CONFESSIONS OF A READAHOLIC: A STRUGGLE AGAINST LITERATURE

I do not remember when it was that I read my first novel or which book it was. I know for sure it was a Bengali book written by a Bengali author (as I’m from Bangladesh). As far back as I can remember, I’ve seen my mother with a book in hand practically all the time, unless she was cooking or sewing dresses for me, or sleeping! I’m sure I picked up my reading habits from her. I had no siblings, nor many friends growing up; so books were more or less my sole companions. I loved reading, and read without any distinction. Back then, there were neither good books nor bad books. They were just books — my friends — and I loved them all equally, so much so that I had finished all of the books in my mother’s collection by the age of 10. Simply put, I was addicted to reading.

Of course, now that I think about it, I was too young back then to grasp the meaning of all these heavy books meant for adults. I just needed to read, and once I started reading, I couldn’t think of anything else. The world was lost to me and I to the world. My mother tried to monitor the books I was reading for a while, but I was out of control and soon she gave up. Perhaps because she herself understood what it was like to lose oneself within the pages of a book that she couldn’t really exert too much pressure on me. I was an introverted and timid sort of kid back then, and reading was my only pleasure. No one was about to keep me away from my books, no matter what. That was the only thing I was stubborn about back then.

Soon I had finished reading all of the books there were in our tiny apartment and needed to buy more for myself. That’s when my mother saw a chance to change my reading habits. She bought me books suitable for young readers. Just as a reminder, I was still a kid about ten or eleven back then. However, my tastes had changed completely, and children’s books just didn’t cut it for me anymore. So I started reading books meant for teens. But even that wasn’t enough all of the time. I would finish reading my books, and then I would start reading my mother’s collection (which was also constantly growing) – the adult books! Books in which males and females of the species would become intimate, or where alcoholic ogres would go around hurting those weaker than themselves. Books in which there were violent riots between religious factions, or in which psychopaths killed innocent people left and right!

Soon however, we all started to see the consequences of my addiction to reading. I had become a pathological day-dreamer. Back in the early 90s, the terms “pathological day-dreamer” and “Attention-deficit Disorder” (ADD) were not known to average people in a third world country like Bangladesh. What we did know was that I was absent minded all the time. My performance in school was always below average and my mother was having a really hard time dealing with all sorts of complaints from my teachers. None of us had a clue what was wrong. It was an extremely difficult time for myself as well as my parents, especially my mother.

During all of this, I continued to read. That was my only place of refuge, within the pages of the books. Adolescence came around and passed me by. I, alone and mostly friendless, except for one other similar social misfit who loved to bury her nose in books just like I did, graduated from high school with somewhat passable grades. In the months following my graduation I did nothing but read. I enrolled at a local university and kept struggling for almost a year. I had plenty of time for novels, but no time for textbooks. I was reading anywhere from a couple of hundreds to a thousand pages a day, just not what I needed to read to pass my classes.

I knew I needed a change. My parents understood I needed a change. And so, I applied to a university in the United States, and on a fine morning in the summer of 2004, I boarded a plane that flew me all the way across to the other side of the World. I was determined to bring about a change in my life. The moment I landed my feet on the soil of this country, I promised myself that I would not read a single book outside of the required reading for school until the day I graduated. As anyone would understand, getting rid of an addiction is not easy. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and a complete change in lifestyle. In that respect, the fact that I was all alone in a foreign country, surrounded by unfamiliar scenes and people, did help me get a fresh start. I was too busy getting to know my way around and being accustomed to unfamiliar grounds to pick up a book. All of a sudden my mother was not there to do my laundry, or cook for me, or shop for me. I had to learn everything from scratch. Also, for the first time in my life, I made a couple of friends who were not just there to keep me company, but were actually friends, in the way normal friends are. I could hang out with them, study with them, go catch a movie with them on weekends… just the kind of things normal young people did. I had also picked a difficult major (electrical engineering) that kept me busy enough. In time, one way or another, I managed to graduate with a decent GPA. In the following years, I moved around a bit for work; from Colorado to New York to Dallas, and then back to Colorado in 2014 to pursue graduate school. In the ten years that I spent in this country, I could count off the number of books I read on one hand. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter– books 1 through 7, Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle, and Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. Yeah, that’s about it. I started reading the entire Harry Potter series a little after the very last book came out when I was a junior in college. Everyone I knew was talking about the last book which made me curious, and I wanted to give it a try. I read the whole series, all seven books, in a little over a week. During that time I skipped all my classes, skipped a few meals, and slept very little. I knew then and there that I was not ready to pick up reading again. I realized just how little control I had over myself when it came to reading books, and I simply couldn’t risk all that I had accomplished in the three years prior.

It was not until the end of 2014 that I decided to give pleasure reading another go. I was older now and wiser, and hoped that I could learn to control my urges a little better. So, I tried. Again, with any addiction, there is always a chance of relapse, but I was determined to develop a healthy reading habit. It wasn’t easy for sure, but slowly I started to see results. I read somewhere once that all successful people are story tellers. So, now every morning after waking up, I tell myself a story. I even write it down in a journal. I write that I will wake up, make a breakfast, and then I will get ready and go to work on time. When at work, I will worry about work and nothing else. After work, I will come home, and I will have a fulfilling dinner, and then, ONLY THEN, will I pick up a book, and read until no later than 11 pm, and then I will turn the lights out and sleep. Period. That’s the same story I tell myself every day; and only on weekends do I give myself a break and pick up a book before I have my breakfast. Some days it’s easy, and other days it’s not so much. But that’s the only way I can read without losing sight of the things that are more important in life.

Reading addiction is of course, not even close to as destructive as, say, alcohol or drug addiction, but much easier to overcome. However, I feel like a lot of us use reading as an excuse to procrastinate. This article is written with a little hope to shed some insight on the dangers of something as seemingly harmless as reading addiction.

Maliha Mannan