Self-Test for Literature Abusers


How many of these apply to you?
1. I have read fic­tion when I was depressed, or to cheer myself up.
2. I have gone on read­ing binges of an entire book or more in a day.
3. I read rapid­ly, often ‘gulp­ing’ chapters.
4. I have some­times read ear­ly in the morn­ing or before work.
5. I have hid­den books in dif­fer­ent places to sneak a chap­ter with­out being seen.
6. Some­times I avoid friends or fam­i­ly oblig­a­tions in order to read novels.
7. Some­times I re-write film or tele­vi­sion dia­log as the char­ac­ters speak.
8. I am unable to enjoy myself with oth­ers unless there is a book nearby.
9. At a par­ty, I will often slip off unno­ticed to read.
10. Read­ing has made me seek haunts and com­pan­ions which I would oth­er­wise avoid.
11. I have neglect­ed per­son­al hygiene or house­hold chores until I have fin­ished a novel.
12. I have spent mon­ey meant for neces­si­ties on books instead.
13. I have attempt­ed to check out more library books than permitted.
14. Most of my friends are heavy fic­tion readers.
15. I have some­times passed out from a night of heavy reading.
16. I have suf­fered ‘black­outs’ or mem­o­ry loss from a bout of reading.
17. I have wept, become angry or irra­tional because of some­thing I read.
18. I have some­times wished I did not read so much.
19. Some­times I think my read­ing is out of control. 

If you answered ‘yes’ to three or more of these ques­tions, you may be a lit­er­a­ture abuser. Affir­ma­tive respons­es to five or more indi­cate a seri­ous problem. 

Once a rel­a­tive­ly rare dis­or­der, Lit­er­a­ture Abuse, or LA, has risen to new lev­els due to the acces­si­bil­i­ty of high­er edu­ca­tion and increased col­lege enroll­ment since the end of the Sec­ond World War. The num­ber of lit­er­a­ture abusers is cur­rent­ly at record levels. 


Abusers become with­drawn, unin­ter­est­ed in soci­ety or nor­mal rela­tion­ships. They fan­ta­size, cre­at­ing alter­na­tive worlds to occu­py, to the neglect of friends and fam­i­ly. In severe cas­es they devel­op bad pos­ture from read­ing in awk­ward posi­tions or car­ry­ing heavy book bags. In the worst instances, they become cranky ref­er­ence librar­i­ans in small towns. 

Exces­sive read­ing dur­ing preg­nan­cy is per­haps the num­ber one cause of moral defor­mi­ty among the chil­dren of Eng­lish pro­fes­sors, teach­ers of Eng­lish, and cre­ative writ­ing. Known as Fetal Fic­tion Syn­drome, this dis­ease also leaves its vic­tims prone to a life­time of near­sight­ed­ness, day­dream­ing and emo­tion­al instability. 


Recent Har­vard stud­ies have estab­lished that hered­i­ty plays a con­sid­er­able role in deter­min­ing whether a per­son will become an abuser of lit­er­a­ture. Most abusers have at least one par­ent who abused lit­er­a­ture, often begin­ning at an ear­ly age and pro­gress­ing into adult­hood. Many spous­es of an abuser become abusers themselves. 


Fathers or moth­ers who are Eng­lish teach­ers, pro­fes­sors, or heavy fic­tion read­ers; par­ents who do not encour­age chil­dren to play games, par­tic­i­pate in healthy sports, or watch tele­vi­sion in the evening. 


Pre-mar­i­tal screen­ing and coun­sel­ing, refer­ral to adop­tion agen­cies in order to break the chain of abuse. Eng­lish teach­ers in par­tic­u­lar should seek part­ners active in oth­er fields. Chil­dren should be encour­aged to seek phys­i­cal activ­i­ty and to avoid iso­la­tion and mor­bid introspection. 


With­in the sor­did world of lit­er­a­ture abuse, the low­est cir­cle belongs to those suf­fer­ers who have thrown their lives and hopes away to study lit­er­a­ture in our col­leges. Par­ents should look for signs that their chil­dren are tak­ing the wrong path–don’t expect your teenag­er to approach you and say, “I can’t stop read­ing Spenser.” By the time you vis­it her dorm room and find the secret stash of the Paris Review, it may already be too late. 

What to do if you sus­pect your child is becom­ing an Eng­lish major: 

1. Talk to your child in a lov­ing way. Show your con­cern. Let her know you won’t aban­don her–but that you aren’t spend­ing a hun­dred grand to put her through Stan­ford so she can clerk at Walden­books, either. But remem­ber that she may not be able to make a deci­sion with­out help; per­haps she has just fin­ished Madame Bovary and is dying of arsenic poisoning.
2. Face the issue: Tell her what you know, and how: “I found this book in your purse. How long has this been going on?” Ask the hard questions–Who is this Count Vronsky?
3. Show her anoth­er way. Move the tele­vi­sion set into her room. Intro­duce her to frat boys.
4. Do what you have to do. Tear up her library card. Make her stop sign­ing her let­ters as ‘Emma.’ Force her to take a math class, or minor in Span­ish. Trans­fer her to a Flori­da college. 

You may be deal­ing with a life-threat­en­ing prob­lem if one or more of the fol­low­ing applies: 

–She can tell you how and when Thomas Chat­ter­ton died.
–She names one or more of her cats after a Roman­tic poet.
–Next to her bed is a pic­ture of: Lord Byron, Vir­ginia Woolf, Faulkn­er, or any scene from the Lake District. 

Most impor­tant, remem­ber, you are not alone. To seek help for your­self or some­one you love, con­tact the near­est chap­ter of the Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture Abuse Soci­ety, or look under ALAS in your tele­phone directory.

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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