You must have heard writers complain they can’t write because they are facing “Writer’s Block”. But, have you heard of someone being unable to read because they are facing a “Reader’s Block”?
No matter how seasoned a reader you are, there are bound to be times in your life when you are unable to stick to a book, irrespective of how hard you try. As readers, we have all been there — staring at the same page for hours before closing the book and giving up.
The good news is that, with a little active engagement on your part, this can easily be cured.
In this article, I am going to discuss the five measures I take whenever I face a reader’s block. These are the steps that helped me get back to reading again, and I am sure they will work for you too.
1. Drop A Book You Aren’t Enjoying
I am a self-confessed lover of fiction, with fantasy being my favorite genre. Over the past few years, I had been consciously trying to incorporate more non-fiction in my reading. While on the one hand, this has been a learning experience and I have been able to broaden my reading horizon, but, there have been times when I find myself unable to proceed with a book, especially if it deals with topics I am not particularly interested in.
And not just for non-fiction, even when I am reading a genre I am not fond of, say romance, I find myself zoning out.
Then, I start guilt-tripping myself that I couldn’t complete a book I started. I convince myself that I will finish it soon and there is no point picking up something new until then. This keeps on repeating, and, before I know it, I end up sucking myself into a bottomless reading slump.
If you are on the same boat, repeat this after me: I do not need to finish every book I started.
It is completely alright to keep a book aside and start something anew. In the online literary circles, there is a term for this — DNF, short for “Did not Finish”.
My DNF pile must be higher than 50 books over the years. I do feel sad at times, but I have stopped feeling guilty for something that’s not in my control.
After all, not every book is meant for you, right?
2. Stick to Your Comfort Zone
As I mentioned before, my comfort zone is fantasy fiction. Inevitably, I find myself reaching out for a fantasy fiction book every time I hit a reading slump. Not only are most of these paced at a break-neck speed, but the detailed descriptions of characters and intricate world-building hook me from the first page onwards.
Read works from your favorite author
When you are coming out of a dry spell, it is best to pick a book from a genre you’re familiar with. Or, better still, you can stick with a book by your favorite author. Since you already know their writing style and what to expect from them, you would be more invested in the book and will be able to push yourself harder to finish it.
Re-read an old favorite
When you leaf through the pages of an old, well-loved book, you bit find bits and pieces of yourself that you left behind during your first read. A favorite scene here, a cherished dialogue there — and they will take you back to that time in your life when you had first marveled at the wonder of these words.
This reminds me of a beautiful quote by Cornelia Fudge from Inkspell-
Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.
The point here is to get back to reading a full book. Once the rhythm is set, you can start exploring new books, authors, and genres.
3. Pick A Book With Lots Of Action
When you are trying to get out of a reading slump, don’t pick a book that has deep philosophical undertones or detailed character sketches with purple prose. Instead, go for the cheap thrills.
Get a 200-page murder mystery, and when it comes to murder mysteries, I always recommend Agatha Christie. Some of her must-read thrillers are Death On The Nile, The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, and And Then There Were None.
Or, you can also pick a psychological thriller. The best ones I’ve read recently are Alice Feeney’s Sometimes I Lie, Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, and Joshilyn Jackson’s Never Have I Ever.
The point here is to pick books that capture your imagination from the start and don’t allow your attention to drift — the ones that have fewer fillers and go all in from the beginning.
When the story is paced at such a breathless speed that doesn’t let you tear your eyes off from the pages, you will definitely end up finishing the book sooner than you think.
4. Change The Format of Reading
Sometimes, when you have been consuming media in the same form for a long time, you might get frustrated or bored. In that case, a switch can make the process of reading more exciting.
For example, I read at least fifty books on my e-reader and was so tired, and I felt like I couldn’t read anymore. But then, I picked up a physical book and immediately found myself engrossed.
You can try the same: pick an e-book if you’ve only been reading paperbacks so far. Or better still, start listening to an audiobook. I have already written a detailed piece on why and how you should read audiobooks, but let me summarise it here -
Audiobooks performed by a talented narrator sound so good, you will feel as if a movie is playing in your head. An outstanding narration has the power to make the author’s words come alive.
5. Practise Active Reading
Rather than just skimming through the words passively, sit up and pay attention to the book. Be mindful of what you are reading and interact with the story. Here are three steps I follow that you can try too:
Stay focussed while you’re reading. Have a designated space and time reserved just for reading. While you are there, keep your phone away and let your mind drift nowhere else but towards the book.
When you come across a quote, passage, or scene you like, mark it on the pages. Don’t hesitate to use page-markers and highlighters to make the parts you admire the most stand out. Annotate in the margins about why you liked what you liked. Doing this has two benefits-
- You can come back to your favorite parts when you pick up the book years after your first read.
- When you underline, you will inevitably have to read the same sentence at least twice. Doing this will commit that bit to memory and help you recall the quote later.
You can ask two types of questions while reading:
- Why did the author do that? Try to figure out why the author described the scene that way or used those particular words to write about a character. Maybe they are setting the stage up for something that is to be revealed later?
- What would you do if you were in that place? Questions about the choices characters make will help you introspect and learn more about your core values and priorities.
When you suffer from reader’s block, it is usually because your body and brain are telling you something. Maybe you are forcing yourself to read books you aren’t interested in, or perhaps you are trying too hard to like a book that isn’t meant for you.
The reasons might be different each time. But whenever something like this happens, pause for a bit and try to understand what it is that is holding you back from devoting time to reading. Once you have that figured out, work on it and try the following steps-
- Don’t force yourself to finish a book you aren’t enjoying.
- Stick to your favorite genre or author. You can also re-read an old favorite book.
- Don’t pick a book that has deep philosophical undertones. Chose a fast-paced thriller that does not let you tear your eyes off the pages.
- If you’ve been reading too many e-books, pick a paperback. If you are tired of reading both paperbacks and e-books, try listening to an audiobook.
- Practice active reading rather than mindlessly skimming through words. Focus on the text, highlight parts that stand out, and ask yourself questions.
When you follow these steps, you can quickly move past the reading slump and become that avid reader you used to be when you were younger.