Philip Larkin: “A Study Of Reading Habits”

Philip Larkin’s “A Study of Reading Habits” follows the life of a young boy who loved reading books. The entire poem is written from a grown mans perspective looking back on his reading habits when he was young. The speaker indirectly talks about reading books during the three different stages of his life.

Larkin enjoyed reading and listening to jazz music. Larkin studied English at St. Johns College and was known as a great scholar in his University. After graduating he became a librarian, first in the library of a town, later in a university. From 1955 until his death he was the librarian of the Brynmor Jones library at the University of Hull.

The first 4 lines of Larkin’s A Study of Reading Habits the speaker demonstrates how passionately he felt about reading books. He describes a young boy who could not take his eyes off of a book. Getting so lost in the story he was reading, he would move closer and closer to the text, getting his nose so into it. We all know what the consequence of this is, and so did the speaker. In line 3 he acknowledges this, saying he would be willing to ruin his eyes. He writes about how reading made him feel different. Reading was an escape, a way to be anyone or anything he wanted to be. It made him feel cool, giving him supernatural abilities. He would be fighting villains twice his size with no fear.

As the speaker grew in age, his passion for reading stayed with him. He still found his same escape route, reading to be lost inside his own mind. And as we all guessed, he ruined his eyes. Line seven exposes the obvious point that the speaker wears very thick glasses. This line, along with the next, give the impression that much time has passed. The speaker goes on to talk about how he now found himself into a very different type of reading. He no longer wanted to fantasize about being a super strong hero; he now was into evil writings. The older speaker at this time becomes aware of women, sex and violence. He has the typical pubescent fantasy of being a vampire. Vampires have supernatural powers, they stay awake all night, cannot be killed, and have sex with lots of women. The speaker finds relief from his hormonal feelings in his books. Lines 11 and 12 relate directly to sex; clubbing being substituted directly for sex. Relating them to food, meringue is a sugary pie filling.

The speaker in the poem is not Larkin but a twisted character whose tone is filled with disappointment and hallucination. Before he use to seek for an escape in books but now that he is an adult with more complex issues he realizes that books wont help. Reading is just a reminder of his malfunctions. He then feels anger and finds another way of coping with his problems. In lines 17 he suggests to get stewed, assuming that he means drugs or alcohol is the escape now. He then goes on to say that books are a load of crap exposing that he totally has giving up with books and his own life. The speaker was exposed as a young man who never knew how to deal with reality since he was stuck in fantasies growing up.