Monday, July 28, 2008

Reader's Block

You've heard, of course, of writer's block, but yes, there is something called reader's block too!

Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian discovers that while Britons spend more on books than any nation in Europe, up to a quarter of them haven't read a single book in the past year :
This is depressing enough, but it does not tell the whole dismal story. Even among the remaining 75%, a lot of readers are stuck in books that won't yield to our reasonable desire for closure.
Reader's block, then is the feeling of stuckness, of bookish indigestion often brought on by a not terribly good read that we are valiantly struggling to get to the end of. The symptoms are a horrible lack of enthusiasm for picking up a book, and the employment of a whole lot of avoidance strategies.

Jeffries consults National Literacy Trust director Jonathan Douglas to get his tips for overcoming the malaise, and this is a very useful list (and worth passing on to your nearest and dearest) :
1 To read for pleasure you have got to be in charge of your reading and that means knowing that it's OK to stop reading if it gets boring. Lots of books drop off halfway through. For me, that includes Brideshead Revisited and Wuthering Heights.

2 Talk about books and ask friends for recommendations but avoid getting trapped in a tyrannical reading group for literary point-scorers. Life is too short to read books you do not like.

3 Have a varied reading diet. After a satisfying course of Philip Pullman, cleanse your palate with a sorbet of Heat or Grazia.

4 Make sure that the book you have got fits the time you have got to read. If your life is a frantic race and you only get to read on five-minute tube journeys or among the suds in the bath, do not start War and Peace. Grab one of the fantastic Quick Reads series that celebrity authors are now penning, or try a poetry anthology.

5 Read aloud. Importantly, 76% of mothers and 42% of fathers read bedtime stories to their children, but sharing a book is a wonderful way for anyone to spend time.

6 Try listening to a good book on tape or eavesdrop on Book at Bedtime on Radio 4.
Perhaps it is of some comfort that even famous writers suffer from reader's block occasionally, and Jeffries makes his own confessions about books left unread. One book he said he found impossible to read was Conrad's Nostromo, until he replaced a crappy penguin copy with a lovely OUP edition - there is a lesson there for sure.

I've just pulled out of a spell of finding reading a bit effortful and am now zipping through Junot Diaz's The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and discovering myself as a joyous born-again-reader.


Anonymous said...

It would be totally cool to be reading aloud in the LRT. Sharing a book is definitely a wonderful way for anyone to spend time on the LRT.

Web Sutera said...

Dear Sharon,

A good topic. Yes, I stumble onto this kind of reader's block as well. Sometimes it takes a week to start pick up a new book, or to continue current reading.