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A Study of Reading Habits

When getting my nose in a book
Cured most things short of school,
It was worth ruining my eyes
To know I could still keep cool,
And deal out the old right hook
To dirty dogs twice my size.

Later, with inch-thick specs,
Evil was just my lark:
Me and my coat and fangs
Had ripping times in the dark.
The women I clubbed with sex!
I broke them up like meringues.

Don't read much now: the dude
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who's yellow and keeps the store
Seem far too familiar. Get stewed:
Books are a load of crap.

Analysis

This poem links well to others about the difference between reality and presentation, such as ‘Sunny Prestatyn’ and ‘Essential Beauties’, and also, through the personal, to ‘Self’s the Man’. As Larkin worked as a librarian his life, he clearly didn’t believe that “Books are a load of crap” that the persona states at the end…at least not to such an extent.

At the beginning of the poem, the persona sees books as a way of solving life’s problems, as it “Cured most things short of school” (Larkin didn’t enjoy school). While reading, the persona ‘becomes’ part of the story, and in this first stanza, he relates to the hero who deals “out the old right hook / To dirty dogs twice my size”. The persona, around ten years old, reads exciting genre fiction.

Within the next stanza, the comical “inch-thick specs” from “ruining [his] eyes” is self-mocking of his appearance. The persona is older, and now he relates to “evil” characters, who are his “lark” – punning on his name. The books he reads give him a sense of thrill, in the exclamative, “The women I clubbed with sex!” and the final simile is humorous, “broke them up like meringues,” when we consider Larkin’s reversed character – the books fill his adolescent fantasies.

But as time passes, things grow grim. In the ellipsis, the persona tries to sound dismissive: “Don’t read much now.” The persona now relates to the ‘lame’ characters in books:

the dude
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who’s yellow [cowardly] and keeps the store,

Due to this, the persona concludes, “Get stewed: / Books are a load of crap.” The colloquial tone throughout suggests that it isn’t completely serious, much like ‘Self’s the Man’. Yet perhaps there is some truth in the escapist view of books: they offer us a way to live, while we waste away our own lives.

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