Reading as drug

“…Let us admit that reading with us is just a drug 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”

azaleas by Ann E. Michael

In June and July, my situation lets up enough that I am not in my office 40 hours a week and can, for a time, attend to the garden or the hiking trail or avail myself of more time to read. Yesterday, I browsed through the campus library and came away with seven or eight books. How I loved that feeling when I was a child: walking through the stacks, thumbing through card catalogues, picking and choosing, now with deliberation, now with impulse, until I had reached the borrowing limit!

It is, in a way, a kind of addiction, though for the past three decades I have been a bit more studied and less compulsive in my reading habits. A bit. Plants and animals, and the workings and seasons of the garden, are my alternate texts when the printed page is unavailable or my eyes feel tired. Certainly I read on-screen quite often, but that process is not nearly as fulfilling. I have downloaded a book by Deleuze (Difference and Repetition) as a kind of experiment; I’m not at all sure that philosophy will be comfortable to read on screen, but I suspect I might prefer reading philosophy on a computer than reading a novel on a computer.

For me, the worst thing about onscreen reading, as I possess neither laptop nor tablet computer, is the inability to stretch on a lounge chair or curl up on a sofa (or, best of all, in a hammock) while reading. And the pleasant experience of leaf-shadows gently caressing the off-white pages of a paper book, the tone of the paper shifting ever slightly as the light changes, the sensation of dozing off with a book over one’s face when the sun gets hot…book addicts find these aspects as enjoyable as the intellectual response to the material, the words themselves.

Several significant events & celebrations appear on this summer’s horizon, but with any luck I can employ my library cards to good purpose a few more times before the fall semester arrives.



4 comments on “Reading as drug

  1. Sigrun says:

    I like to use my hands and a pencil when reading, participating in the text so to speak. I guess it’s soon to be old fashioned, but I still prefer texts on paper.

    Happy reading!


  2. KM Huber says:

    “Vainglorious” is a favorite word. For me, it just spills onto the page (and in reading your post, I find it also spills onto the screen rather nicely) making both its connotations and denotations known. A bit of an odd observation, I know, but the quote is lovely, Maugham is another favorite, and your post, as usual, delights.

    I find nonfiction preferable to fiction in terms of what I read on a screen. Although I have read novels on screens, the reading experience feels detached. Reading non fiction on a screen allows me to take notes, sometimes with pen and paper, and other times, I switch to a Word screen and use Dragon Naturally Speaking. These days, however, I have returned to reading books and not screens.

    Happy summer reading!


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