Wed
Jul 29 2009 5:56pm

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.

72 comments
Soon Lee
1. SoonLee
Option #2 for me.

Forcing myself to read anyway is no fun, and I read for fun.
Ellen B. Wright
2. ellenw
Yes, I definitely get it, also (I think) just since graduating from college. I usually don't have any trouble getting out of it, as long as I remember that I should: I just pick up something fun and short instead of whatever I'm stuck in, and by the end of that I'm back in a reading mood.
Bill Siegel
3. ubxs113
Really interesting topic Torie. I do all the things you listed and can't wait to see what other people post.

I've found that keeping several list of books I want to read is helpful. I usually have at least two different sci-fi list, a Shakespeare list (consist of plays and books about the bard), a recommendation list from friends, and a list of "regular" fiction from reviews that look interesting. If I start a book that doesn't interest me I can skip to a different book on that list or a different list altogether.

I usually try and keep at least one highly recommended book from a friend in my possession at all times too. My friends generally have impeccable taste and rarely steer me wrong and it gives me something to look forward to.

The last few years has been real hard finding free time to read but I'm finally done with school in two weeks and looking forward to jumping back into my favorite past time!

Good luck getting back into it!
Guy Wade
4. gtwade
I do get that way. It's almost a sense of melancholy, for some reason.

What I have been battling with recently is that nothing I see or read seems new or deep to me, like I'm jaded. I like the book I'm reading right now (Marseguro, by Edward Willett), the world is well developed, but the rest is flat. Is it the book or is it me?
Torie Atkinson
5. Torie
@ 3 ubxs113

Ooh that's a good idea. I don't keep lists, but maybe I should. I have so many piles of unread books in my apartment. When I got stuck with the Chabon I went to my stacks and just...nothing seemed appealing. It's clearly a mood thing, not limited to the book I'm currently reading.

@ 4 gtwade

I hate that! Is it the book or is it me? It makes me wonder about the books I've disliked, especially those highly praised by friends--should I try to re-read it and see if it hits me differently?
Rikka Cordin
6. Rikka
I wait it out normally, though my dry spells are normally during the school year and once summer hits I finish upwards of 20,000 pages in 3 months. Mostly I just accept that there are going to be books out there that I just can't get through, no matter how much I should like them. (I can devour The Baroque Cycle in less than a week, why can't I get sucked into Hitchhiker's?) Mostly I just move on to other things, TimeTracker tells me I've spent almost 2.5 hrs on the internet today, and wait for the urge to come back. Because it's no fun forcing yourself to read; it very quickly turns good books bad.
Kenneth Sutton
7. kenneth
I have another trigger to add: Sometimes I read a book I totally love, and I find myself reluctant to read after it.

What will often bring me out of the not-reading mood (and I don't usually do anything on purpose to change the mood: it just happens, as inexplicably as the loss of desire did) is that an old favorite will call to me. Not usually a classic; usually an oft-read fantasy or science fiction novel that has a story or characters that grow deeper with age. Sometimes the old favorite is relatively short, like Le Guin's Earthsea books; sometimes it feels like it's time to re-read The Lord of the Rings or Little, Big.

At any rate, such periods have usually been fairly short in my life, with the exception of one extended non-reading spell largely brought on by the death of a reading buddy.
Patrick Regan
8. tazo85
@ 3 ubxs113

I actually do this as well. It's a side effect of the fact that I usually read two or three books at once (which I've found cuts down on my reader's block). Mind you, I'm diagnosed ADHD, so this is one of like twenty tricks I use to keep my attention on something.
Jeanette Marsh
9. Jeanette Marsh
I'm the same, especially when i have to read a book. I find switching to something that i find light & easy to read helps - in my case mysteries- altho' not all are light, or humourous speculative fiction. Tertiary education did worsen it for me, too.
Jeanette Marsh
10. ArtfulMagpie
Oh, man, it's like I wrote that post! I'm a Readers' Advisory Librarian...reading is my job, as well as a passion. But when something that has always been a passion becomes a job, too...well, sometimes it's hard to recapture that magic. If I'm reading something because I feel like I have to in order to be able to better help my patrons, I find it very hard to go on. Sometimes I find it very hard to even pick up the book and start it. A couple of times I've even procrastinated with a book so long that I had to return it to the library without even opening it, I'm ashamed to admit.

Usually when I find that starting to happen, I treat myself to something from the stack of old OOP SFF paperbacks I pick up at used bookstores and leave on a specially designated shelf until I need to remember why I love reading.
Jeanette Marsh
11. AllAdamB
Try an audiobook to shake things up.
j p
12. sps49
Outside distractions/ commitments? That happens; wait it out.

Burnout does happen also, and sometimes it takes a while (for me) to notice.

Try something short and funny (read a few pages in the middle of a Calvin and Hobbes collection, say) or reread something that has tension and a fast pace- and since it's a reread, you can skip setup and/ or exposition, if you like. (Clancy's Debt of Honor has done that for me before).

Flip through a coffee table book with pretty pictures?
Wen Wen Yang
13. muteddragon
Because I'm a library user, I have to continue before the 3-weeks run out. I refuse to renew -- and most of the books I'm reading have people waiting for them.
Jeanette Marsh
14. MonkeyT
Develop a taste (and a good source) for short stories. Generally, when I get tired of reading, it's fatigue. If it's really rough, go for poetry (Keep it light. Richard Brautigan always gets me going again.) If you're deep into fiction, change it up with some history, particularly unusual tales (Caleb Carr has some good ones, Erik Larson does as well.)
Brendon Roberts
15. saunterasmas
I'm kind of like Kenneth.

