British public school principal Headmaster Whiting straight-facedly alleges that The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter melt children’s brains. (Here’s the LA Times story and the original blog post.) Almost literally, that’s what he says; he uses the phrase “can damage the sensitive subconscious brains of young children.” Let’s just say “will melt the brains of”. Close enough. He also includes GRR Martin, Suzanne Collins and Terry Pratchett – yes, even dear departed Saint Terry.
I don’t believe in name-calling, so I’m not going to call this guy a chowderhead. Nor will I call him an unfrozen-from-yellow-ice cave-twat, a backwards-thinking rancid butter stick, or a nincompoop. He seems to care for children, which is good and normal and human: thank you, sir. But the things he said – not him, but his ideas – are, if you’ll pardon my anglo-saxon, fucking idiotic.
If you doubt how mixed up he is, note that his list of approved authors includes Shakespeare, who is both dark and raunchy as hell, if you understand what you are reading.
On the other hand, there is one thing he did get right, and I don’t think we should dismiss it: he claims that these authors, these books, are addictive.
BY GOD, HE’S RIGHT.
This one was reading Tolkien OUTLOUD to his brother. So sad. photo Matthew Prosser
Many of us were not afforded this insight when we were children – our criminally negligent teachers having encouraged us to read “gateway books” about Bilbo, Narnia, Prydain, and Shannara — oh the shame – curse you Miss Appleton and your sinister little baggies of literary Turkish Delight. We have reached adulthood with a very serious and totally incurable book habit, one I at least can trace back to some pretty twisted weekend nights spent with Maddy “Wrinkles” L’Engle and Franky “The Worm” Herbert.
Well, we’re pretty much screwed. Reading is now braided into our chemical make-up, and trying to kick would unravel us completely. So, we need to find a way to live with this book addiction.
Here are a few strategies:
Maintain nutritious food intake. If your addiction is such that you have trouble feeding yourself, like, you can’t put down A Song of Fire and Ice long enough to make dinner or go grocery shopping, then – ok, that’s pretty bad – but all is not lost. There is a special food-like substance you can have delivered right to your home, carefully engineered to provide both sustenance and enough variety that you can survive on it thru multiple thousand-page novels. It is called “pizza”, and it contains within it elements of all 4 food groups. You can easily eat it with one hand, so you don’t have to put your “brain-melting” fantasy novel down, and, like I said, you can order it and have it delivered right to where you live and/or read, whichever.
So far gone, he’s talking to a statue. photo Joits
Join a support group. You don’t have to be alone in your enslavement to the paper devil; there are all kinds of groups with other sag-eyed, paperback junkies who will empathize and keep you accountable (to finish chapter 12 by Wednesday night). You might try out Book Riot’s “Read Harder” book club. You could scroll thru the listings on MeetUp. Alternatively, you could form your own group, as there is really no expertise required to lead or host such a club. Most groups just take it one meeting at a time, remembering that the only thing is to keep. showing. up.
Ear injections. If you’re someone who has to work or hold down some sort of job, then the need to read can be a real problem. You might be able to scrape together enough $$ by selling the same books you read, but – trust me – dealing books is tough and dangerous. A better idea is to keep your current money-earning labor and instead of using paper books while working, do some audio. This is good for your commute, as driving while reading is about the worst thing you can do, but it can also work in your office environment. An audio book is just a digitized sound file that can be administered aurally, directly into the ear. It reaches the softened, Brie-like brain matter just as easily as when administered thru the eyes.
Prevent jonesing with immersive substitutes. If you find yourself stuck between the most recent book of a series and the one which has not yet been published, and you are unable or unwilling to start or continue a different series – well, it sounds like you’re pretty sick. That’s not me judging you; I just want to speak truth. You’ll have to wrestle with that, no mistake, but there is a method safer than going to George R R Martin’s door and pounding on it. We wrote an entire post about it a while back, but here’s the short version: there are many types of games and activities that you can use to taste that “other” world in between doses of the real thing. Maybe you can find or form a Mistborn LARP group, for example. Or how about a Game of Thrones board or card game? Get yourself a Universal Studios season pass and hang out in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and just keep writing plaintive letters to JK Rowling. What about cosplay or writing some fan fiction? In short, you have all the freedom in the universe to manifest pieces of that “other” world in real life and live them — just like what we used to do with Dungeons & Dragons in the 70s, before some kids died and stuff. Inflame that imagination and use it!
Diversify. It is possible to ingest so much fantasy, sci-fi, or whatever your favorite genre, that you literally cannot achieve any stimulation of the imagination at all. This is called “The Ruts” or “Plateausville”. It’s ugly. Most readers can sense this eventuality and are able to diversify early – thereby expanding their reading palette, and maintaining the potency of their preferred “poison”. What “diversify” means is simply to try out other genres. These could include other types of fiction, for instance, so-called literary fiction or the classics or even some lowbrow mysteries – cheap but very potent. It could also include “non-fiction”, a very broad term which includes several families of genre: the histories, the biography-types, cultural commentaries, and so forth. These will all have very different effects on your system, but with some experimentation, you will find very stimulating material.
Indeed, HeadGrandWillyMaster Whiting is absolutely correct: those of us who started on the fantasy and sci-fi at a young age were unalterably affected by the sensationalism. I remember being excited about books, circa age 8 or so – and I own fully that I’m still excited about books. I’ve never been able to shake it. The above techniques have helped me carry this terrific burden, and I think you’ll find them useful too, fellow traveler. Don’t beat yourself up. Remember that you’re not alone, and take it one ring-quest at a time.
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