I've referred here before to the book The Pleasure of Reading, edited by Antonia Fraser. When I picked it up this evening for an idle browse, it happened to fall open at Germaine Greer's piece, an essay in which she describes how as a child she became a compulsive reader, "gobbling up one book so that I could gobble up another." Her reading was then a displacement activity, she says, and a book her "fantasy interlocutor", her friend.
She read on indiscriminately, "gorging on print, reading rubbish with the same appetite as I read the best", and then she brought home a badly foxed copy of Bleak House (chosen for its length), and read:
'London. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes - gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas, in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foothold at street corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since day broke ...'
"By the time I finished that first paragraph I was reading in a different way, letting the phrases swing me along, bouncing through arcs of history, spinning as a hawk's eye to a point of view at once lofty and minute. The rhythm of the writing imposed itself on the rush of my compulsion. I knew that this was an appetite that would not sicken. I would be reading this book for the rest of my life. Dickens had rescued me ... I knew real pleasure at last."
That's quite a reaction, quite an effect, and not one I can say I've ever experienced (but then ... I've never read Dickens!!!).
Illustration from The Pleasure of Reading by Katie Lester.