Friday, 5 August 2016

I've got Reader's Block! by Kathleen Jones

I've always been a massive Bookworm, gobbling up print at a reckless pace, impatient to start the next book before I finish the last.  I buy books like some women buy clothes - addictively!  There are books all over the house, in piles on the stairs, on my bedside table, in the loo, on the landing, spilling over the bookshelves in the sitting room, occupying every single horizontal space in my office.  The trouble is, I'm not reading any of them.

For the first time in my life I'm finding it a struggle to pick up a book, let alone open it.

As an author, of course, this is disastrous.  If I can't read other people's, what chance of them reading mine? But there's nothing I can do about it - my brain is just absolutely chock full of WORDS and refusing to admit any more.  I have become 'text averse'.  Fortunately, trawling the internet, it seems to be an affliction that is more common than I'd thought. I came upon this:




It's even the subject of a novel by David Markson (which, in my present state, I'm unlikely to read).




It's like suddenly becoming allergic to sex (one of life's other great pleasures) - surrounded by hunky men and not fancying any of them!  Are there book therapists as well as sex therapists out there? Does the cure (see Pamela Stephenson) lie in approaching the object of (un) desire slowly? Touching it, sniffing it (oh how I love the smell of books), opening the cover gently before putting it down again? Allowing yourself not to read? It's all in the mind, of course.

Sadly, I think I'm just exhausted.  It's been a thoroughly stressful year after the winter floods. And I've been working as a Lector, running a Reading Group for the Royal Literary Fund, which has meant that I've had to read voraciously to find stories and poems for my readers every week. The only other time I can remember having a very mild case of Reader's Block was when I was studying for a literature degree and finishing the research for my first biography at the same time. Too much enforced reading and too little just for pleasure. One of the members of my reading group has admitted that she became unable to read for fun after an academic course. Reading critically changed the way she read, cancelling out the imaginative journey.

I've also been doing quite a bit of reviewing and that has been an additional pressure. So I've now stopped reviewing.  August is going to be a bookless month - I need a rest and, hopefully, come September I will feel the urge to turn on my Kindle, or open the covers of one of the books on my bedside table.

 Anyone got any suggestions for a cure?

Bookworm - aged 3


Kathleen Jones writes poetry, biography and fiction for both mainstream and indie publishing.  You can find her at www.kathleenjones.co.uk 

She blogs at 'A Writer's Life'

On Twitter incognito at @kathyferber

On Facebook here -

Her latest book is an account of the First Nation people of the northwest coast of Canada and Alaska, called 'Travelling to the Edge of the World'. 





"...It enthralled me from beginning to end ... I felt that I journeyed with the author on every step of her remarkable undertaking and found, like her, I did not want to return from the Haida, from their lands and the experience that she writes about so beautifully. It touched me in so many ways: the instincts of the nomad, the desire for solitude, the landscape as a beating heart of a nation, of us all, our lack of care of the land, the destruction, the horrors of colonialism, the joy of art, the wonders of the ocean... Kathleen Jones reflect on so many of the questions we should be asking about our planet and how we live in it."  Avril Joy - Costa award-winning novelist.

13 comments:

Jan Needle said...

Have you tried dirty books? I don't mean books about sex drugs n rocknroll, but books that have been lying round in sheds and attics for yonks? My house is full of them. come up in a pantechnicon and they're all yours, for free! i've got film block, too. i've never even seen the Third Man or Casablanca.

We could be lost causes.

Sniff sniff...

Bill Kirton said...

One of the many pleasures of reading the posts here is to learn that I'm not alone in some of my reactions to and enjoyment (or otherwise) of writing and reading. I've experienced all the things you mention - the inner reviewer and/or academic and/or literary analyst at odds with the guy who just wants a bloody good read. I think the only cure lies in the serendipity of finding a book that's so good that it pushes aside all the negatives. In that regard, I usually rely on David Mitchell, if my mind's working well, or Lee Child if it isn't. The former is always stimulating and the latter's pure escapism.

Kathleen Jones said...

Thanks both! You give me hope.....
And I'm afraid I must decline your kind offer Jan, since my own attic is already overloaded with exceedingly dirty books I've been trying to give away for years. I once put some in the boot of the car to take to a charity shop and 3 months later they were still there!

Susan Price said...

Kathleen, you were a very cute three-year-old! But I have nothing helpful to say about Readers' Block, though, like Bill, I recognise the symptoms. As with Writers' Block, I think you have to stop even thinking about it and just wait until you can't NOT read.
Do physical things instead. Walk. Garden. Cook, build, decorate, paint... Love of reading will come back.

Rosalie Warren said...

Kathleen, I'm familiar with this condition, too. In fact I am just emerging from a bad dose of it. I found one thing that helped was to go back to books I loved years ago - my childhood favourites such as Richmal Crompton's 'William' books and Tove Jansson's 'Moomin'. But I think the answer was mostly just time... and giving myself permission not to read for a while. Good luck - I'm sure your love of reading will come back when your brain is ready.

Kathleen Jones said...

Thanks Sue and Ros! yes, I think a total rest from the pressure of feeling that I HAVE to read is the answer. And I might try the childhood favourites - I used to love Moomin and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. mmmmmm ...

JO said...

Sleep! It sounds as if dossing about in the sunshine with a head-full of nothing is what you need more than anything.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

I was going to suggest childhood favourites like William or Moomins, but Rosalie got there first. (And those are the very same books I go back to!) That's what I do when I get a bit of reader fatigue. Also there are a few adult books I reread quite often, like old friends - E F Benson's Lucia Books, Barbara Pym, Agatha Christie, Gerald Durrell. I think the trick is to take the pressure of expectations away - just read for fun.

Lydia Bennet said...

Audiobooks, children's books of yore as others have said, films, plays, other forms of storytelling...

Enid Richemont said...

Can't write or read at present. Writing-wise, because nobody seems to want me. and reading-wise,Joyce Carol Oates on widowhood. but not much else.

Kathleen Jones said...

Thanks all for your many suggestions and your sympathy. Actually, just writing about it has made me feel a bit better. Why did I feel guilty about not being able to read? Now I'm off to play solitaire on my new computer after the terrible trauma of loading all my programmes onto it and hoping it still worked (which it did -eventually)!

Umberto Tosi said...

Perhaps derive solace from the paradox that neurologist Alice W. Flaherty put forth in her 2004 book "The Midnight Disease" that having writer's block is simply a sign that one is a writer. After all, if you're not a writer, you don't care if you're writing or not. Likewise, "reader's block" - given Flaherty's hypothesis - just means you are a reader, compelled to do keep doing just that, in due time, as what turns around comes around. Not to worry. Swell post. Thank you.

Fran B said...

Rediscover your love of storytelling through audiobooks. It worked for me when I retired from my job which had involved reading from morn to night. Forget the words themselves. Just enjoy what they create. The urge to read again will come back when it's ready and you are ready.