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But while reading may have expanded my imagination and broadened my inner life, it also narrowed my outer one, turning me from an ordinary, introspective teenager into a barely functional recluse. Although I hardly noticed it, buried in the attic with my books, at some point during my teenage years my dad moved out, my brothers dropped out of school and left home, and my mother rented out their empty rooms. It all passed me by—I wasn’t interested. Looking back, I now see all those stories of premature burial as romantic versions of my own predicament.

Should he give free rein to his desires, the bibliomaniac can ruin his life, along with the lives of his loved ones. He’ll often take better care of his books than of his own health; he’ll spend more on fiction than he does on food; he’ll be more interested in his library than in his relationships, and, since few people are prepared to live in a place where every available surface is covered with piles of books, he’ll often find himself alone, perhaps in the company of a neglected and malnourished cat.

Indd 25 1/9/08 2:52:34 PM MIKITA BROTTMAN A sore point. Whoever designed my school’s English syllabus had decided, quite reasonably, that the best way to get kids reading at an early age was to reassure them that it didn’t have to be hard work. It didn’t have to be all old-fashioned words and long-winded stories about people in the past. The idea, I suppose, was to show us that literature could be relevant, up-to-date, and engaging, that it could be about ordinary people with everyday problems—that’s right, people just like us.

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