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Jenny Colgan's Twelve Step Programme for beating fiction addiction.

Are you only recognisable to children and friends from the forehead up? Was your main reason for having children in the first place mostly an excuse to reread the Phoenix and the Carpet? Are you considering learning braille so you can read under the covers late at night in the dark?

If, from the time your parents caught you reading 'Teach Your Child to Read', you have been helpless in the grip of an overwhelming addiction, you may have a problem. And here's your twelve step programme to getting some colour back in your cheeks.

Step One: admit you have a problem. Go around the house and remove all those unread books you hide in different rooms just in case you have an accident and are trapped there.

Step Two: cccept that reading is a higher power than yourself. Yes, almost all books are more interesting than real conversation having been both selected and edited, but there's rose smelling to do. Apparently.

Step Three: make a serious moral inventory of yourself. Did you really need that 'why I've decided to pack it all in and move to Andalucia' novel? You'll only hate yourself in the morning. No, it doesn't matter if it was three for two.

Step Four: for the more severe cases, if you're a woman, read the entire works of Tom Clancy; if you're a man, Barbara Taylor Bradford. This is a kind of shock aversion therapy, likely to inspire fear in the subject when approaching book- shaped objects in the future.

Step Five: teach yourself to read more slowly. Sip, don't gulp. As a test, when you can remember the names of at least six of the lead characters from the eleven books you currently have on the go, you can be considered well on the path of this programme.

Step Six: wrap all cereal boxes in white non-see through plastic to avoid tempting distractions at the breakfast table.

Step Seven: likewise, try to papers which have lots of large photographs of Catherine Zeta Jones and Liz Hurley. Which is all of them.

Step Eight: go outside into nature and see what it's like. One helpful way to do this is by the traditional incantation "What are you doing inside on a beautiful day like this?" which you may recall from your childhood. Outside is, of course, extremely unlikely to be as good as Middlemarch, but worth a shot.

Step Nine: apologise to the family and friends you have let down and the domestic pets you have let die because you sat up all night gorging yourself on 'Fingersmith'

Step Ten: if you can't leave the house without a book quite yet, only go out with a 'prison' book, those books you're holding back for if you ever have to do a Jeffrey Archer- a heavy Russian or two, Victor Hugo or the compendium edition of A Dance to the Music of Time.

Step Eleven: remember, nature will take over eventually. If you haven't visited the bathroom book- free for many years, and find the two processes inextricably linked, eat a lot of fruit and be strict with yourself. It will happen eventually.

And Step Twelve: learn to love yourself. Now you too have become one of those people who can board a ten hour transatlantic flight with one small copy of Logic Problems magazine. Congratulations.


Go to Readaholics Confessions

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