The Need To Read


Anthony Daniels, a self-professed bibliomaniac, plumbs the depths of his obsession:

We who pride ourselves in reading much and widely forget that the printed page serves us in a similar fashion as the drug serves an addict. After a short time away from it we grow agitated and begin to pine, by which time anything will do: a bus timetable, a telephone directory, an operating manual for a washing machine. "They say that life’s the thing," said Logan Pearsall Smith, a littérateur of distinction but now almost forgotten, "but I prefer reading." For how many of us—avid readers, that is—has the printed page been a means of avoidance of the sheer messiness, the intractability, of life, to no other purpose than the avoidance itself?

Daniels also finds himself caught amidst the trade-offs of the digital age:

Perhaps there is a wider lesson here: you cannot have it all, you cannot reconcile all possible sources of pleasure. You cannot have the joys of serendipity and those of the convenience of immediate access to everything. Furthermore, it seems that you cannot choose between them as technology advances. To adapt Marx’s dictum about history slightly, Man makes his own pleasures, but not just as he pleases.

(Photo of William S. Burroughs reading Vents, New York City, 1950, by Allen Ginsberg, via Flavorwire's Photos of Famous Authors Reading Famous Books)