What's black and white and read all over ... and over again?

My name is Chris, and I'm a bookoholic. At stoplights, I sneak peeks at novels I've just purchased. Can't keep my fingers off them. Can't resist lifting their paper hems.

Compared with some of the things motorists do — flossing, phoning, French kissing — a little foreplay with an exciting new book seems harmless enough.

Yes, I'm a bookoholic. I have no control. I've read stuff that I'm not especially proud of — bad stuff, horrid stuff.

For instance, I've read Parade magazine every Sunday since 2003. No, I'm not proud of it. But I will say I've learned a good deal about Celine Dion and her husband, Rene, who is tremendously supportive of her totally demanding career.

And I recently read the first chapter of a Valerie Bertinelli bio. Like a lot of men my age, I never really fell out of love with Valerie Bertinelli. She's had a stranglehold on me since my teens. In a sense, she's like beer. What's amazing is that I didn't finish the entire book, then try to swallow it.

See, I'm trying to keep my bookoholism in check. But it's affected my work. It's affected my family. I once read the lovely and patient older daughter "The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate," a Dan Jenkins rehash of a bunch of Sports Illustrated columns on golf, which I also read to her. She didn't pick up on the repetition at all. She was 2. What do 2-year-olds know anyway?

By the way, I've found that kids don't care what bedtime story you read as long as they can balance their chin on your shoulder and feel your voice vibrate across the bed. I could read a note from the IRS — we have dozens — and they would laugh and squeal. "Mr. Erskine, it has come to our attention that you are seven years past due on your income taxes. A firing squad will arrive at dawn."

Nope, kids are enablers. They don't care what you read. You could read the phone book and they wouldn't care — assuming you even have a phone book, which no one seems to anymore.

To the older boy, I used to read John Irving at bedtime; the early stuff, of course. I admire Irving more than I do most U.S. presidents, though less and less with each successive novel.

In his early books, his writing is whimsical and unpredictable (like the boy himself). Now, Irving's work seems almost too well-planned. Literary watch-making. My paradise lost.

The little girl used to hear, on occasion, F. Scott Fitzgerald, another of her father's literary idols. Her dad's Willie Mays.

"Another sigh came from the window. ... He felt the quiver of a tear on his eyelid."

These days, it's the little guy I read to. I don't think he's gone to sleep without a book in all his five years. There must be 200 titles stacked near his bed. Margaret Wise Brown and Shel Silverstein. Benjamin Elkin and Dr. Seuss. You could break a foot on his reading pile.

He shows an incredible interest in books, jumps up and down when I bring a new one home, takes them to "share day" at preschool. Like his father, he may be a bookoholic. He may have the gene.

"What do you want to read?" he asks every evening.

"How about a nice bio on David O. Selznick?" I say.

"How about 'Runaway Bunny'?" he says.

"How about 'Bonfire of the Vanities'?" I say.

"OK," he says.

This supports my earlier point that kids will listen to you read them almost anything. So I crack open "The Bonfires of the Vanities," which doesn't really stand the test of time the way you'd hope. Really, don't the '80s seem like it was 30 years ago.

Oh, wait ...

"How about some Philip Roth?" I ask him.

"You are not reading him Philip Roth," says his mother, who apparently has had it with the inner yearnings of middle-aged men.

"No way," she says.

Oh, all right. Get in here close, kid. Chin on my shoulder. There you go.

"Once there was a little bunny ..."

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