Can books be bad for you?

I’m Anthony, and I’m a reader. I don’t remember not reading. My mother taught me to read, the best thing she ever did for me and the main thing she’s sorry about, and it launched me on a wordy career. I read early and so well that in the third grade Mrs. Marshall had me teach Trevor Edwards to read, my first teaching assignment. Trevor was a foreigner, having just arrived from Trinidad.

I read nearly incessantly as a child. I’ve seen a checklist of symptoms to look for at to determine if you’re addicted to reading.

Some of the test statements are: “I often read alone.” “I have spent money meant for necessities on books instead.” “I have read fiction when I was depressed, or to cheer myself up.” “At a party, I will often slip off unnoticed to read.” “I sometimes read early in the morning, or before work.” There are 26 of those. You don’t want to know my score.

So I could probably use a support group of other compulsive readers, the poor schnooks who read everything they see, no matter what. My mother used to say that she always regretted teaching me to read, because I definitely read more than could possibly be good for me and that she just didn’t know what she was starting.

Like word addicts all over, I’d look forward to devoting myself to my obsession. I bet I read everything in the Gillespie School library, or at least everything Mrs. Elliot gave me. Some semesters I read a book a day.

Thank god for free public libraries. One day there’ll be free public pornography and free public caffeine. Without the Pullman branch of the Chicago Public Library, I don’t think I could’ve gotten through adolescence, and even so it took me 20 years.

I once gave my 14-year-old girlfriend Lady Chatterley’s Lover to read, but her father made her give it back.

I used reading another time to seduce the object of my desire, this one at work. I was working at a publisher with 18 or so mostly younger female editors. In a situation like that, after triage comes culling, to separate the likelies from the no-ways without alienating the maybes.

So I decided to celebrate 40 years of reading and I invited them all to a bar after work. The ploy worked like a charm, and I began an affair with the craziest woman in the company, so that turned out fine.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how I alarmed my mother by reading more than she thought good for me (and my eyes in particular) when I see my sons and their friends playing video games all day long and far into the night. They sit there staring at a stationary screen and strengthening their thumbs, and that’s surely no worse than staring at a book.

Video gaming may not be worse than staring at a book, but it could easily be as bad, and look at how I turned out.