My fear of finishing the final page

30th April 2004 at 01:00
When you suffer from a life-long chronic condition, it is always a relief to find a diagnosis. At last I have a name for my affliction: abibliophobia. It is defined as "a fear of running out of things to read" and I believe it is quite common in women of a certain age, like hot flushes.

Brought up in the 1950s, the offspring of two librarians, I had a strong genetic predisposition. Without the distraction of television and computer games, I was easy prey to the seductive delights of The Faraway Tree, Mallory Towers, Veronica at the Wells, White Boots and Ballet Shoes, Little Women, What Katy Did and, inexplicably, Jennings.

I haunted the local library, devouring books as I walked home, reading as I ate, dressed and cleaned my teeth. Hyperlexic by the age of eight, I graduated early to the adult section, discovering Wodehouse and Christie, Austen and the Bront s.

My parents tried to save me. They told me obsessive reading would damage my eyesight and overtax my brain, and resolutely sent me out to play: but the addiction had taken too strong a hold.

My teenage years brought temporary respite. The arrival of television, homework, the Beatles and boys all played their part in my recovery, and I was almost cured by studying English literature.

Once reading ceased to be compulsory, it soon became a joy again. In my twenties, Trollope and Gaskell, Fitzgerald and Hardy, Dostoyevski and Dorothy L Sayers kept me company through night feeds. I discovered the joys of reading aloud to my children, unwittingly passing on my affliction by bringing them up without television. Together we discovered the delights of children's fiction.

As the children grew up, I returned to adult fiction, beguiled by Mary Wesley, Barbara Trapido, Margaret Forster and Ruth Rendell. I try non-fiction occasionally, but always my inner child can be heard whimpering: "Tell me a story."

Now I'm well into middle age, my abibliophobia is becoming acute. I have read too much. I enter the library with a cold knot of fear in my stomach.

What if I can't find anything? Joining a book circle has broadened my horizons. Every newly discovered author provides short-term relief: but I am haunted by the knowledge that they cannot possibly write books as quickly as I can read them. If I finish a book before I go to sleep, I have to find another for the morning. Whether on trains, planes and buses, waiting at the doctor's, making jam, or sitting on beaches, I need to read.

I may live another 30 years. I am going to run out one day. My best hope is that as my memory fades I will be able to start again. Does anyone know if Lorna Hill and Noel Streatfield are still in print?

Lindy Hardcastle is a governor at a small Leicestershire primary school

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