Copyright 2002 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved
My Reading Disorder
It's raining like mad, and I don't want to be writing this right now because I'd
rather be curled up with the book I'm currently reading. Unfortunately, I have a deadline
to meet; if I don't work on this now, I'll be working on it at 4:00 AM when my insomnia
kicks in, a time that I usually spend reading until I drift off again. Never mind that I've
been averaging a book every 24 hours for the past week-and-a-half; I'm not satisfied yet,
and I'd like to be reading right now!
Yes, I'll admit it: I have booklemia, a reading disorder characterized by binge
reading. For weeks or even months at a stretch, I'll limit myself to a few chapters of
something in the morning and before bed, but, every so often, I break my book diet
drastically. When I do, I spend a week or two or three doing almost nothing but reading,
stuffing myself with books but still hungry for more. Eventually, the fit will pass, usually
after I've devoured everything ever written by a particular author.
Booklemia is nothing at all like another reading disorder, analexia, which causes
its sufferers to avoid reading whenever possible. Of the two maladies, I'd rather have
booklemia; booklemics tend to be more interesting, smarter, and generally better-
informed than analexics. One can usually find other booklemics lurking around
bookstores or libraries; we recognize each other by the voracious way we examine the
newest bestsellers, or by how we tend to check out more than six books at a time, often
greedily grabbing more than one by the same author. We understand each other, and can
usually find something to talk about, even if it's just how our disorder manifests itself in
our own particular cases.
The earliest indications that I had booklemic tendencies appeared in the early
1960's, when I'd often have to wait for my mom to get off from work. I'd be parked in the
library across the street from my mom's office, where I read every Dr. Seuss book they
had. As I got older, I read all their Robin Hood books, then every one of their "The Saint"
series by Leslie Charteris, which my mom checked out for me from the adult side of the
library because books from the kids' side no longer satisfied my reading appetites.
At home, my parents didn't seem too worried about how much and how often I
read, except when they'd find me huddled under the covers with a flashlight long past my
bedtime, devouring the latest Nancy Drew book they'd bought for me. One summer,
when we found a good used book store, I read all the Tarzan books I could find. Later on,
I became so wrapped up after reading Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy that I
started leaving notes notes written in Elvish on study hall chalkboards, to be read by my
booklemic friends who'd be in that room later in the day.
One of the best things about binge reading is also probably one of the most
addictive for booklemics; munching through a big, fat chewy book or an entire series in
one or two sittings, or over the course of a week if it's long enough, lets us shut out the
outside world and live in that particular fictional realm for the duration of the binge.
Books are our refuge, controlled environments that we can choose to inhabit, or not,
depending on our choice of genre and author. Unlike watching television, reading a book
commands one's full attention, or most of it; you can't read a book and do the housework
at the same time. Until you finish off the final page, a really good book can even make
you forget about overdue bills.
Long-time booklemics can, of course, manage to eat, drink, and smoke while
reading, which is why we're often found surrounded by half-empty coffee cups,
overflowing ashtrays, and dirty plates as well as by stacks of books. I get a catalog that
supplies "tools for readers," such as hands-free stands, clip-on booklights, and weights to
hold pages in place, all of which make it easier to keep reading without interruptions like
meals, darkness, or windy conditions. Binge readers go to great lengths to keep their
noses in their books at all times, developing the ability to read in bathtubs and moving
vehicles as well as in bed.
Booklemia often leads to separation anxiety for those afflicted with the reading
disorder; we take books to parties, to restarants, and to anyplace where we might have to
wait for a while, such as a doctor's office or a license bureau. The prospect of being stuck
somewhere without something to read terrifies us. I keep a dictionary in my car, just for
emergencies, and a flashlight in my purse in case I'm ever an overnight guest in a room
without a reading lamp.
Booklemics come in all shapes, sizes, and ages; the disorder usually appears soon
after we learn to read, and more often than not continues throughout our lives. Most of us
manage to keep it under control much of the time, but we've learned to expect periodic
flare-ups of binge reading, often in winter or times of stress. Some of us binge on
romances or Westerns; others crave whodunnits and vampire fiction. Even though we
sometimes feel guilty about our binges, our loved ones worry about us, and analexics and
people without a reading disorder tell us that we read too much, I've never met a fellow
booklemic who has expressed a desire to be cured. With that said, can I please go back to
reading my book now?
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