Tina Fariss Barbour (not related) talks in one post about her compulsion to re-read until it 'feels right to move on'. Although I only do this occasionally, if my concentration wavers, Tina's experience made me think about my own reading habits.
I've always read quickly. At school, we sometimes had to share books in class, and I often had to wait - and wait - to be able to turn a page I'd long since finished.
One primary school report also noted my 'insatiable appetite for reading'. As a child, I slept next to a window and, in the summer, would use my elbow to hold up the lower edge of the curtain so that I could read. When the daylight faded - or during the winter months - I'd sit in the doorway of the bedroom I shared with my sister, to benefit from the landing light. I preferred to miss sleep and risk hypothermia, than stop reading. Only the sound of my parents coming upstairs would send me scampering back to bed.
But, as I got older, that healthy appetite for reading turned into something more of a nuisance.
When I started to read newspapers, I felt compelled to read every word. I'd plough through articles from beginning to end, on subjects I wasn't interested in, or barely understood. In spite of reading quickly, each newspaper became a project occupying two or three days. Tackling one of the heavyweights was out of the question: it would have taken me weeks to finish.
|Photo: Peter Gettins Photography|
However, the compulsion resurfaced later in relation to magazines. I'm a regular reader of the monthly Writing Magazine and Writers' News and took to scrutinising articles on every kind of writing imaginable: tanka, haiku, horror, travel... You name it, if I wasn't going to do it, I read about it. Magazines piled up unread, month after month. That pile finally forced me to accept that, if I wasn't going to engage in a particular form of writing, I didn't have to read about it.
It goes further than papers and magazines, though: I can't stand half-reading anything.
If I walk past a shop and only absorb part of something written on a sign, I have to go back and read the whole thing. No matter if the information conveyed is of no interest or use to me.
When I'm with someone else, I try to resist doing this. Otherwise, I'll have to come up with an explanation as to why I've reversed up the pavement to stare at the window of, say, a kebab shop.
This urge is not just about the fear of missing something; it's also about achieving a sense of wholeness. That same sense of wholeness I seek when eating.
A reading compulsion may be a less well-known manifestation of OCD, but it just goes to show the wide variety of insidious ways the condition can control someone’s life.