I am a compulsive reader, and have always been. I gobble books the way some people gobble chocolate. I need to have a book on the go, and I need to have the next five or six books lined up waiting, before I can relax. That massive list of books I picked up at the library sale? I've already ploughed through five of them, along with a couple of (borrowed) library books, in the last week. That's not counting the daily newspaper, the weekend liftouts, some of The Monthly, and quite a few hours of net-trawling.
I can't eat without a book in front of me. If I find myself with a spare minute, I won't use it to wipe down the bench or tidy the toys; I'll read, diving into my latest book, devouring it greedily, eyes frantically scanning just to the end of this next chapter, then I'll do the ironing... (yeah, right).
I have a problem with reading. It's my drug. I can't live without it. Next weekend I'm going on a yoga retreat and my biggest fear is that I won't be allowed to read. Back in my travelling days, when I went to Rome by myself for three weeks, I spent a fortune on second hand books in English. I bought by weight, by smallness of font. I bought ancient classics in tiny type that I didn't even particularly want to read, in the desperate hope that I could eke them out longer. I couldn't. I couldn't help myself.
I read more, and faster, when I'm anxious or unhappy. I read to escape. I read when I need space. I read to switch off. I fall into a book as some might fall into a bottle of whisky. I recently finished Augusten Burrough's Dry, his memoir about giving up alcohol, and I was dismayed at the parallels. Of course, reading won't give you liver disease, but there are other costs. Reading is private; it's anti-social. My children resent my reading; they know that I'm not listening properly when I'm buried in a book. I can be sitting in a room with my husband, but I'm not there; I'm in Georgian England, or New York, or inside a teenage film buff's head. I wonder if I've read so much to avoid living my own life, if there are experiences I might have had in reality if I hadn't spent so much time reading about them.
Once or twice I've toyed with the idea of giving up reading - not permanently, but say, for Lent, or when I'm trying to break one of the girls of some annoying habit. You stop waking me up at 5.30am and I'll stop reading. For a week. Ho ho. It's never going to happen. I can't even seriously contemplate making the attempt. Is there such a thing as Readaholics Anonymous? I'm not the only one out there, surely? Or are you all in denial?