there is something faintly urgent about my need to constantly have a book or two going, and several waiting in the wings when I’m done with those. (I wrote a blog post called Book Junkie a while back–guess I already knew that about myself!)

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