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.

Buying a Kindle a few years ago was one of the best purchases I’ve made in recent years. I was a big reader when I was a child, but as I aged, I stopped reading books that weren’t required for my high school or college classes. My excuses for abandoning my previous reading habits are weak, but that’s what happened. Everything changed when I picked up my Kindle and discovered my local library’s huge collection of ebooks.

Since then, I’ve read books at a pretty good pace. Unfortunately, this year I didn’t do as well. I can’t even bring myself to check my reading lists and total up how many books I read. I blame my lack of reading on an endless sea of distractions, including wasting time reading pointless stuff online. Now that I’ve recognized the problem, however, I think I can get back on track. Here is my master plan for reading more books:

1. Make a Habit of Reading at Least 15 Minutes a Day

Sometimes, the hardest part of getting back into a reading habit is just picking up the book (or Kindle) to begin with. Once I actually start reading a bit every single day, I think I’ll find it easier to keep up the habit. I started doing this two days ago, and so far it has worked.

Oh, reading stuff on Reddit definitely does not count for this.

2. Don’t Agonize Over Finding a Book to Read

This is something that I definitely struggled with this year. My library has so many ebooks available that it makes it hard to choose. Sometimes I felt like I spent more time reading about books than actually reading the books themselves. You can read reviews for hours on end, but sometimes you just have to take a chance and try a book. Sometimes picking a book at random may end with good results. I think it’s also important to maintain a policy of not finishing a book if it’s particularly bad. There’s no reason to spend hours on something that you hate.

3. Keep the Kindle Charged

All too often I would let my Kindle’s battery die, so when I actually did want to read something, I couldn’t. I could use the Kindle program on my computer, but I prefer the Kindle’s screen for reading books.

Since I’m not really a New Year’s resolutions person, I’m just going to adopt this plan now and hope for a month full of good books.