Literature Abuse: America's Hidden Problem
SELF-TEST FOR LITERATURE ABUSERS:
How many of these apply to you?
1. I have read fiction when I was depressed, or to cheer myself up.
2. I have gone on reading binges of an entire book or more in a day.
3. I read rapidly, often 'gulping' chapters.
4. I have sometimes read early in the morning or before work.
5. I have hidden books in different places to sneak a chapter
without being seen.
6. Sometimes I avoid friends or family obligations in order to read novels.
7. Sometimes I re-write film or television dialog as the characters speak.
8. I am unable to enjoy myself with others unless there is a book nearby.
9. At a party, I will often slip off unnoticed to read.
10. Reading has made me seek haunts and companions that I would
11. I have neglected personal hygiene or household chores until I
have finished a novel.
12. I have spent money meant for necessities on books instead.
13. I have attempted to check out more library books than permitted.
14. Most of my friends are heavy fiction readers.
15. I have sometimes passed out from a night of heavy reading.
16. I have suffered 'blackouts' or memory loss from a bout of reading.
17. I have wept, become angry or irrational because of something I read.
18. I have sometimes wished I did not read so much.
19. Sometimes I think my reading is out of control.
If you answered 'yes' to three or more of these questions, you may
be a literature abuser. An affirmative response to five or more
indicates a serious problem.
Once a relatively rare disorder, Literature Abuse, or LA, has risen
to new levels due to the accessibility of higher education and
increased college enrollment since the end of the Second World War.
The number of literature abusers is currently at record levels.
SOCIAL COSTS OF LITERARY ABUSE
Abusers become withdrawn, uninterested in society or normal
relationships. They fantasize, creating alternative worlds to
occupy, to the neglect of friends and family. In severe cases they
develop bad posture from reading in awkward positions or carrying
heavy book bags.
In the worst instances, they become cranky reference librarians in
Excessive reading during pregnancy is perhaps the number one cause
of moral deformity among the children of English professors,
teachers of English and creative writing. Known as Fetal Fiction
Syndrome, this disease also leaves its victims prone to a lifetime
of nearsightedness, daydreaming and emotional instability.
Recent Harvard studies have established that heredity plays a
considerable role in determining whether a person will become an
abuser of literature. Most abusers have at least one parent who
abused literature, often beginning at an early age and progressing
into adulthood. Many spouses of an abuser become abusers themselves.
OTHER PREDISPOSING FACTORS
Fathers or mothers who are English teachers, professors, or heavy
fiction readers; parents who do not encourage children to play
games, participate in healthy sports, or watch television in the >evening.
Pre-marital screening and counseling, referral to adoption agencies
in order to break the chain of abuse. English teachers in particular
should seek partners active in other fields. Children should be
encouraged to seek physical activity and to avoid isolation and
DECLINE AND FALL: THE ENGLISH MAJOR
Within the sordid world of literature abuse, the lowest circle
belongs to those sufferers who have thrown their lives and hopes >away to study literature in our colleges. Parents should look for
signs that their children are taking the wrong path--don't expect
your teenager to approach you and say, "I can't stop reading
Spencer." By the time you visit her dorm room and find the secret
stash of the Paris Review, it may already be too late.
What to do if you suspect your child is becoming an English major:
1. Talk to your child in a loving way. Show your concern. Let her
know you won't abandon her--but that you aren't spending a hundred
grand to put her through Stanford so she can clerk at Waldenbooks,
either. But remember that she may not be able to make a decision
without help; perhaps she has just finished Madame Bovary and is
dying of arsenic poisoning.
2. Face the issue: Tell her what you know, and how: "I found this
book in your purse. How long has this been going on?" Ask the hard
question: Who is this Count Vronsky?
3. Show her another way. Move the television set into her room.
Introduce her to frat boys.
4. Do what you have to do. Tear up her library card. Make her stop
signing her letters as 'Emma.' Force her to take a math class, or
minor in Spanish. Transfer her to a Florida college. You may be
dealing with a life-threatening problem if one or more of the
- She can tell you how and when Thomas Chatterton died.
- She names one or more of her cats after a Romantic poet.
- Next to her bed is a picture of: Lord Byron, Virginia Woolf,
Faulkner, or any scene from the Lake District.
Most importantly, remember, you are not alone. To seek help for
yourself or someone you love, contact the nearest chapter of the
American Literature Abuse Society, or look under ALAS in your
Copyright: Dr. Janet Wright Starner, Director of the
http://www1.wilkes.edu/writing>Writing Center & Assistant Professor