…[N]ovel-reading has become one of the great vices of our age. Multitudes care for nothing but light reading. The bookstores abound with works of fiction. The records of our public libraries show that there are more readers in this department than any other—perhaps more than in all the rest. The literature which finds its way into the hands of our people, as they journey by land or water, is almost invariably fictitious.

…novel-readers spend many a precious hour in dreaming out clumsy little romances of their own, in which they themselves are the beautiful ladies and the gallant gentlemen who achieve impossibilities, suffer unutterable woe for a season, and at last anchor in a boundless ocean of connubial bliss. Nor does it require much previous mental cultivation to enable one to indulge in these visionary joys. The school-boy and school-girl, the apprentice, the seamstress, the girl in the kitchen, can conjure up rosy dreams as readily as other people; and perhaps more readily, as it requires but little reading of the sort to render them impatient of their lot in life, and set them to imagine something that looks higher and better.

The habit of novel-reading creates a morbid love of excitement somewhat akin to the imperious thirst of the inebriate. The victim of drugs does not love opium or alcohol because of its taste or smell. The effect which he covets is, in truth, a mental effect. He resorts to the drug that he may feel rich, powerful, exalted, and happy, while, in reality, he is “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” The victim of novels aims at the same thing in another way, by applying the bane directly to the mind itself.

While I contemplate these things, I confess that I am ready to insert in place a rigid iron rule for the guidance of all, young and old, learned and unlearned: TOTAL ABSTINENCE FROM NOVEL-READING HENCEFORTH AND FOREVER.

(from Popular Amusements. Cincinnati: Walden & Stowe, 1869; pp. 121-152)