Giving Up an Addiction to "Trashy Novels"

After counseling for several years on my addiction to "trashy novels" (genre fiction, such as fantasy, mystery, and romance novels), I gave them up. For many years I had been aware of the compulsive nature of my reading. I had become less and less able to read anything but genre fiction.

As a child I was expected to be quiet and polite and to restrain my emotions. This was hard to do! Reading gave me a way to keep quiet without going "crazy." I also received little adult attention, and reading provided me with information I wasn't otherwise getting about people and the world. I was praised for being a reader.

Our family moved a lot, and books became my friends. They were familiar, predictable, and safe. I didn't have to fear rejection or deal with the unknown. With genre fiction I always knew what would happen. Good would triumph over evil, the "bad guys" would lose in the end, the girl would get the boy, and so on. I collected some "comfort books" that I read many times during my childhood and adult life, such as Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and Lord of the Rings. When I got too anxious about things, or too lonely, I could go back to one of those books, or others, and pull myself back together.

I always had a pile of books from the library. Libraries were an emotional home. I felt safe and warm there. As soon as I finished one novel, I would start another. The thought of not having at least two or three novels in the house made me panicky. I usually spent at least a couple of hours each day reading novels.

For years I was tempted by romance novels but wouldn't let myself read them because I felt embarrassed by them. I had the idea that only poor, uneducated, unliberated women read romance novels. As I discharged more on sexism and classism, I allowed myself to read romance novels and admit it to people. I never read the ones with bodice-ripper book covers. Only the ones with flowers or some such thing on the front -- ones that were marketed for feminists like me.

I began to realize that a huge soft-pornography industry sells this stuff to women to keep us preoccupied. In addition to my loneliness and anxiety about the unknown, I had distresses about my father, which made me crave stories about men desperately wanting women. Such distresses are manipulated by capitalism to keep women consuming books and films in search of a session, just as harder-core pornography is marketed to men. Although I was aware that the books were racist, sexist, and classist, and I felt bad about that, I got hooked and read them compulsively.

Several things enabled me to give up the novels. One was counseling enough to stop feeling so bad about myself for reading them. I had counselors who gave me the direction to read them for as long as I had to. (Others counseled me on giving them up.) I also noticed how much I wanted to do other things in my life that I didn't have time for while reading novels. Probably most important was getting close enough to some people who lived nearby that I could drop in on them anytime.

As a result of giving up this addiction, I have more attention in general. I think my mind was preoccupied with the books even when I wasn't reading them. For example, I can now listen to the news. I am delighted to be more in touch with what is happening around me and what other people in the community are discussing. My ability to read non-fiction and "good literature" returned immediately, and I'm thrilled to be able to read the history books I have been wanting to read for one of my jobs.

I had pretty much given up quilt-making, in part because of carpal tunnel syndrome but mostly because I couldn't sit and quilt without being drawn to a novel. My wrist is better, and I'm excited about quilting again. I have finished a quilt I started four years ago and have started a new one.

My chronic distresses are now more available for discharge. I am more irritable and can tell how angry I am, especially about sexism. I've had new insights about how anxious I am. I am intensely aware of feeling like people don't want me. At times I feel like there is nothing to look forward to, and I feel intense cravings for my books. It is disorienting, and I'm having a lot more phone sessions.

I had a short but good cry in a library (quietly, of course) and want to do that again. I've had sessions saying good-bye to my books. Last week, at my request, one of my regular Co-Counselors took away the last of my "comfort books."

Not many people understand addiction to novels. Reading of any sort is valued in our culture, and there is not much encouragement to critique it. This addiction is similar to addictions to television and videos -- maybe more people can understand that.

I'd like to find a forum in the wide world in which to talk about my addiction and how I gave it up. I think I could do something with feminists about the romance novels. My twelve-year-old niece has the same pattern with books that I did when I was her age, and she is receiving praise for it. I want to contradict the patterns for her.

Karen Marysdaughter
Monroe, Maine, USA


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07