Philip Larkin’s “A Study of Reading Habits,” is the ironic difference between slang and formal language. The formal language in the title implies the poem is about drawing conclusions of people’s reading habits. It also suggests that the poem is going to be very boring and in many ways puts the reader off from reading on. Instead, the poem is the confession of one man whose attitudes toward reading have slowly diminished to the point where books are nothing but ‘a load of crap’. The poem is not about the man’s reading habits, but the reality of his life. The poem is patterned in three stanzas having a basic rhyme scheme of A,B,C,B,A,C.
The first stanza is when the speaker was a young boy still at school, the second while he was going through adolescence and thirdly when he is older. The boy he remembers in stanza one was unhappy, both at home and at school. He found an escape from reality through reading, which he really enjoyed and it was even: ‘Worth ruining my eyes’ The books he read were tales of action and adventure, pitting good against bad, that are full of physical conflict, and ending with victory for the good person. These tales helped him build a fantasy life in which he identifies himself as the virtuous hero.
In his imagination he beats up villains ‘twice my size’ which in effect is reversing the situations of his real life. He lives in very much a fantasy world. In stanza two the man recalls his teenage years, when his dreams turned rather more sexual. True to his prediction of ‘ruining my eyes’ in stanza one, he had to wear spectacles, which he describes exaggeratedly as ‘inch-thick’. These became a further disadvantage to his social life. To compensate for his lack of success with women, he had visions of himself as an evil figure with cloak and fangs.
His reading continued to feed his fantasy life as he took on the role of a person who loved evil and to some extent torture. The words: ‘Had ripping times in the dark’ Imply both the meaning of enjoyment and also violence or torture. In stanza three, the man, now a young adult and confesses that he no longer reads much. He has experience of personal failure among women. I think his attitude changes because books have become to familiar to him, and are no longer pleasing to read as he realises he is not the hero like in the books he used to read.
He recognises himself in the undependable “dude” who lets girls down. His final words are memorable because they are so unexpected ‘get stewed, books are a load of crap’ ‘A Study of Reading Habits’ is ironic. It presents a first-person speaker who has been unable to cope with the reality of his life and as a result has turned to an alternative ways to escape the reality of his life. The speaker has gone from being good to evil and vicious which is also shown by a change in his reading tastes, from adventure stories, to sexual novels, to not reading at all.
The attitude he has toward reading is ironically reflected in his life, which is now ‘a load of crap’. Again this poem reflects how the speaker is disappointed with the way his life is now, yet looking back it was better. Now it seems the speaker has given up and is no longer leading a happy lifestyle. The feeling he has for books is reflected in his life, because it is ‘a load of crap’ Both of these poems have strong feelings of dissatisfaction of the reality of living today.
However I think ‘MCMXIV’ is the most successful at doing this as it creates a contrast between pre war lifestyles and the lifestyles of today. It also draws contrasts between the lifestyles of people in the town and those living in the countryside at the time of war in 1914. ‘Never be such innocence again’ is the sentence used to end the poem, which gives us a feeling of real let down and pathos and also disappointment. After the war things had to change even if people didn’t want to change. People could only remember what was. Things had to move on, and things had to change.