An Essay by Ashton Applewhite
I have a condition. Although not contagious, it can provoke debilitating anxiety. Despite being widespread and easy to diagnose, it has received virtually no attention from the clinical community. Although I have been coping with this condition since age seven, it was not until my mid-twenties that I heard it named by a fellow sufferer. If you’re reading this, I suspect you may be one of us.
The condition is anelexaphobia. “Ane,” from the Greek, meaning “without” + “lex,” from the Latinized Greek lexikos, meaning “pertaining to words” + phobia, also from the Greek, meaning “irrational fear, horror, aversion.” In other words: terror of being without reading material. I never leave the house without my e-reader plus a magazine or newspaper plus various texts on my phone for back-up. You can’t be too careful.
The advent of the e-reader has eased my symptoms considerably, especially when I’m facing significant stretches of time without access to bookstores, newsstands, or the internet. Airplane flights, for example. You’d think that having the contents of a small municipal library on my e-reader would scratch this itch. But what if it runs out of juice and the plane doesn’t have plugs or I forgot my charger and no one else on the plane has one? What if it stops working???
This always reminds me of a joke about a dimwitted passenger on a cross-country flight. First the pilot announces that an engine has gone out, so the flight’s going to be arriving a little late. Not long afterwards, he announces that a second engine has gone out, so they’re looking at an hour and a half delay. More time goes by and the pilot makes a third announcement: another engine has failed, so the flight will be three hours late. At which point the passenger says fervently to his seatmate, “I hope the fourth engine doesn’t go out, or we’ll be up here forever!”
Exactly. What if the plane is up there forever??? That’s why I never get on one without print backup, and needless to say, I want choices: fiction, non-fiction, short, long, uplifting, challenging, and in-between. What’s in my bag right now? (Yeah I’m only hopping on the subway, but, you know, what if the train is stuck between stations forever???) The New Yorker magazine (electronic and print), because it contains all my food groups. On my e-reader, The Leavers by Lisa Ko, because what’s life without a good novel? In print, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, because my daughter said I should read it and she was right. In both formats, Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy by Chris Crass, because PW Press offers a free e-book with purchase, because it’s terrific, and because we’ve got a world to change. Just don’t ask me what “praxis” means.