After reading something I really enjoy (usually Neal Stephenson), everything I try to read afterwards seems shallow and empty. I usually attempt 4-5 books before settling on something.

A good remedy it to revisit an old favourite, however as I am getting older (nearly 30), lack of time because of work and responsibilties makes me feel the need to look at something I haven't read before.

Also for me dry periods happen when I am not as happy and I tend to spend my spare time being lazy playing video games or watching dvds. When I am happy I'll be reading regularly every day. But when I am very unhappy or depressed I tend to spend all my time reading to escape.
Jeanette Marsh
16. Geese
I am the same, also when I was watching an Ad for depression pills, I found out that loss of interest is one factor in reading block, at first I thought I am the only one until I read this article, I am still trying to tackle Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson and War and Peace, and yet I get distracted either by playing video games or reading manga, also it's summer and the humidity is no fun reading a good book, I wonder if I have myself checked out for depression or something ...
Mike Kozlowski
17. mkozlows
I read super-light stuff. I've gone through months of reading only comic books or Jim Butcher novels or whatever.
Jeanette Marsh
18. OtterB
Like many, I go back to old favorites, the kind I know so well I can pick them up anywhere and put them down anywhere. And then, at some point, I don't put one down. I also go to kids' books sometimes.
Jeanette Marsh
19. David RS
I guess I'm different from a lot of people. I find that reading something fluffy or rereading an old favorite can perpetuate the burnout. It takes the right book to snap me out of it. My burnout is especially bad right before a highly anticipated title comes out. Like right now, I can't get into anything before I get my paws on the latest Pynchon novel. So I'll wait it out and watch movies.
Ursula L
20. Ursula
If I loose interest in reading, it's a pretty sure sign that my depression is getting out of control, and it's time to get the pills adjusted.

I can actually gauge my depression pretty well by my reading - not reading is Very Bad. Re-reading only old favorites is a danger sign. Re-reading generally and reading new fiction is somewhat less than optimal. Balanced reading between re-reading, new fiction, and new non-fiction means that all is well.

If it's just a day or two, I don't worry - I always have books available and around, and I'll generally pick something up and start reading without thinking about it. It's only if it is longer-term (measured in weeks) that there is a problem.

So perhaps just doing other things for a while and not worrying may be the trick - the books are there, and you'll pick something up without thinking about it, because it's your nature.
Jeanette Marsh
21. Mr Wesley
I suffer from it constantly. It's happening more and more as I get older. I read the first three or four Wheel of Time books in less than a week each when they came out. But I've tried reading Stephen Erickson's first book (can't remember the title right now) at least three times, and I just can't get into it.

I have an especially hard time with sci-fi and fantasy novel--if I see something with more than 400 pages, I just put it back on the shelf because I know I'll never finish it--but now it's happening with adventure and mystery stories as well.

Part of my problem is that I have a huge stack of books I want to read, so if I get bored with one, I just drop it and pick up something else. Unfortunately, I almost never get back to the original book.

The best solution I've found is to keep several short story collections and magazines around. That way, when I start struggling with a novel, I can just read short stories for a couple of days, so I won't get as invested in another full novel, then I have less trouble getting back into the original book later.
Bill Siegel
22. ubxs113
I've seen a few different people post about using short stories and/or poetry and I think that's a fantastic idea. Librivox.org has readings of both and though it takes some digging to find great readers and great stories the payoff is huge!
F. P.
23. F.P.
Hate to say this, but, in my opinion, working in publishing will do this to people at some point. Both becoming an editor and becoming a writer will kill reading somewhat; this happened to me.

And I pretty much had your reader's block problem my whole life long as I've always been a very picky reader with very specific tastes. Combine all this and you can see why reading can be a real drag for me--why I'm always so elated to find something I really, really like reading. And then I'll read that something over and over and OVER again.

I agree with what others have said: try shorter formats. And sparer works in style.

I've lost much patience over the reading years and can't handle overwritten works at all.
Jeanette Marsh
24. TaliaCantLogIn
Why won't it let me log in? *frowns*

Anyvay, I periodically get like this. My strategy tends to be a bit of a bastardization of some of the above: I always have multiple books of different sorts going so I can hop from book to book as the mood suits, and I find that treating to a tried and true favorite helps get me into the swing of things again.
Jeanette Marsh
25. Bonny Soy
Hmmm... I find it interesting that your experience of "reader's block" includes a kind of lethargy for a book you're engrossed with, i.e., Kavalier and Clay. I've never experienced this.

Most of the time, I trudge trough a book with fervor, loose steam half-way through, before finally deciding that I don't like it all and stop (reading John Fowles' The Magus immediately comes to mind).

Then there's an annual attempt (five years and running) to finish Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain: Now, I love what I've finished so far, and each attempy adds five to eight additional chapters, but somewhere along my determined readings... Life gets in the way. And the pause, that unintended hiatus in reading, ruins the mere act of opening the book to that marked page, which convinces me that I have to start again from the beginning.

Right now, I'm stuck with the fourth volume of Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, at least five chapters shy of finishing it. Of course, my problem with Wolfe is basic: I feel no actual joy when reading him -- only when I've finished, only when I've let a work stew in my head for a few days (The Fifth Head of Cerberus did this to me, although my love for Peace was immediate).
Torie Atkinson
26. Torie
@ 11 AllAdamB

I can't tell you how many times I've tried to get into audio books, but my attention just wanders if I do that and I entirely lose focus of the story and start a grocery list instead. Part of the problem, I think, is that I'm a much faster reader than listener, and I get irritated with the pace of someone else reading.

