Reader’s Block

From childhood through adolescence, I would read just about anything you put in front me. I had no problems with genre, density, length, or even quality. I read plenty of books I found unappealing without stumbling—I simply kept reading until they were over. As an adult, though, I find that I swim in and out of reading periods, and will go weeks, or even months, without wanting to read.

Sometimes, a particular book will trigger it: something boring, maybe, or dry and dense. I was reading Nicolas Ostler’s Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin and while the topic is fascinating I found the prose too dull and the footnotes too numerous to hold my interest without more-than-average effort. Or the block comes when I pick up something at the wrong time: I had this moment with Christopher Priest’s The Prestige, which was excellent up to the point that I read, but then I realized that it just wasn’t what I was in the mood for so I put it down to return to later. (I did, about a year later, and I loved it then.) Occasionally, it’s built-up trauma from a string of bad books that make me lose interest in reading altogether: those I won’t name. But more often than not it’s just a switch, a feeling: I don’t feel like reading today.

For instance, I’m about 200 pages into Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It’s excellent—brilliantly written, utterly engrossing, beautifully executed. I’m completely caught up in it. I want to know what happens next.

Yet I don’t feel like reading it right now.

Am I the only one who gets reader’s block? It’s baffling to me—I never had this experience until I was an adult, and I’ve only had it really badly since graduating from college. I will go through months of devouring books, and then months of not reading much at all.

I have been endeavoring, nobly for a cure. Here are the things I’ve tried, with mixed success:

1. Return to an old classic. Once I hit the Chabon stumbling block I re-read The Importance of Being Earnest, which never fails to charm (and it’s short!). Alas, didn’t work.

2. Do something else for a while. In my case, this involves watching television (lots of Star Trek recently…) or playing video games. This is dangerous, though, because it can be hard to want to go back to reading.

3. Force myself to read anyway. I really shouldn’t do this, because when I did, I found myself not enjoying the book—utterly the opposite effect of what I was trying to do!

Do you get reader’s block? What do you do to get yourself out of it?


Torie Atkinson is a professional geek enthusiast here at Tor.com.

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