Word for Word: How to cope with reader’s block

In the past six weeks, the only book I’ve finished is ‘Pietr the Latvian’ and that clocks in at only 160 generously spaced pages. I’m beginning to feel desperate

Illustration: Thinkstock

Illustration: Thinkstock

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 01:00

I don’t quite get paid to read, but reading is a significant part of what I do. Whether it’s reading the hundreds of submissions we receive each year, reading the drafts, proofs and final versions of our own books, or reading the books of our rivals, it’s a large part of any given work week.

Then there’s the reading I do for myself, by which I mean books I am reading for no other purpose than my own whim or whimsy.

I’m a dedicated science-fiction and fantasy reader in my spare time, as well as a lover of good nonfiction, especially history and politics. Lately, though, and for the longest period I’ve yet experienced, I’ve hit a reading block. I think maybe it started when I finished reading Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (a fabulous novel that I recommend to all, science-fiction fans or not) and hadn’t a clear idea of what to read next and decided to read some nonfiction when the fiction I started just didn’t connect.

I shifted from digital to print, something I do fairly frequently despite being a mostly digital reader, and got stuck into Command and Control, by Eric Schlosser, which is excellent and frightening, but because it’s such a large paperback I keep leaving it behind when I leave the house and have yet to complete it despite having it on the go for about two months. In the meantime I have yet to find a book that I really want to finish even though I’ve started about a dozen.

In fact, in the past six weeks, the only book I’ve finished is Pietr the Latvian, the first of the Maigret novels, by Georges Simenon, and that clocks in at only 160 generously spaced pages. I’m beginning to feel desperate: I’ve never experienced a block this bad before.

You hear a lot about authors who are struck by writer’s block, but you rarely hear about reader’s block. I wonder if I’m alone. The solution I’d suggest to a writer is to simply write and then pull the good writing out of the bad afterwards, but I can’t quite bring myself to read bad books.

I suspect the solution is to finish Command and Control and release myself from the hold it seems to have over me. For that to happen I’ll have to spend a few hours at home doing nothing but reading a heavy print book, something I’m less used to than I was even four or five years ago, thanks to ebooks. Wish me luck.

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