Re: suggestions for short stories/magazines--I read short fiction on a regular basis (obviously, we publish plenty of it here!) so that doesn't quite do it for me. And I admit, some of it is almost certainly in part because I do so much reading as part of my job, but it's something I noticed even before I worked in publishing.

I often find that my reader's block has a lot more to do with what I'm in the mood for than anything else. I can pick up a truly excellent book (as I have done, with Kavalier and Clay) and yet it's just not what I feel like reading right now. Of course, there's no way to know that until I pick up something and go "This! This is what I wanted to read!"

That happened after the last spell--I got Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii A Day as a gift, bumped it to the top of my list on a whim, and it happened to be exactly what I was hankering for at the moment. But how on earth would I have guessed that was what I wanted? I clearly need a librarian empath. Yep.

I'm really interested in the overwhelming suggestions to pick up something light and fluffy: I, like David RS @ 19, find that that can make the whole thing worse.
Wendy Chua
27. wchua
Readers block is a good term for it.

Used to be I could devour books at a fast clip but lately I've slowed down to the point where I go for weeks where I don't touch a single one. I just don't seem to be in the right mood. It's extremely frustrating especially when books are my method of relaxing. Trying to read something light and fluffy to get me back in the swing of things almost never works and has a tendency to put me off even more.

It's reading fatigue. The best thing I've found when this happens is to wait it out (and this can be agonising!) and do something comepletely unrelated to reading.
Hannah X
28. h4nn4h
I get "reader's block" from time to time too, and I don't worry too much about it. When I don't feel like reading I just watch tv or movies until it passes, you say it can be hard to get back to reading after that but I think I always get sick of (only) watching tv pretty fast. In the mean time I reread old favourites, and particulary (hot tip!) childhood favourites at those times when I do read (before sleep, on trains etc). Books and comics that I have read 50x as a child and know almost by heart. Sometimes Agatha Christie too, or other fiction that doesn't require a lot of effort. Then after a while I get back to my normal reading ways.

I agree with some of the others here that it's worse when you've just read an absolute new favourite, it gives you at once an incredible desire to read (because you've just experienced how wonderful it can be and only want MORE), and a distaste for everything less great than the book you've just finished. Horrible! I haven't solved that one yet, only waiting works there.
Agnes Kormendi
29. tapsi
Sometimes I get a reader's block, but it never worried me overmuch. I always thought it was just my mind telling me that either my creativity needed a different kind of stimulation or that I was too exhausted to concentrate and a few days of sleep would be in order.

I would welcome even welcome a reading block at times: I'm something of an obsessive reader and when I really get into a book, I usually don't even stop to sleep.. or work. So whenever there's a deadline coming up, it's vital that I do not pick up new books.

I also agree with F. P. @ 23 that working with books can take its toll on the inner reader. I'm a translator and sometimes I'm just so tired of books I could cry (though mostly I just rage). Usually, I go to see a movie to fix this, or hang out with friends. I think it helps because during these moments I don't have to conjure up sounds and images and I don't have to "work" to imagine scenes and that.
Marcus W
30. toryx
I definitely go through phases. There will be a month or two when I'm reading like crazy and then suddenly I'll just stop. When I'm not reading, I'm usually either being more active or I'm actually writing instead. Sometimes it's computer games and movies, sometimes it's hiking and swimming or skiing.

I've learned not to try and break myself out of the non-reading phase. It just doesn't work. So now I just go with the flow, always being careful to keep a book ready to hand just in case I need it.
Bruce Baugh
31. BruceB
I'm convinced that a lot of it is just aging, Torie. There are more things you've already read and know something about now, so it's harder to surprise you with anything really unlike what you've encountered before, and more likely that you now know something that would contradict an assertion or challenge a premise.

Don't underestimate real-life concerns, either. As you go along, you know more people who are also aging, and who have troubles and complications that may occupy your attention. You know more about the world, and therefore have more things to worry about, wish you could change, and like that.

My favorite change-of-pace thing is to listen to an audiobook while doing repetitive chores in World of Warcraft. Right now, Peter Watts' amazing Blindsight is keeping me company as I do some mining on behalf of guildmates, for instance.
Gill Shutt
32. gillshutt
I find the best way to get out of the 'can't read' block is to read short stories. That way you've finished one before the block kicks in and you can stop and start when you want too. I have a few old short story books I keep returning too and re reading and look out for new ones all the time for when I block again.
Jeanette Marsh
33. Mighty Marc
Reader's block? Don't make me laugh. If I don't have anything to read, I read the entire front, back, and sides to a cereal box. That's how desperate I am to read, sometimes.

However, I seem to have an opposite problem: I sometimes have problems finding the right book that fits my current mood; I want to read a book but I don't know *what* I want to read. At those times, I stand in front of my library, or wander the bookstore, trying to find a book that fits my current mood and getting more and more frustrated when I can't.

I could re-read a book I know is good, but I want something *new*. Something *unique*.

Inevitably, what I do is go to a trashy used-book-store in the Plateau, go to the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section, close my eyes, stick my hand out in front of me, and buy the first book that I touch.

