(Originally published November 3, 2003)
A Washington doctor has concluded what hard-core readers have known all along: Reading makes you sick.
Well, of course it does. Any one of us bespectacled hunchbacks could have told you that.
Pediatrician Howard J. Bennett says he saw three young patients this summer who experienced headaches after reading “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” for hours at a time.
Headaches. Ha! Get used to it, hatchlings. If you’re in this for life – and if you’ve read five massive Harry Potter books already, you’re hooked — the suffering has only begun.
Let video game addicts complain about sore thumbs and seeing digital ninjas even after they’ve closed their eyes. Let television watchers whine about their glazed and vacant stares.
You’re in for much worse.
There will be headaches, all sorts of headaches.
From hours of squinting. From cocking your head in your hand when your neck is too tired to hold it up. From the blood rushing to your head while you hang off your bunk bed to catch the light from the bathroom after your mother has ordered you for the last time to go to sleep.
Have you had that moment yet when you look up from your book and realize your eyes have forgotten how to focus beyond 16 inches? How long before you become the only person in your family to need glasses? (Fifth grade, I’m guessing.)
Reading is bad for your posture. Curl up with enough good books, and you won’t easily straighten.
It’s bad on your figure. Watching TV isn’t the only thing you do on a couch. But you’re just as likely to become malnourished. Any writer worth her salt can make you forget to eat.
Or forget to sleep — or just decide not to. At 2 in the morning, you’ll come to a crossroads: Is it more important to find out what happens to Garp after his mother dies? Or is it more important to be lucid and functioning tomorrow at work?
Your husband — if you’ve found one who can stand your reading cereal boxes while he’s talking at the breakfast table — will learn to fall asleep with the light on. He’ll tell you that the book will still be there in the morning, but you won’t listen.
There will be exhaustion. And nausea (reading in the car). And numbness (reading too long with your legs crossed).
That’s all kids’ stuff. Reading’s assault on the body is mild compared with its long-term threat to the mind.
The social implications are dire. How old are you, child? Ten? Eleven? Don’t you prefer Ron and Hermione to your other friends? Your “real” ones?
Have you met Ramona yet? And Harriet? Lucy and Pippi and Superfudge?
You will never have a friend as true as Anne with an “e.” Or a dog as loyal as Ribsy. And if you read “Pride and Prejudice” before high school, you’ll be ruined for boys until college.
Everything is better in books. And only a fool would rather live than read. Living is what you promise yourself you’ll do after the next chapter.
You will read instead of clean. Read instead of study. Read instead of write.
You might pat yourself on the back for all that reading. You might take pride in your swollen vocabulary. But only English professors reward you for using words that only English professors understand.
I’ve saved the worst for last.
The worst is the fear and the paranoia. The pit you find at the end of your favorite books.
The richer the read, the greater the pain that waits on the last page. Just try to fall asleep when all you can think is: What if this was the best one? What if it’s all downhill from here?
What if I run out of books?