*Sorry to BFP you guys, but I had a horrible night. I think I’m channeling Emily because for some reason my shoulders feel broken at night — I think my pillows are in bad shape, and I’m a side sleeper. At least I hope that’s it — then the morning was full up. So, here’s a post on addiction. Enjoy.*
“The truth is, I’ve got a monkey on my back, a habit worse than marijuana though not as expensive as heroin. I can stiff it out and get to sleep anyway…….. The fact is I am a compulsive reader. Thirty-five cents’ worth of Gold Medal Original will put me right to sleep. Or Perry Mason. But I’ll read the ads in an old Paris-Match that has been used to wrap herring, before I’ll do without.” Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road.
My name is Sarah A. Hoyt, and I’m a reader. Unlike my struggle with writing, which more closely resembles an unhappy love affair, where I’ve walked away several times, only to be pulled back by the stories that form spontaneously in my head, I can’t say I’ve tried very hard to give up reading.
This is weird, because any way you look at it, reading is expensive. And like with any drug, once you’re good and hooked on a series, you’ll do anything to get the next fix. Anything, including but not limited to spending the grocery money for the week because, well, you can live without eating for a week, but you can’t live without reading for a day.
You know you’re an addict when you face this dilemma and the little voice at the back of your head goes all helpful. “Buy it,” it says. “Think about it. Food you can only eat once, but books you can re-read for years. You are holding cumulative days of enjoyment in your fingers. Buy it, I say.” (If this were the little cartoon demon sitting on my left shoulder, he’d be wearing glasses and carrying his own little book.)
Part of it, as in any addiction, is habit. I won’t say that I don’t remember a time I couldn’t read, because it’s not precisely true. But it’s only not precisely true because I also remember learning to walk. So I remember lying on my stomach on a sun-warmed patio with a stack of comic books and trying to remember what the words were that my brother had read to me when I last had that book in hand. I know I was reading – and attempting to write – by four. For this my brother – nine years older and with no resistance to nagging – is largely to blame, since he read me those same comic books over and over again. It also helped that Portuguese is largely phonetic. But most of the blame must go to my parents who had absolutely no concept of “age appropriate reading.”
When I entered fifth grade, I was shocked to find most of my classmates were still reading lavishly illustrated books with more pictures than words, and on subjects as exciting as “Anita” (the girl who did everything in Portuguese children’s books) “Takes an airplane trip.” I’m not saying I didn’t read those too. Of course I did. Some of my less than clued relatives gave them to me for my birthday or Christmas. I didn’t mind, except that of course, they didn’t last very long at all. And by that time I was fully into Clifford Simak and Robert A. Heinlein and Asimov and Anderson and Rex Stout and Earle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie.
Actually birthdays and Christmas were a great source of annoyance. You see, my parents didn’t allow me to tell the sweet old relatives that I just wanted money. That was unmannerly. But as short on money for books as I always was, the best I could do out of those festive occasions, should the relatives be informed that I liked to read Science Fiction, was Jules Verne or H. G. Wells. Until I was old enough to go to school in the big city nearby and discovered I could exchange books at the bookstores, I read all of Verne and H. G. Well, of course. The problem was that they weren’t “real” science fiction. Not about the future as I’d like it to be. Also, the translations were often awful. But I read EVERYTHING.
I read Dumas (yes, all of them, even the ones that appear to have been paid by the word) and Sir Walter Scott and Twain. My parents eventually told my relatives that it would be easier to give me Portuguese Historical novels or history books. And even later, they sort of gave up and started giving me money to buy books.
By that time my brother and I were on an equal footing as addicts. Often the only money we could spare would buy us half of that month’s science fiction release (one book per month, yes.) To this day he chortles that my marrying an American saved us the epic fight we’d otherwise have had over who got to keep those part-ownership books.
Portugal doesn’t have – or didn’t in my day – public lending libraries. Not even subscription libraries as those found in Regency England. It has a public library but it is more like our library of congress. And every new school I entered had what they called a “library”, usually stocked by some well meaning lady in the previous century. So, did I read the manuals of young ladies’ deportment and lives of saints that those mostly consisted of? Duh. They were print. And any print is better than going without. BUT being me and unable to leave well enough alone, I thought of all those kids who wouldn’t be so lucky as to come from a family of bibliophiles with hundreds of books laid by and hidden everywhere from the attic to the potato cellar. Every school I ever attended I started a library club which held fundraisers to buy books, and which requested of the parents one book for the library, in commemoration of their kid’s graduation. Even in college, I vastly improved the American Library. Okay, at least I filled it with Science Fiction. I think it was an improvement. (I’ve wondered, if I can get the address, if we could convince Baen to donate to it.)
When I became an exchange student, in 12th grade, for the first time I entered a house with no books. No, this is no disparagement of my host family. My host mother, particularly, was very kind to me and responsible for who I am today. But they weren’t readers. Not really. My host brother and sister read magazines, but that was about it.
So… my first day in the US, in Stow Ohio, I made them take me to a bookstore. I bought Assignment In Eternity. Then I found the public library. You lucky sons and daughters, you don’t know how good you have it. I volunteered at the library because then I could check out unlimited books. And I did.
When I found myself newly wed and broke, we set aside 3 quarters of our entertainment money for books. And like all junkies, we quickly discovered where we could get the most book for the money.
Now, when I’m hard pressed and under the gun, I might just reread the familiar, so that I can put it down and go back to work. A riveting book can cost me five hours work time, you know? I start it and then have to finish it. Heck, I can only exercise to audio books, which is costing me a small fortune.
And yet, I don’t want to be cured. Let them say we read this much because we can’t handle reality. I say reality is for wusses who can’t handle fiction.