The amazing thing is, it always works. I usually end up buying a book so bad it's good. Sometimes I get a gem. Usually I don't. But I'm always happy with the result anyway.
Mary Harwood
34. stanthedevil
I definitely hit periods where nothing strikes my fancy. I don't want to read anything on my shelves and I don't have anything new on my radar that sounds interesting. My solution is to try something completely different, but still mentally stimulating.

Last time I took a day trip to Chicago and visited the Museum of Science and Industry. (Of course, it's easy for me since I'm only a couple of hours north.) I also have found crosswords effective.

I'm also a numbers person, so I find the puzzles at Conceptis Puzzles quite stimulating. If you sign up for a free account, there are new puzzles every week. After a couple of puzzles (and sometimes a couple of days), I find myself interested in books again.
Jonathan Wood
35. JWood
I just got over a LONG bout of this. Mostly it was a time issue. The first breakthrough was audible.com. I just have a lot more time to listen to books than I do to read them. So that upped my consumption.

And then, when I was listening to books fairly frequently I realized my tastes had changed, and that the reason I wasn't finishing any book I started was that I wanted to read a different sort of book.

So I bought one, and suddenly I have the time to read again.

Silly me.
Dayle McClintock
36. trinityvixen
@13: I'm with you. The library's limit is sometimes the only thing that gets me through some books.

Otherwise, the best thing I can do is feed myself some really bad books between major reads. I get three or so books read, and then I go ahead and reward myself with a re-read (which is my candy--books I've already read and enjoyed are a great cure for the book blah-blahs).
Luke M
37. lmelior
Great post!

For the last several years I've alternated between reading and playing video games. It works great for me, because when I beat a video game I generally just stop wanting to play, and I pick up a book. With books I can charge through half a dozen before I hit reader's block.

Audiobooks are a completely separate issue for me. I listen to books on the way to work all the time, and it doesn't interrupt my regularly scheduled reading.

Lately, though, I've been getting tired of just *consuming*. Mostly I satisfy my creative cravings with game design and programming, but there have been several occasions where I write. I'll browse the NaNoWriMo forums and write outlines and such. Nothing ever gets finished of course...but after experiencing the difficulties with being creative, it's easier to just sit back and enjoy reading.
James Felling
38. Maltheos
I get it too. Often I try the suggested steps 1-3. They will often fail. This forces me to the extreme measure of step 4

4) As soon as possible, go outside( sun seems important here, though not absolutely necessary) and do something poundingly active. I usually will ride my bike or jog until I have a good sweat worked up and am feeling pleasantly beat. Then return home (shower or bath) and try it again. If I am still blocked, ASAP go out and socialize with at a good restaurant. Failing that I will clean or work on some project that I haven't hit for a while. This will usually succeed in unblocking me.

For me this kind of block is a sign that my body/ psyche is missing something. If I ma enjoying something, but don't want to do it its almost always an indication that somewhere in the recesses of my unconscious some portion of me is indicating that its needs aren't being met and is prodding me in an inarticulate way to go out and fix that need.
Daniel Schmidt
39. makingvisible
I definitely get Reader's Block too. Someone once told me something that helped out a lot: If you didn't like a TV show you were watching, you would not feel obligated to watch it until the end, would you? You'd change the channel. Reading should be for fun, though we've placed more weight on the commitment aspect of it for some reason. Feel free to "switch channels" until you find a book you like. No harm done. You can always come back to try a book again later. Embracing this deceptively simple notion has mostly kept Reader's Block at bay for me.
Ryan Gustafson
40. robotrevolution
I get this exact same thing! I hadn't read any books for almost four months. Then I re-read a few novels of my favorite series ever. Then I went out and spent $100+ on new books (Pratchett, Scalzi, The Automatic Detective, Rainbow's End, Getaway Special, etc.).

I read about 10 books in two weeks (I can read an average-sized novel in about 4 hours). Now the feeling has passed, and I'm having a hard time finishing my current book.

The longest streak I had was when I was in school in Japan. The library had a small selection of English books. I read over 70 books in the six months I went to school there (including, memorably, the first six Harry Potter books, one a night, for a week).
Jeanette Marsh
41. Brian3
Starting when I was about 8 I got used to being very productive. I'd found a question I had no idea how to answer -- if there really were a science of psychology, which there isn't, really, what would it study? that is, what are minds, in humans, Martians, or machines, and what can you say about them? -- and that was my focus from then on. I had no idea where to go with it, but when I started thinking about it I explored a lot of approaches, and regularly wrote a lot to organize my ideas.

Then it stopped. I found this a bit scary -- was that it, was I over the hill at 13? But I did other things for a year or two, and then I found I was back, stronger than ever. It turned out to be a necessary part of the process; otherwise I would have been stuck in my old assumptions, when in fact I'd learned they weren't working. Sometimes you have to let the field lie fallow.

I actually don't know whether I get reader's block, since I've gotten so used to this kind of ebb and flow. You have to respect your internal logic, as a first step, but even that implies some disconnection. So sometimes I read, and sometimes I don't, and I don't keep track.

Personally, I find it odd to reify the activity of reading, once I step back from it. There are lots of possible engagements with the world; isn't it restricting to get stuck in one or another? Which isn't to say that I actually do find it easy to step back from it, just that I'm aware at some level that there are other perspectives.

But to finally address the issue, yes, I find that sometimes audiobooks make things come alive for me when my reading has gone dead. Lennie Henry's reading of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys was absolutely eye-opening; I would never have gotten that much from just reading the book, and couldn't have. It was about people Lennie Henry had grown up with and I hadn't, and there was no possible way of filling all that in.

