How Do I Cure My Reader’s Block?

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Literary Lady is on vacation this week, but here’s a favorite question from the archives!

Dear Literary Lady,
I think I have reader’s block. I haven’t read anything in a few weeks because I didn’t like the last few books I tried to read and now I’m too discouraged to pick out a new book. I’m feeling unmotivated to read. Help?- Jamie D., Madison, WI

Dear Jamie,
Ah, that horrible monster that is reader’s block,  when you haven’t read anything good lately and are going through a bit of a literary dry spell. Sometimes it’s as easy as reading through it, until you stumble across something you like and are enthralled with words and books again. Other times it’s a little more complicated.

Like writer’s block, reader’s block can sometimes be about confidence. Reading is an intellectual exercise, and not always an easy one. I’ve certainly felt humbled by my failed forays into demanding books beyond my grasp.

Even when it’s not about how smart you are, you can sometimes get the reading blues. Reading takes time, money, and effort, and when you feel it’s been unrewarding of late, you may become unmotivated.

Just like writer’s block, reader’s block can be overcome in many different ways. Whatever method you choose, remember to be patient with yourself and experiment a bit.  Here are some suggestions:

1. Read short stories
It’s much less daunting to read a few short stories or essays than an entire novel. Pick short story or essay anthologies with a variety of authors. My favorites are the Best American Short Stories collections and the Best American Nonrequired Reading collections. You’ll discover which subject matters, styles, and authors you like. You’ll identify favorite stories you’ll read again and again, and skip the stories you don’t like. Short stories don’t require a lot of time commitment, but they’re often just as rewarding as novels.

2. Try a new genre
If you’ve mostly been reading one kind of book, you may just be burned out on that category of literature. You may not even realize you’ve been doing it, but some part of you could be getting bored nonetheless. If you tend to make a beeline for the same section every time you enter a bookstore, stop. Head to a different shelf and see what’s out there. Maybe dabble in some YA, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, or romance novels!

3. Revisit an old favorite
Rereading a favorite is one of the best ways to cure the book blahs. In fact, it’s one of the best feelings in the world. When you revisit an old favorite, you remember why you love to read, how a fictional character could resonate so deeply with you, what ingenious wordplay exists in the world, and what diabolical drama a writer is capable of concocting. Oh, the literary possibilities!

4. Read about books, even if you’re not reading anything
If you still don’t feel like delving into a novel, read about books instead. Read about books like you would read about the theater, or art galleries, or new gastronomic endeavors. I know this rather excellent blog that talks about books all day…

Soak up the enthusiasm of people who love books. Their rave reviews, their online debates and even their less forgiving opinions might pique your interest in certain books. Learn about writers who have compelling back stories and be inspired to read their work. Find a blogger who shares your tastes and opinions, and see what they recommend. Connecting to the reading community makes reader’s block a lot less lonely.

Love and paperbacks,
Literary Lady

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