Fiction addiction


Imagine coming into possession of a device that unlocks the door to an alternate universe. You are given fair warning that if you choose to enter this universe, you will witness graphic and horrific scenes. Children will be forced to engage in a brutal fight to the death, merely for the entertainment of an evil metropolis. Their only hope for survival is the advice of a perpetually drunk mentor and their own wits. This universe abounds with fear, gruesome violence, starvation, hatred, defiance and death. Would you still use your device to unlock the door?

If you’ve read the bestselling Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, you already have.

Type the words "Bible" and "boring" into Google and you’ll end up with a myriad of hits. There are a few atheists among them, but the majority of complaints come from Christians.

Being addicted to reading books—specifically novels—does not carry the same stigma associated with being addicted to alcohol or drugs. Yet in its own way, “fiction addiction” is just as insidious. 

Author Lucy Maud Montgomery is quoted as having said, “I am simply a ‘book drunkard’. Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has for its devotee. I cannot withstand them.” 

I can relate. Hi, I’m Vani, and I’m a bookaholic.

For as long as I can remember, reading has been a part of my life. With two parents who worked in libraries, maybe my condition was inevitable. As soon as I was able to say complete sentences, I was also able to read. I quickly developed a passion for books which would play a major role in the story (pun intended) of my life.

“But witches do exist,” I protested. “They look exactly like normal women except that they’re bald and they have to wear wigs. Oh, and they have claws on their hands, which they cover up with gloves, and funny square feet which they hide with pointy shoes.”

I was seven years old, in the third grade, and trying to convince my best friend Wendy that witches really existed.

“But how do you know?” she challenged me. “And how do I know that you’re not just making this up?”

“I know it’s true,” I said with great authority, “because I read it in a book.”

If only winning every debate could be so easy. This convincing argument persuaded Wendy that the witches of childhood fantasy books were indeed real. We spent the next few weeks suspiciously eyeing every glove-clad woman that walked past our school playground. Of course it probably didn’t help that it was winter at the time. 

I eventually did learn that there was a difference between fiction and non-fiction, that The Witches by Roald Dahl definitely fell into the first category, and that I shouldn’t be so influenced by what I was reading. 

But not before I tried to make sneezing powder (Third Year at Malory Towers), suggested to my parents that if I couldn’t have a puppy, I would accept a pet horse (Black Beauty), wondered why I never had exciting adventures involving shipwrecks and islands (Swiss Family Robinson), and contemplated potential future careers—perhaps starting my own child-minding business (The Baby-Sitters Club) or becoming a girl detective (Nancy Drew).

A few weeks ago I walked into a bookstore. Out of curiosity I decided to check out the young adult section. I’d expected Harry Potter and Twilight to be on its bookshelves, but I hadn’t realised just how many authors had jumped on the same bandwagon. Almost every book revolved around wizardry, sorcery and violent fantasy.

Philippians 4:8 encourages us to think on things which are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy. Parents often worry about what their children are watching on TV. Do we pay as much attention to what they read?

Ellen White had a lot to say about the dangers of reading fiction: “There are many of our youth whom God has endowed with superior capabilities. He has given them the very best of talents; but their powers have been enervated, their minds confused and enfeebled, and for years they have made no growth in grace and in a knowledge of the reasons of our faith, because they have gratified a taste for story reading. They have as much difficulty to control the appetite for such superficial reading as the drunkard has to control his appetite for intoxicating drink.” 

Huh. There’s that comparison between fiction addiction and alcohol addiction again. I can already hear the counter arguments now. “But not all fiction books are bad! Some have really good morals and values.”

Absolutely. There certainly are fiction books which express sentiments that are lovely and praiseworthy. For example, Paula the Waldensian tells the story of a Waldensian orphan whose kindness and love convince her relatives and neighbours to give their hearts to God. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is a beautiful allegory of the Christian’s life journey. And it isn’t just religiously themed novels that have uplifting themes. 

But if we are honest with ourselves, if our primary goal in reading these books is to learn from the morals and values they espouse, why are we not more interested in reading the Bible—our ultimate moral compass?

When was the last time we stayed up late so we could find out what happens in the last chapter of Genesis? Or vegged out with a bubble bath and the book of Psalms? Or called a friend to say, “Hey! You’ll never believe what I just read in 1 Kings. It’s amazing!”

Type the words “Bible” and “boring” into Google and you’ll end up with a myriad of hits. There are a few atheists among them, but the majority of complaints come from Christians.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Trying to read the Bible after reading a thriller novel is like trying to drink a glass of water after you’ve downed a Sprite. You know that the water is better for you—it just tastes bland after the sugar rush of lemonade.

But imagine that you’ve just finished running a marathon. You’re dripping with sweat, you’re incredibly thirsty and someone hands you a glass of water. It tastes like the best drink you’ve ever had.

You see, the Bible is not only a moral compass. It’s an amazing story in its own right—a narrative of cosmic drama, the battle between good and evil, the love of a Saviour and a victorious redemption. But as long as we’re caught up with the “lemonade” books, we won’t be as interested in the Living Water.

Books in and of themselves are not the issue. Like TV, they are a medium which can be used for good or evil purposes. 

But if you find yourself struggling to read your Bible or keep alert during the church sermon, I highly recommend that you take a look at what else you’re reading. Like other addicts, it might be time to acknowledge that we have a problem.

Vania Chew recently began working for the communication department of the South Pacific Division as PR/editorial assistant.