Audiobooks can get you past the hump even if the reading isn't brilliant. In fact, that's how I ended up finishing Kavalier and Clay. I got stuck partway through the book, and listened to the audiobook while I was driving, which kept the pages turning, so to speak. The audiobook was abridged, and the abridgement actually wasn't bad, but when I compared it with the book, I found I missed the bits that had been left out, not to mention the parts I hadn't been able to focus on in a car, and that the reading wasn't adding anything I couldn't have supplied myself. So it was a nice way of finding a way back into the book.

But Anansi Boys showed me pretty decisively that, just as you don't want your primary experience of a play to be reading it in a book, you want certain novels to be performed. Speaking of Chabon and audiobooks, once I heard Peter Riegert performing The Yiddish Policemen's Union, I forgot about reading the book.
Roland of Gilead
42. pKp
@33 : same here. I have no memory of any time when I did not want to read. There has been times when I couldn't, usually because I was working or studying a lot, but I have never, ever looked at my bookshelf and told myself "hey, why don't I just go watch some telly/play a game instead" for more than two days on end.
However, I seem to have an opposite problem: I sometimes have problems finding the right book that fits my current mood; I want to read a book but I don't know *what* I want to read. At those times, I stand in front of my library, or wander the bookstore, trying to find a book that fits my current mood and getting more and more frustrated when I can't.

Same problem. I'll try your "pick a book at random" idea next time I get stuck like that, though, it's brilliant.
Evan Leatherwood
43. ELeatherwood
1. Short stories & Essays (MonkeyT, you are absolutely correct). I keep large collections of short stories and essays that I am slowly working my way through: Borges, Saki, John Collier, Ballard, Conan Doyle, Montaigne. Whenever I don't feel like picking up my current novel, I just read a short story or an essay. Keeps me going.

2. "The Shelf" -- I keep one entire shelf devoted to books that I am currently reading. Sometimes this shelf contains as many as 20 or so books, sometimes its nearly empty. But I never put anything there that I haven't actually started reading. Some of the books there are ones I started years ago, but I still keep them there. Example: after finishing the abysmal "Moon Pool" by AW Merritt, I suddenly picked up "Little, Big" again, which I'd left off a year and a half ago, just because I saw it on my shelf. Crowley broke the spell of my reading funk.
Having one physical place to keep all those unfinished books makes it easier to resume reading them in a browsey, impulsive way. A shelf, rather than a list, makes me feel like I'm discovering something.

3. Walking. Sometimes a loss of interest in reading is really a momentary dulling of interest in life, or a sign that you just need to be physically and emotionally refreshed. A nice long walk almost always cures these symptoms for me. Don't bring any reading material with you.

4. Commuting. I have the immense advantage of being a New Yorker, which means I get about 80 minutes or so of time to read on the subway each day. It helps me keep the discipline up -- I don't know what I'd do without it. The loss of interest in my book usually doesn't survive the first ten minutes or so of my commute.

5. Non-fiction & classic literature. As much as I love contemporary SF&F, I often need to refresh myself elsewhere.
Non-fiction is about reality, and sometimes my mind needs to feel like it isn't "wasting" its time on fiction alone.
Sometimes I need to encounter a work of genius, one which uses the full range of possibilities inherent in literature. Gulliver's Travels. Gargantua & Pantagruel. Shakespeare. George Elliott.
Classic works are also from another age, and the strangeness of that can refresh the way I read contemporary stuff. It's like going on a vacation -- it makes you appreciate home in a new way.

6. Abandoning the need to finish. This one is hard for me, but sometimes it just has to be done, or else my brain rightly balks at the punishment I have in store for it. Life is short, and all those mediocre or simply ill-timed books that I've forced myself to finish add up.
Jon Evans
44. rezendi
I've been struggling this with myself for a long time, and have just settled on what I'm going to try to do to shock myself out of it.

There are a bunch of books out there that I am almost 100% certain I would absolutely adore, but I've never read - because I liked knowing they were out there, unread. McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. Martin Cruz Smith's Stalin's Ghost. Atwood's new SF novel. Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase. Stephenson's Anathem (well, I'm less sure about this one, as I gave up on the Baroque Cycle about 200 pages into The Confusion, but I have high hopes.)

Basically, I've been saving them for a rainy day, I guess - and I'm declaring this reader's block as that rainy day, and am about to break 'em open. In between I'm going to reread a few books I read more'n a decade ago, and loved, and think I'll still love today.

The idea is, I guess, to break the block by smashing it with greatness.
Jeanette Marsh
45. nlowery71
I get this, and like others have said, it has gotten worse as I've gotten older. I also agree with the depression angle; I'm not on medication, but my reading tends to follow my moods.

The thing about reading, even for book lovers like us, is that it's always work. It takes a while to fall into the narrative flow, and that's assuming the book has something of a narrative drive. (@ Bonny Soy #25 -- I took months to read the New Sun; wonderful scenery, very little plot.) Literary novels in particular can have this problem.

There are good reasons (besides basic literacy)that we work so hard at trying to get kids to read -- both because learning to get lost in a narrative can be so difficult and because the rewards are so great when you can.

I suspect that many non-readers have never really learned to do this. If it's this hard for some of us to read continuously, imagine not being able to do it at all.

