As the opium smoker to his pipe.

“Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit, and I suppose that this is neither innocent nor praiseworthy. Of that lamentable company am I. Conversation after a time bores me, games tire me and my own thoughts, which we are told are the unfailing resource of a sensible man, have a tendency to run dry. Then I fly to my book as the opium-smoker to his pipe. I would sooner read the catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores or Bradshaw’s Guide than nothing at all, and indeed I have spent many delightful hours over both these works. At one time I never went out without a second-hand bookseller’s list in my pocket. I know no reading more fruity.

“Of course to read in this way is as reprehensible as doping, and I never cease to wonder at the impertinence of great readers who, because they are such, look down on the illiterate. From the standpoint of what eternity is it better to have read a thousand books than to have ploughed a million furrows? Let us admit that reading with us is just a drug that we cannot do without—who of this band does not know the restlessness that attacks him when he has been severed from reading too long, the apprehension and irritability, and the sigh of relief which the sight of a printed page extracts from him?—and so let us be no more vainglorious than the poor slaves of the hypodermic needle or the pint-pot.

“And like the dope-fiend who cannot move from place to place without taking with him a plentiful supply of his deadly balm I never venture far without a sufficiency of reading matter.”

-W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), “The Book-Bag,” Collected Short Stories, Vol. IV

11 thoughts on “As the opium smoker to his pipe.

  1. I wonder if this falls in the category of a “Missouri Brag.” Knowing of his temperament, though, I suppose not. Still, one wonders . . .


  2. A fun post! I will try to stop being vainglorious about my addiction! (Well do I remember reading through a small bookshelf of classics like Dickens that came with our encyclopedia set in the summer when I was growing up and library books had already been read. Now I’m glad that was all we had in the house.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Curious statement by Mr. M.
    I have felt that way sometimes.
    Probably young persons do also
    When it comes to their phones.

    A week ago I read an opposite view
    from another English novelist: 

    “He has read well who has learnt
    that there is more to read
    outside books than in them.” *

     * from The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy,
    Michael Millgate, ed., Macmillan 1985, page 110.
    ( notebook entry , 11/29/1875l)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is interesting that he describes it so vividly as an addiction, and to something possibly less valuable than plowing the soil, but he isn’t trying to give it up or moderate it. Of course I agree with Thomas Hardy about what is important to learn. Many of the saints were illiterate! Thank you for a good quote; I will add it to my Quotes on Books and Reading. 😉

      I deliberately did not take a book with me to the dentist’s office the other day, knowing it was likely I’d have to wait at least five minutes. I thought that would be a good exercise, in just paying attention to my environment or saying a prayer…? But after a few minutes, probably fewer than five, I seemingly could not help myself, and self-consciously picked up a magazine.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ooh, that’s a bit harsh! I’d poo poo his words but I’m going through a semi book withdrawal at present. I’ve had a pinched nerve in my neck for the past week & have found it very difficult to get in a comfortable position to read much at all. It’s driving me nuts but yesterday I lay on my back on the trampoline watching the clouds for awhile & that was really a better choice than a book but not a choice I’d normally make.

    Liked by 1 person

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