I think I may officially be addicted to books.
The thought dawned on me when I read this article about a woman trying to pare down her book collection, especially since she’d just gotten an e-reader. I’ve been trying to do the same, since I too have had my beloved Kindle PaperWhite for over a year, but have still been having the hardest time doing it. That’s when I realized that I just might have a problem. Maybe I love books, and reading overall, too much. In fact, ever since getting my Kindle, I read even more than I used to.
But is it really possible to be addicted to something like reading?
To find out, I did some research (of a very scientific variety: I Googled “what is an addiction?”). I came across an article from Psychology Today which said that an addiction can involve an activity “that can be pleasurable but the continued use of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work or relationships, or health.”
Hmm. I think all of these criteria apply to me and reading. I mean, I haven’t lost a job because of it, but I have stayed up late reading on work nights, finding myself dragging through the next day as a result. That has to affect the quality of my work; for instance, it may explain why I’ve made typos such as calling a colleague named Tony “Tiny” in an email. (On a side note: I saw my typo right as I clicked “send” on the message, but hoped he wouldn’t notice it. Oh, but he did; while he didn’t acknowledge it, he corrected his name back to “Tony” in my email below his response. Made me laugh and feel bad at the same time, since my typo clearly bothered him!)
I’ve also neglected returning calls or responding to friends’ emails and text messages because I’ve gotten too caught up in my reading, whether it be a book or online articles and blogs, intending to read for just a few more minutes but then finding an hour or more has passed without me noticing.
The health factor applies too, since reading is a sedentary activity — I’m sad to say I don’t have one of these neat treadmill desks, and not just because of its cost, but also because of the space it would take up and the noise it would make in my small, old apartment building with its thin walls, floors and ceilings. (I once had a stationary bike that I thought would be quiet enough to use at home, but no; the neighbors downstairs banged up to me. Same thing happened when I’d play music at a normal level. My goal, though, is to be able to get one of these in the future, if I move to a house or ground-floor apartment.)
So this means time spent reading is time spent not being as active as I could be, although I do try to squeeze reading in during times when I’m already sitting, like in transit on the bus or train. I tell myself that helps minimize the amount of sitting I’d be doing overall. I did once toy with the idea of taking a book to the gym I’d joined, but it was usually too crowded there to use each machine for long; plus I’d need to walk at a slow pace while reading, which is not ideal for a workout. No, to me reading while walking is better done at home with a treadmill desk, which can be used for long stretches in order to minimize the effects of sitting.
Signs of an Addiction
I also looked up common signs of an addiction and came across the website for the Promises Treatment Center. According to their list of symptoms of addiction to anything from drugs to activities such as gambling, I really might be a reading addict. Here are a few of the signs I relate to the most:
- “Noticeable fluctuations in mood.” I actually do get sad when I finish a great book, especially when I don’t have another one lined up that I’m eager to get to — hey, is that like an addict’s search for the next fix? — so, reading definitely can affect my mood.
- “Loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy.” It’s true. I once used to like chatting on the phone, watching TV, going to movies, but now…I don’t. At least, not as much as I used to. I mean, I still talk to friends and family on the phone and of course socialize in person, but I don’t spend as much time going out or talking on the phone as I once did. And although I do watch a few select shows on TV, I usually DVR them and then take weeks to get through them. (Not that TV is something we should be watching a ton of, but you get my point.) To be fair, I think all of this is a function of my evolving tastes as I grow older as well as the difficulty of coordinating busy schedules among several people, but a part of me does wonder if my renewed love for/addiction to reading is another significant culprit!
- “Fluctuations in sleep or energy levels.” As I said above, I have let my reading interfere with my sleep schedule, which can affect how I feel the next day. Actually, it can affect how I feel for days afterwards, since throwing off my sleep pattern makes it hard to sleep at a normal time on subsequent nights, and it becomes a vicious cycle.
Is This Really a Problem, or is it Normal?
I recently read comedian Marc Maron’s second book, Attempting Normal (published by Spiegel & Grau, April 30, 2013). In it, he says he has “hundreds of books” in what he calls “an empire of unread and partially read books.” This amused me, since I too have multiple boxes and shelves of books I’ve read, or mean to read soon.
I particularly enjoyed his explanation about why he loves to read so much:
“Reading is like a drug. When I am reading from these books it feels like I am thinking what is being read, and that gives me a rush. That is enough. I glean what I can. I finish some of the unfinished thoughts lingering around in my head by adding the thoughts of geniuses and I build from there.”
This made me feel better about my own passion for reading. I never thought of reading in quite this way, in terms of feeling like I’m thinking the words I’m reading, but it instantly resonated with me as I read it. I do like that about reading! I not only learn from what I read, but the process also feels like I kind of experienced what the author said and described. That might explain why I like to read books about life in other countries; I haven’t gotten to fulfill my desire to travel to places like Japan, for example, but a part of me feels like it’s already familiar to me because I’ve read about it so often.
As I was feeling reassured that maybe my approach to reading isn’t so bad after all, another thought popped into my mind. Maybe Marc Maron and I both suffer from the same addiction — after all, he does call reading a drug! — so I shouldn’t assume I’m okay based on what he wrote. That might be like someone with a dental cavity telling someone else with one that it’s common and nothing to worry about. Having two or more people share the same affliction doesn’t mean things are supposed to be, and stay, that way!
Ultimately, then, I really don’t know what to think about all of this. My instincts tell me to read up on this some more, but that could be the addiction talking.
But you know what? I’m okay with that — missed phone calls, lost sleep, and all.