Of course, I can't for the life of me get into playing video games, so I have my own problems...
Dan Sparks
46. RedHanded
I definitely go through periods where I don't feel like reading, but usually it's not reading qua reading but more the book itself that I am reading. For instance I've been trying to work my way through the Sookie Stackhouse novels since I like some True Blood but I'm partway through the 4th book after devouring the first 3 and just stopped. I read a few comic books that my brother has gotten and I borrowed to catch up on and am reading Strangers in a Strange Land. I still don't feel like picking back up the Stackhouse novel (since I'm going for The Well of Ascension by B. Sanderson next) but I know eventually I will want to just to see what happens. This keeps happening when I try to read Dune also. I read like 20 pages and then move on to something else. I don't know why that's the case but my thoughts are it's more of the material itself than just the act of reading. As my roommates say I will read anything(jokes about microwave and TV instructions, shampoo bottles inserted at their leisure).

I think your best bet is to not force yourself to read something but to just go with the flow. The point of reading IMHO is for enjoyment and possibly learning a little something and if I don't want to read something at the moment then that's fine, I'm here to be happy with what I'm doing anyway. The way I think about it is, I own the book, I have until I die to read it so I will probably have ample time to get back to it barring some senseless accident of course.
Jeanette Marsh
47. Reading ruined me
I keep a journal where I make myself write something about every book I read. It could be one sentence or three pages; the point is to have something to say beyond I liked/didn't like it.

This helps me "get over" a book that I just read that I love so much I have trouble starting something new.

And when I don't feel like reading, or feel too jaded from reading, I flip through this journal to remind myself that I will always find something interesting to say about a book, even if the book itself isn't all that interesting on its own. Even if I didn't like the book, it will make me think.

Then I'm inspired to read again, because I'm reminded that reading is never a waste of my time.
Torie Atkinson
48. Torie
@ 47

That is so inspiring! Thank you for sharing.
Jeanette Marsh
49. Athenian
I used to have reading block but now I'm in a reading drought that's getting near the decade mark. Fiction became less compelling and reading online, which is almost all nonfiction, consumed more of my time and continues to grow.

There was a period when I had selective reading block: I could not suspend disbelief while reading first person fiction. Oddly, I have never had problems with second person fiction, finding it very appealing, maybe because it's rare.
Melissa Ann Singer
50. masinger
I use nonfiction a lot as a palate cleanser, sometimes at book length but most often in magazine form--The Atlantic, Harper's, Vanity Fair for the non-celebrity stuff, B*tch (the magazine's actual title does not have the asterisk--it's a great publication, on feminism and pop culture), etc. Something deep or broad enough to be engaging but not so long that reading it feels like another chore.

I find that for me, this kind of fatigue often means I have read too many of the same kind of book in a row. So I will tackle something very different--manga, a YA novel, a romance (particularly a romance anthology), a funny mystery . . . something that is as unlike whatever I have been reading as possible.

I also do puzzles or needlework, though neither of those are good "last half hour before sleep" activities as they keep my mind too engaged.
William Uniac
51. Billiac
I do most of my reading on the commute to and from work, and on my lunch break. Whenever I'm feeling the reading ennui, all I need to do is not bring a book on the subway for a few days. Makes me jump right back in.

I tend to be very picky about what I read, and will only occasionaly buy a book I know nothing about aside from the jacket blurbs. Rarely I find I dislike the book I'm reading, to the point where I will read more often and faster just to get it over with. Then, after writing a snarky review on Facebook, I'll start in on a book I know I'll like, just to get the after taste out of my brain.
Amy Young
52. ceara
It happens to me, too, but "reader's block" comes in different flavors, for me. There's the kind that can only be cured by re-reading all the Miles Vorkosigan books, or the entire Sandman series, or (in extreme cases) a giant helping of Valdemar - for when my emotional energy is too low for me to be willing to forge into the unknown waters of new books, and I need to pull the many-times-re-read series around me like an old sweater for a while.

There's the kind that has to be beaten into submission with Stephenson or Erickson or other HUGE COMPLICATED BRICK-LIKE BOOKS that require me to both pay close attention to what's going on and also hold at least half a dozen plot threads in my mind state simultaneously - for when my mind has gone a bit stagnant and needs to be jump-started into remembering how to function properly again.

There's also the kind that comes when I'm just too tired to give much of a damn about anything at all, and when that happens, I mostly watch TV and play solitaire on my phone for a day or two, because any attempt at reading anything will almost certainly fail, and then make me feel depressed on top of the rest of it.

I also have a standing rule about books in general: I have declared myself free to stop reading any book whatsoever any time after I reach the 50-page mark. I need to feel like I've given a book a fair chance in order to set it down with a clear conscience, and sometimes I set it down with a note in my booklog to pick it up again when I'm in a different mood, but there are just too many books out there to spend much time beating my head against the wrong one.

Also also, I do keep a list of books that I want to read, which I mostly read in order, except when I need to exercise one of the above options. It helps keep books from slipping through the cracks, and oddly enough, since I've started it, have rarely had any sort of reader's fatigue at all.

(Mighty Marc @ 33: If I did that it'd be pretty good odds I'd pick up a book I already owned!)
Jeanette Marsh
53. dwndrgn
My earlier post was somehow swallowed by cyberspace. In any case, my only addition to the wonderful replies already here is that I don't have extra books on hand other than my old favorites on the shelf. Any books I'm interested in go on my 'To Read' list with which I then peruse the library or bookstore shelves with purpose. This 180+ list of books has something from everywhere and some are old and some are new - and I'm sure to find something there I feel like reading. I then buy or borrow books in small chunks of three or so and read them before moving on.

