Thoughts on a Readers Block

Would you be friends with your kid if you were the same age as they? If they magically were the same but you’d be their age now instead? Would you be buddies? What would that be like? Would you have been friends with your parents under the same premisses?

But it’s impossible of course, to even speculate. My daughter is very much like the way I imagine I was, but she is also very different. She is braver, more curious and dare I say that she’s note QUITE as stubborn as I was? Or so I try convincing myself…

But I’ve changed. I’m less stubborn (No, really! It’s true!) and maybe I’m still a bit of a coward but I’ve changed in ways that I can’t and won’t go into here.

So why am I babbling about change?

For a long time now I’ve had a bit of a readers block. I love books. Throughout my adult life I’ve always loved reading and though I haven’t always been devouring books like Rory in the Gilmore Girls (I’ve had periods were I read less), I always had a book with me wherever I would go. I was always reading more than one book too, because mood allowed for different things, and some things are more difficult to read than others and you don’t want to read those things on the bus or at your grandma’s house.

But things change and lately I’ve been in a reading slump. I once had a reading goal of 100 books a year, which for some isn’t much but I’m a slow reader and that was huge for me.

  

Now? I don’t make such goals. They seem to be set mostly to impress others,  and not to enjoy the art of reading. It’s as if the joy of being like Rory and the worth in having read Laxness or The Ulysses has changed. I love Laxness, but Ulysses? Honestly? It’s crap, (though I do so love the last chapter! A fantastic short story!).  And because essentially I read for myself and not for others I don’t feel I need to read the “intellectually acknowledged” books anymore. I read only what I like, life is too short for anything else.

I still put the books I’m reading up on Goodreads though, more for me than anything else. I want to know what I’ve read and what I haven’t, but lately it’s been slow – really slow. I buy books and I don’t finish them. I start a new one, one I’ve been enthusiastic about, waiting for even, anticipating, and… I don’t finish it.

The pile of half-read books on my nightstand is HUGE. And this isn’t because they’re bad or uninteresting, well sometimes it is, but mostly it’s because …

Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? I have no idea why I haven’t been finishing. Why I am reading less than I usually would. Am I that shallow, that when I dropped the pretence regarding what I read, the things I *should* read, that I just lost my interest? Or did I actually have interest in the books that I then thought were a bit of a pain in the arse? No. That’s not the case. Because back then I was finishing books – all kinds of books – but now I can hardly find a book I like. 

There are other theories as to why:

  • Little time
  • Other interests
  • The phone
  • Shorter attention span
  • Problems focusing

But that’s something we’ve (or I at least) have always had issues with. These things have put a damper on my reading habits in the past, but never for any lengthy periods at a time. Then there’s the kid, but during her toddler years I still managed to read some.

I am reading *some*, but not as I want to be.

And it’s easy to blame the phone, Facebook and the internet for everything, but I’ve been there and back. I remember the discussion about the VCR back in the day and how that would ruin the youth.

I don’t feel ruined by the VCR.

I’ve done things to try to cure me of this predicament, because I do LOVE reading and I do like finishing a book from time to time:

  • I’ve gone to the library.
  • I’ve used my kindle.
  • I’ve bought new books, real books.
  • I’ve bought kindle books and read them on the phone.
  • I’ve tried getting recommendations from people I know have good taste.
  • I’ve read quite a few short stories, but incidentally not finished the collections I’ve been reading, this includes collections by authors like Miéville and Murakami.

I’m in a serious slump.

And then I hit a minor writing block. Because despite not being able to read I’ve been writing quite a lot. The stories have been piling in the past few months and I’ve always been able to sit down and write.

But after the wonderful return-to-the-past vacation I just sat there staring at the screen (it hasn’t been long I know) and the words that did get down on the screen were dreadful, at least in my mind.

So what do you do against a writer’s block? Well, there are about a gazillion advices out there as to how to cure that. Reading is often on top of that list. But now this is turning into a constipation I don’t like at all. Something needs to be done!

And so I started to do things I normally wouldn’t. I started reading things I normally wouldn’t. The only reading goal I had for this year was to finish a book of non-fiction. I’ve done that. That goal was finished quite early on in the year actually.

I took that as a good sign and started reading more non-fiction. But like in the past – I can finish a non-fiction book and I still don’t feel like I’ve been reading. It’s almost as if it doesn’t quite count.

So I picked up books from the library I wouldn’t have otherwise.

And I started listening to Podcasts.

I downloaded a few that had to do with literature and my first listen was Brad Listis OtherPPL podcast. I still haven’t moved on to the others. His interviews with authors are inspiring in a way I never thought they could be.

It’s the dialogue that did it. A dialogue that started in the podcast but continued in my head. I made it up as I did the dishes, vacuumed or was out running, inspired by the delicate questions he asks his authors and I continued this dialogue in my head, realising that what was needed was just this: a little inner dialogue. And a permission to …

… a permission to change! I won’t call it growing up. It isn’t. There’s really no such thing. But change? There is a lot of that and we’re awful at recognising it. So perhaps I’ve changed a little as a reader and haven’t quite been acknowledging it? And maybe this change requires an internal dialogue, and some recognition, and otherwise you will get completely clogged up?

I won’t say it’s de-clogged me entirely, but I did the work I had to do on the short story collection I’m working on immediately after I started to listen to this podcast. It was a breeze to do the things that was impossible the day (or week) before. I set myself a goal to publish the collection this fall and now I think I MIGHT be able to keep that promise.

And when those changes were made on the collection and I had sent it out I started to work on a novel/novella that had been lying in the drawer for a while and was half finished. It’s one of those “no one will ever want to read this,” ideas and “no one is interested in this but you,” things, but quite a lot of writing is about THAT. That idea that’s yours and yours alone (or so it feels) and you have to pursue it because otherwise the thing will haunt you.

It’s a lot worse (I imagine) than being haunted by ghosts, but also a lot more interesting.

And perhaps this has healed me as a reader as well? This internal dialogue that was spontaneously produced by a man in a garage talking to real writers. It’s inspired me to think that I need to seek new things. Or at least open my mind to them and then maybe pursue something old, what do I know? And now I am reading and it’s good.

And later I might tell you about the second best book I’ve read so far this year (the best book I read this year I breezed through while still in the midst of the thwarts of this blockage, but telling you about that will have to wait). These are the only two books this year I’ve not been able to put down at all. And those are always a great experience. 

The other books are still on my nightstand, virtual or not, waiting and they might have to wait, because I’m on the market for new things.

So, would you be friends with yourself if who you are today would meet who you were twenty years ago? Would you like that person? Would you hang out? Exchange reading tips?

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