the walking writer

Recently, I attempted to read “The Paying Guests,” a long novel that comes highly recommended from many reviewers. Although I struggled early on to slog through the long descriptions of house cleaning and pages upon pages spent on the protagonist’s inner musings, I kept on reading. Towards about the 30% mark, I started to falter, so I looked up some more non-spoiler reviews for encouragement to keep going. I continued reading until about halfway when I finally decided I couldn’t go on any further. The characters were uninteresting, the author insisted on using 30 words when 5 would do, and the plot was moving at a glacial pace.

I don’t really like to give up on books, especially once I’ve already spent a few hours on them. However, I find that forcing myself to read something I don’t like invokes a few familiar emotions I haven’t felt since high school and college. Everyone remembers having to read classic literature in school. Classics certainly have their place and their value, but not everyone enjoys each and every book that is considered a “classic”. But when you have a grade on the line, you slog through the books anyway, trying desperately to absorb as much of the book as possible while reading it quickly so you can do something more enjoyable. In high school, for example, I remember having to read “Wuthering Heights,” and I strongly disliked it, especially the awful characters. In college, out of boredom, I decided to reread it to see if I still didn’t like it. My second reading did not improve my opinion of the book. However, I decided to read another classic written by another Bronte: “Jane Eyre.” I enjoyed that book immensely and wished it had been assigned in high school instead of “Wuthering Heights.”

Some readers have a policy of finishing a book, no matter how painful it becomes. Others have a set rule to quit after a certain point (such as the 100 page mark) if the book isn’t pulling them in. I don’t really have a firm policy, but as I learned in high school and college, reading a book that you can’t stand isn’t any fun. My attempt at “The Paying Guests” reminded me of that. Although it’s hard to quit a book after you’ve already read a significant portion of it, why suffer through it? Put it down and pick up something else. There are so many amazing books to read instead.

Everyone has heard of writer’s block, but what about reader’s block? Have you ever wandered through a bookstore, completely lost and unsure of which book to pick up? Or maybe you’ve spent hours browsing through the list of ebooks at your library, unable to find anything remotely appealing. For me, reader’s block tends to arrive after a string of books that I didn’t like. I think I develop a fear of reading yet another stinker. So, what can you do to break through reader’s block?

1. Read an Old Favorite

Reading a favorite book is like chatting with an old friend. Your favorite books can help you remember why you love reading in the first place. I pick up one of the Harry Potter books when I want to reconnect with an old favorite and get back into a reading mood.

2. Look for Books by Authors You Love

Think of the books that you’ve enjoyed in the past and look for other books by your favorite authors. Not all authors are capable of producing an entire library of quality books, but you may find some favorites. In my case, I often will read an Agatha Christie book when I’m feeling uninspired to read anything new. Although I’ve read many of her mysteries, I still have many more left to read.

3. Go Wild and Grab Anything

We live in a culture of endless research. Think about the last time you made a major purchase; did you spend hours reading the ins and outs of the oven that you were thinking of buying? Some book readers are the same way, spending lots of time reading reviews and trying to decide if it’s worth it to pick a particular book. If reviews are getting in the way of your reading habits, just pick any book that sounds good to you, completely ignoring how many stars it gets on GoodReads.

4. Pick up A Lighthearted Book

I find this option necessary if I’ve been reading a number of heavy non-fiction books in a row. My favorite version of a lighthearted book is usually a cozy mystery from an author I’ve read before. Try this list on GoodReads for more ideas.

5. Take a Break

If you’ve tried and tried to read a book and it’s just not working, take a break. There’s no reason to force yourself to read if you’re not enjoying it, unless you’re trying to read a required book for a class. Spend some time working on some of your favorite hobbies; your books will wait for you.