I like the 50 page rule, mine is to never read a book that feels like work. If I'm reading just to be reading - on I move to something else.
Brian Eberling
54. AnemicOak
I go through 2-4 books a week and this happens to me a couple times a year. I usually re-read a guilty pleasure or two and that usually gets me over the hump. In extreme cases I do something else like a movie marathon or something instead.
Jeanette Marsh
55. firstRainbowRose
Finally!!! Someone else who goes through this.

Usually, the thing that prompts mine is that I'm looking for something specific (romance mixed with a good fantasy, something with a lot of conflict that isn't all about war, ect) but I also want something new. When I can't find anything I get frustrated with all the books I read because they just don't hit the spot. Once I find the book that hits the spot I can go on and enjoy everything again. (sometimes, reading a good manga will work. But it can't be a movie. It has to be something I can really invest in, and really get to know the characters)

As for getting over it, I just keep on sloshing through the books, reading a few until I find one that has what I need.
Jeanette Marsh
56. The Brain Lair
I usually read something totally different: either different from the current book or something that I wouldn't normally read. That seems to work for me. A series of light beachy reads always seem to help me get over my reading jones.
Jeanette Marsh
57. Kevbayer
Yep - Reader's Block. I've had it.
Like others, I just go do something else or wait until a book that I'm really looking forward to comes out (though sometimes that doesn't even help, and I'll even wait on that).

When I do get it - it doesn't last very long, because I quickly start to miss reading.
Jeanette Marsh
58. Shingetsu
I just had readers block for the first time two weeks ago. I was reading a great trilogy. I wanted to know what happend next. For some reason I just couldn't pick the book up. Luckily, it finally passed. Otherwise I was about ready to start bashing my head in yelling, "Read! Damn you, read!!" That could have gotten awkward...
Meagan Brorman
59. nutmeag
I do something similar to what Wendy Watson (on The Middleman) does. When she thinks she can't watch another zombie movie, she gets really, really bad zombie movies and they act as a palate cleanser--makes everything seem awesome after that.

With books, I'll either read something fun and easy, like children's books, or go to the extreme of trashy romance (so embarrassing, I know). Those books are usually soooo bad (have you read the dialogue?!?) that anything read afterward seems genius in comparison.

I'm actually going through a cleansing period right now. And the book that did it for me was also a Michael Chabon book--The Yiddish Policemen's Union. My head knew that it was a good book, but I just could not get into it. Hopefully a few romance novels will help.

Good luck.
Jeanette Marsh
60. Hali J
I get this every once and a while and it depends what will cure it for me. Sometimes it's going back and re-reading a classic or two (most of the time it seems I go back to read Zelazny's 9 Princes in Amber series and that cures me) sometimes I try to read a totally different genre - Historical fiction, mystery, or even true crime books. If I'm totally blocked, which I often think of as just "restless with reading" I do something outside the reading box, I take some of the time I spend reading and do something physical, go for a walk, a bike ride anything but sit still. That cures me the fastest.
Jeanette Marsh
61. asdltjadljaejomlkae
Return the book to the library and either start a new book or just take a break from reading. That might be a day or several weeks. I stick with full-length novels, so sometimes there's no new material for me to read.
Jeanette Marsh
62. James Davis Nicoll
I picked a theme (books set in or near the year 2000, except when I got confused about when the book was set), selected about 30 books that qualified and did this:

http://www.cloggie.org/esseff/millennial-reviews.html

This is biased towards older SF because older SF novels tend to be shorter. Doing one Neal Stephenson book a day would be somewhat challenging and ditto for Erikson's Malazan novels.
Jeanette Marsh
63. Dave K.
When I get reader's block, I try to read the chapters out of order or reverse.

I'll begin reading the last chapter or even the last pages and then jump back and forth.

That usually helps me, but your mileage, batteries not included, etc.
Jeanette Marsh
64. thehouseai
Mine is a little unique, but still relevant I think? I was an avid reader since childhood - I would sit for hours and read as much as I could, but I also watched TV. I am one of those creatures devoted both to the printed word and the small screen. In 2002 MS robbed me of the ability to read as fast as I used to and retain what I read. I worked on it, and eventually got back into reading, but found that I now suffer from bouts of reader's block. Great to know I'm not alone.

To get out of it, I try another book - maybe it's that I'm just not into the book, or it's not the "right" time for it. If that doesn't work, I take a break and wait for the urge to come - sometimes quickly, sometimes months. Usually it's the publication of a new book by a favorite author - a great racing read, that gets me into it again, and I go full tilt. But sometimes it's sporadic. I have tons of great books to read, but the urge just isn't there as much. Lack of participation in my SF book group has also put a damper on it, so getting active in one might be a good block remover.

