Fixin' my fiction addiction

The first bargain

Back in 2014, when I was living in DC, I got sick - probably a cold - and used the time I was home doing nothing to binge-read novels. The entire extant Game of Thrones series, some Valdemar books, some other stuff. I noticed I was staying up very late to keep reading - it seemed counterproductive if I was resting to get better. It turned out that this was the only time I permitted myself to read as much as I wanted, and do nothing else. So of course I wanted to use the time as best I could to read.

At the same time, I was not taking much in the way of painkillers or other symptom management medication, on the tacit hypothesis that if I didn’t experience symptoms, I wouldn’t take good care of myself while sick, and would be sick longer.

So I made my first bargain with myself: to make sure I got enough sleep while sick. In exchange I promised to manage symptoms as indulgently as I knew how, and to take some weekend afternoons when I was well to go to coffee shops and read. It no longer felt like an unmanageable compulsion - but it still felt like a chronic deficiency.

The second bargain

Later, shortly after I moved to the Bay, my partner was out of town one weekend. I was feeling a little ragged from all the changes in my life, and I didn't have any real plans, so I decided not to make any - and instead do whatever I felt like that weekend. I expected that this would mostly be reading novels.

About midway through Saturday, I noticed that I wasn't eager to continue the novel I was reading. I tried to stop, but something pulled me back. I asked myself what it was, and got back the objection - if I stop reading, I won’t get to start again for weeks, and I really, really want to finish this book. So I promised myself that I'd go back to it whenever I felt like it, and the compulsion lifted.

It turned out that what I wanted to do was go see people, so I caught up with some acquaintances who I knew were at a nearby coffee shop, and talked with them for a few hours, feeling no pull at all to go back to my book.

Thus I learned that my "infinite" appetite for novel-reading was really only half a day at a time. My appetite hadn’t been infinite - I’d just been starving myself, for no reason.

It no longer felt like a chronic deficiency. However, sometimes if I got started on reading something too close to a time I had to get something else done, like my day job, it was still very hard to pull myself away and I’d find myself drawn back.

The third bargain

I was off my binge-reading cycle - I read for manageable bursts, and then put the book down after several hours and was good for several days or even weeks. But if I had to do something else mid-read, such as go to work, it was hard. I'd read during bathroom breaks, at the gym, on the BART, and this would eat into my time for getting other things done. I had trouble controlling this.

In some unrelated conversation about the cost of commuting, someone asked why the BART wasn't costless if I could read, and I found myself responding that I didn't actually enjoy reading under those circumstances. It didn't provide the pleasure of reading, it just advanced the plot.

Hearing myself say this, I realized that there was literally no point - not even the part of me that wanted to keep reading was really satisfied by this. So, I resolved never to read for pleasure, under circumstances where I would not in fact enjoy reading. But to otherwise read when it felt best, and set aside time for reading.

Since then, I’ve had nearly no compulsion to read, whatsoever. Sometimes I read for pleasure, on purpose. And sometimes I do other things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *