The Three Hungers Of A Book Addict

I’m a book addict. I’m always hungry for books.

Like addicts everywhere, I tell myself that I could get clean if I wanted to. That I could reduce my TBR pile. That I could buy my next book only after I’ve finished reading the current one. That I could read less and live more. Like the books in my life, I know that all of these statements are fiction.

Today, for the second month running, I had three books that I pre-ordered arrive on the same day. They’re great books and I’m sure I’ll enjoy them.

“The October Man” is a novella in the “Rivers Of London” series. It’s a snack to keep me going until the next novel arrives. “Recursion” is Blake Crouch building a complex thriller out of the idea of constructed memories. “The Other Half Of Augusta Hope” is a tragedy wrapped around a bright, bookish misfit. How could I pass on any of these?

Yet pre-ordering these books is a sign of my addiction. Why would someone who has a TBR pile in the high three figures ever need to pre-order a book?

Because, as any book addict knows, book addiction comes with three separate hungers that sate different urges at different times.

So, when I got the “Your title is available for download” emails for these three books today, I decided to reflect a little on the hungers that drive me: the hunger to buy, the hunger to read and the hunger to review.

The Buying Hunger is the fiercest of the three. It is almost impossible to sate. I think of it as the equivalent to a cat’s need to stalk prey, even when it’s doesn’t need the kill.

It’s compelling and satisfying in an entirely different way to the other book hungers.

When the Buying Hunger is on me, I scan reviews and publishers’ promotions with a ravenous eye, looking for something that whispers “You want me. You know you want me. You can have me. Just one click and I’ll be yours forever.”

Then I click and, after the briefest moment of warmth on the tongue, I swallow and move on, sometimes sated, sometimes still searching for the next morsel.

The Reading Hunger is a less urgent, more considered hunger.

If buying a book is swiping right on Tinder, reading a book is committing to going away for the weekend to give someone your complete attention. It requires effort and sustained passion. My choice is affected by my mood, my stamina and how the last weekend I spent alone with a book went.

I riffle through my TBR pile and I know that, at one point, each book there excited me but not all of them still do, at least not today. I move past them with feelings that range from indifference, through guilt to disappointment, looking for the book that I want to have inside my head for the next eight to twelve hours.

Some books, from favourite authors or from favourite series, are known quantities. Reading them revives the memories of the books that preceded them and offers the hope of extended pleasure. Some books I go to only when I need comfort or mindless entertainment or guilty satisfaction of urges not often felt and seldom discussed. Some books I reach for with a spirit of adventure or in the hope of breaking out of ennui.

Then I start to read.

At first, it’s all about me and what I want. The expectations I brought to the book, the desires I wanted it to satisfy, colour my reading of the text. I look for reassurance that I’ve made the right choice and that the book will get me where I want to go.

Sometimes I know early that it isn’t going to work. I’m in the wrong mood or it’s not the book I thought it was and I DNF it or put it back on the shelf. Sometimes I persist, doggedly trying to feel what I wanted to feel for the book when I started it, reluctant to let go of the promises made until, after hours of stimulus without a satisfying response, I give up or I reach the end but with no sense of having finished. Now I’m frustrated, perhaps even questioning my judgement and the next book is going to have to try so much harder to make me happy.

Most of the time I slide into a book from the first page and I know everything is going to be fine. I’ve danced this dance together before. All I need to do is open the arms of my imagination and let the book lead. When it’s done I’ll feel an enduring sense of well-being that lingers beyond momentary gratification. My reading muscles have had a good workout and feel ready for more and my confidence in myself and my books have been bolstered.

The rarest and perhaps the best reading is when the book surprises me. It delivers what I expected but not in the way in which I expected. Or it challenges me and my expectations. It feeds my hunger with things you’ve never tasted before but will now always seek.

These books are their own creatures. They do not set out to please. They are what they are and they challenge me to have the imagination and the courage to travel where they’re willing to take me. Sometimes they’re transgressive, taking me over lines I wouldn’t normally choose to cross only to find, when I get there, that transgression has changed my view on normal or reinforced a wise taboo.

Sometimes these books slip past the part of my mind that reads words and colonise my emotions: flooding me with other people’s pain and pleasure and connecting them to my own.

Yet, as is the way with addiction, I’ve found my hunger to read is no longer sated by a single book. I’ve given up the serial monogamy of reading one book at a time and moved to reading three or four books simultaneously to keep my hunger fed.

The Reviewing Hunger is one that came to me later in life. I used to be happy with just keeping a list of what I read and when and how I rated it. As the decades past and I understood both how many books I’d devour and how quickly many of them faded from memory, I felt the need to have something more than a list to hang on to them by.

I could re-read the book but no one can step into the same book twice. Each time the experience is different. I found that I wanted a record of those experiences, so I started to write reviews, just for me.

Then I discovered social media and sites like booklikes and goodreads that enable book addicts like me and my hunger to review became more complex.

Reading is a mostly solitary act and I like it that way. Yet I started to regret that each book in my TBR forest fell with only me there to hear it. It surprised me, deep introvert and life-long non-joiner of things, to find that I wanted to share my experience of each book with people who might get what I get from it.

So, I indulged myself in writing reviews for the books that had the biggest impact on me. Then it became most books. Now it’s pretty much all books.

What I’ve learned from this is that any hunger I feed grows. Now reviewing is a hunger in its own right. If for some reason, I don’t write a review, I feel as if I’ve missed an opportunity fully to experience the book. Writing the review makes me explore the book and my experience of it in more depth. It cements a memory. Sometimes it even tells me something that I couldn’t hear when I was still listening to the book itself.

If you’ve read this far my guess is that you’ve experienced a least some of these three hungers. Or perhaps your hungers are different from mine. Either way, please feel free to share your experience of a book addicts hungers in the comments section.

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