Also, I try and have something catchy on my bed and one on the couch, so that if I get bored with what I'm watching on TV, something great is waiting for me without moving an inch. That often puts me into the reading mood, and out of the TV one. Lately it was a new James Rollins that I could devour in one day that got me going and into my backed up pile of Preston/Child books, and then on to some good SF. Something quick, fun and enjoyable to you is a great way - never force it. Works with kids and teens too. If they aren't reading, take them to the local Borders and let them gaze on the wonders they have these days to choose from. They'll find something. Or try a new branch library that has the newer books - it seems the older the library the older the books. Reading is a joy and is meant to be savoured and shared. Or enlist a relative (not a parent) to recommend. My mother recommended Pearl Buck to my daughter and she loved her. My recommendations aren't taken as well. ;-)

Or make a special treat out of it. Make up some tea and scones (or whatever you like) and set it out near a comfy chair, inside or out, and pick a lighthearted book you've been wanting to read. The act of consuming both food and words is a great combination, and will carry you off into the night.
Brandy Thomas
65. Roese
I think one person mentioned it before but if I get reader's block the first thing I do is go outside and do something. Either take a walk, run, play golf, whatever, just something physical for a while. It clears my mind and relaxes me.
Arachne Jericho
66. arachnejericho
I tend to push through books even if I don't like them, because I usually end up liking something. Sure, I'm not always in the mood, but to me it's somewhat akin to writing; it takes effort, and that effort can be painful, but once I start, then it gets easier and I happily roll along for hours and sometimes days. A few books will still require breathers for me, though, even with all the pressing forwards.

And Iain Banks' exquisitely presented nihilism did spectacularly leave me with giant SF reader's block (though I finished his books). Books that make me think for long periods tend to block me for a while in that particular genre/sub-genre.

(I'm not the best reader in the world. Really rotten, in fact. I try hard, though.)
Dru O'Higgins
67. bellman
It's better for me not to start a book, or put it down immediately if I develop reader's block. Trying to push through a book I'm not enjoying can develop a real hate for a book. Just a couple of weeks back I had to take Drood by Dan Simmons, Anathem by Stephenson and Storm from the Shadows by David Weber back to the library unread. A couple of weeks of comic books and video games cured me.

Oh, and Dave Barry's books of columns from the Miami Herald. Short, funny and incredibly light.
Josh Storey
68. Soless
After a truly awful read, I instituted a 1/3 rule. If a book failed to capture my attention by the 1/3 point, I would put it down and pick up something else.

If, however, I made it a third of the way through and still cared about the characters, I'd force myself to finish it before moving on.

I find that having a book on deck, one I'm excited about, gives me some incentive to finish. And, if I just can't manage my way through more prose, I pick up a comic book or two and supplement with those for a few days. Comics are still reading, after all, but the process is different enough to be refreshing.
Julio Angel Escajedo Pastor
69. losrandir
I have similar problems. In my first work I could read a lot, almost a book per day. But as I grew sometimes I'm not in the "right mood" (whatever that means) to finish a book. I had also the bad habit of reading more than one book at once. Lately I'm stuck with Brandon Sanderson's Elantris. The plot is good, the story is rich with details and I want to finish it but I want to ENJOY it. Sometimes the "cure" is re-read some of my favourites, like The Warrior's Apprentice, Ender's Game or Neuromancer (in fact any of Gibson's books would do the trick). Perhaps is 'cause when we were younger we don't have acquired adult duties like work or mortgages and we could concentrate better on reading. But I doubt any of us who loves books would ever quit reading.
Chuk Goodin
70. Chuk
Never had any kind of reader's block where I didn't want to read anything, have had problems with individual books where I didn't want to read that particular book. I finally finished Crime and Punishment last week when I told myself I would make sure to read a quarter of it before switching books. (It was weird, I liked it while I was reading it but wouldn't want to pick it up.)
Jeanette Marsh
71. Padmehlc
I usually find I get bored just reading for fun occasionally so I make an academic exercise out of it. I was a lit major in college and never had a problem picking up books (nor did I find it work even if it technically WAS homework) to read and analyze. Now if I find that I'm just not engaging I will return to the analysis techiques we were taught and grab paper and a pencil and treat my fun novels as if they were class books. Or if the book I'm currently trying to read is to "fluffy" to analyze I will pick up Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time (where ever I last left off) and continue my in depth analysis of the prophecies and major plot arcs - I actually have a notebook with a set of pages devoted to each main good character where I have been recording all the prophecy parts and foreshadowings related to them and then checking each off as it happens in later points of the series. I have found that a 1/4 of one of those books analyzed in detail lets me happily return to the fluffier reading materials or more "neccessary" magazine reading I was struggling with (namely magazines regarding work related topics that I read to be up-to-date on the latest gear and safety recommendations and environmental issues that affect us but aren't usually the most compelling reads in the world).

I have also found reading/writing for someone else - aka translating a book for a friend that is not commerically available in English but deals directly with her choice of future career and current graduate program and which will help her in both - helps a great deal. I would feel bad putting aside something I am doing for someone else as I have already read the book in its original language and learned from it purely for my own personal enrichment whereas she would be able to use the knowledge but cannot access it through the language barrier. Then once I have spent a deal of time working on something for someone else I can give myself the mental permission I need to dig into the reading I want to do for me.

However if I find I am simply falling asleep while trying to read something that is compelling or just not able to get myself going to read it when I really want to, it is usually a sign that I need something more physically. Sleep is usually where I start followed by a decent meal with more plants and natural foods than processed and when neither of those work a nice long hike in a pristine wilderness usually re-energizes me.
Jeanette Marsh
72. Manali
I had always heard about reader's block but never thought I would experience it until a few days ago. I think it started because my best friend finally agreed to read a book by my favorite author and she loved it. She kept talking about it and it made me realize how other books just don't compare to it. I'm sure I'll snap out of it pretty soon (I hope!)

I tried reading one of my favorites, but couldn't get past page-10. I cleaned my make-up bags, watched old episodes of Grey's Anatomy, b*tched about the internet because I couldn't download movies off of netflix fast enough, and ate waaay too much.

Nothing worked. I think I'll just watch Four Weddings for now and hope I feel like reading soon.

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