I was an early reader, and a voraciously precocious one - Huxley and Orwell, Salinger and Asimov before the age of ten, intercut with Professor Branestawm, Uncle the Elephant and Molesworth. At puberty I discovered Catcher in the Rye and its infinitely more relevant and enriching British counterpart Billy Liar. In retrospect, in my current 'fine and joyous mood', those two books probably changed my life for the worse more profoundly than if I'd been hit by a car or contracted polio.
There's a lot written and said in defence of books (and from hereon in, please assume the word to include all literature, art, comics and music), but increasingly in recent years I'm beginning to think they've ruined my life far more than any narcotic I've ever dabbled in, more than of my other dubious lifestyle choices. Indeed, I'm convinced that without books, I wouldn't have got anywhere near those unsavoury practices in the first place. Books are a gateway drug and sure, like cannabis, many people can happily read books for many years with no ill effects, but for a few of us, books and all those bastard siblings mentioned before are a life-destroying addiction.
I'm not being flippant here - I was an academically bright kid, above bright, I was in the top three of my peers and not merely artistically. I was a brilliant mathematician for my age, chemistry and biology, physical geography, geology and astronomy - I was well versed in all of them way above my years as a youngster. It was the astronomy that did it. Without the astronomy I would never have fallen for a small collection of short stories called 'The Golden Apples of the Sun'. Ray Bradbury, you horrible fucking mind-poisoner, you lied to me! I expected rockets and gravity and mechanics and you gave me murderers and relationships and religion and magic and hopes and dreams way beyond a normal person's aspirations. And you talked about Twain and Poe and Lovecraft and Shakespeare and so many other pushers of your twisted fantasist genre and sucked me deeper and deeper into your shooting gallery of dissolute strays.
Since then I've been bingeing on the lies of people who tell me that life is so much more dark or beautiful or sinister or kind, more glorious, more depraved, more rich and more infinite, in short more interesting than it actually is. They have reprogrammed my expectations till I now believe in ultimates of good and evil, that beauty exists, that honesty, decency and kindness are universal traits throughout humanity, but at the same time duplicity, corruption and self-interest are just as prevalent - worse I believe these things have structure, patterns and logic. I live in a life of narrative, light years from any concept of reality, just as sure as if I was permanently hallucinating on some psychotropic drug. I've dabbled in most narcotics to some extent or another (of course I have! Books told me it was okay! Books told me they were cool, sexy, enlightening!), but even during a brief dalliance with heroin, there were periods of lucidity and when it began to infringe on the reality of my social life and income, I gave it up with relative ease.... Oh but not this...
Books never let you go; they're in your bloodstream all the time, more potent and more dangerous than any drug and while they feed you incredible highs and what feel like genuine emotional experiences, once you let fiction under your skin it takes over. Soon your politics, your emotions, your spiritual beliefs, your opinions on friends and all your human relationships become tainted by the disease. I do my damnedest to behave the way I believe my favourite characters will behave and am constantly amazed when the world responds differently.
Worse still, like one of those ridiculous ghosts or aliens that these horrible purveyors of unreality peddle, I've become part of the whole sick machine; my DNA is now programmed to think in narrative, character and structure. After 25 years of writing professionally, I genuinely can't even eat without it; it literally puts the food on my table... I'm a pod-person inhabited by the need to carry on the cycle of lies. Instead of being a doctor, or a chemist, or a pharmacist or a marine biologist or astronaut or any of the myriad of useful things that were potentially in my life's path before Books, I spend my days locked in my head constructing perfect murders, ideal fucks, imaginary people falling in imaginary love before their imaginary hearts are broken, I slice and dice, lick and suck and wound and savage and destroy... and then foist it on others to feed their habits. I live in a world of ghosts and mermaids and beautiful owls and demons and magick and endless similar bullshit while outside an entirely different universe kicks me around from pillar to post failing to grasp why I'm unable to comprehend it.
In short, I'm beginning to believe that Books have destroyed my life and my sanity and I fear that unlike other drugs, there is no withdrawal, no treatment program or rehabilitation.