I started to read in earnest about the age of nine, kick-started by a four-year family move to France. TV was transformed from the reasonably engaging, varied programs of English network TV – BBC and ITV, to the excruciatingly dull studio discussion programs of French speaking RTF and Antenne 2.
My under-stimulated mind sought refuge. I discovered my Dad’s extensive Science-Fiction collection, hundreds of books available for me to browse and read.
Next to my bed was a wide-shelf with a convenient switch for back-lit glass panel. I would keep the books I was currently reading on this shelf. I usually read until tired, often way past my “official bed time”, switching my light off when repeatedly told to by my Mum or Dad. I’d switch it back on again once they were safely out of sight. When sleepiness finally arrived, usually near midnight, I would fold the corner of the page I was reading and finally sleep.
I loved those Science-Fiction books by writers whose middle names were given only as initials, such as Arthur C. Clarke or Philip K. Dick – exciting ideas, amazing science, fast paced plots and complex stories.
Despite the stimulating plots, I could not always keep my interest active for long, normally somewhere around page 100 interest would wane and I would become distracted by the other books in the bookcase. I would pick up and start to read another book, which then became my current book, relegating the previous book to my book stack. Yet again, my interest would wane and I would pick up another book.
The stack of books on my shelf would grow and grow and became more and more daunting as it grew to several feet in height – so many books to finish in a pile, threatening serious injury if toppled over! So I had a rule, when the stack reached twenty books, that was it – no more new books.
It was my “twenty in a stack rule”. I forbade myself from returning to the Sci-Fi bookcases. I had to clear down every one of my active twenty books to zero, before I allowed myself to even pick up another.
Once the backlog of twenty books was cleared I could start again, which I of course I did, over and over again.
The rule on stack size did vary, over the years I reduced it to around five books. As an adult I continue to have this behaviour. In some ways it has become less manageable as I have never managed this level of control with non-fiction books. The non-fiction stack grows so large that books are returned half-read to my book cases with no completion date in site.
Sometimes I pick them up again and finish them weeks, months or even years later, sadly some remain half-read to this day. Not because the book is uninteresting but simply because a brighter shinier one has catches my eye.
When I was young it never seemed that odd to be reading multiple books at a time, picking up new books that caught my interest and having rules about stack sizes. But I didn’t know anybody else who did this, occasionally a friend might remark on how many books I read, but it was just what I did.
Now in my fifties, with the knowledge of my ADHD, it all makes sense. Having ADHD means it was (and is) harder to sustain interest, I got (get) bored quickly, usually much more more quickly than other folks. Once I reach a certain point in a new book, where I can see how it will probably develop, the novelty and my interest wanes, a new book beckons.
As a child, ignorant of ADHD, I invented an intuitive strategy to manage my ADHD symptoms, the “twenty in a stack rule”, I think it worked pretty well.
It is pretty common for undiagnosed people with ADHD to unconsciously build work-arounds, strategies to help with their ADHD challenges – sometimes pretty creative and innovative solutions too.