What is Reader’s Block and How to Overcome it
I could read a book in any nook or cranny, on a moving train, or even on top of a tour bus, come rain or snowfall. I could blindly do chores single handed with a book in the other. Hell, I could even skydive or bungee jump while reading. I used to devour books, but lately, I’ve been on an involuntary hunger strike.
The doctor says it’s low hemoglobin but I don’t think it’s anything physical. There’s a new term coined for this and people around the world surrounded by “rich” media have started suffering from it. It is what has come to be recognized as: Reader’s Block – the inability to get one’s self to ready anything.
Just looking at a novel makes me sleepy these days. Sleepy and nervous. Have you ever felt like you can’t go on and read a single word anymore? Do books on shelves seem humongous? Like they’d take you a lifetime to finish? You’re like freaking little Alice in Giant Bookland and you are never getting out. These are all early symptoms of what has come to be known as Reader’s Block. And I am its latest victim.
Talk to the unsympathetic ones and they’ll tell you: there’s no such thing as a Reader’s block. Much like they believe there’s no such thing as a migraine (or fill in the blank with your favorite mental illness). ‘It’s all in the head’ they say! Things like this are for the weak. Just like they believe that you need to brave a headache, they believe getting over a reader’s block is just as simple as picking up any book and reading it. They scream: just get over it! But believe me, only a real sufferer knows the gravity of the situation.
Besides, I’ve tried the ‘just pick up the book and get over it’ technique. In fact, I’ve even managed to get through the cover pages. The minute I hit a real sentence, the letters start swimming and I begin to feel dizzy. I do realize that the problem lies with me. I’m in no way suggesting that the whole spectrum of literary fiction has become duller overnight, as if a hand of God has come down and rewritten every text.
It’s absurd, I know. What caused it is worse. It all started with this heavy feeling in my chest. If you are expecting a dramatic story with a defining moment or an inciting incident that put me off all books, then don’t. My story does not follow a dramatic structure! It wasn’t a hard-hitting hardcover that scared me either. Or some repressed reading memory that suddenly resurfaced. Or my thousandth Mills and Boons that finally succeeded in disillusioning me about romantic relationships and life in general.
My reading life so far had been surprisingly pleasant. I had a relatively enjoyable childhood that I spent reading kiddy mysteries. The teens were standard romance novels and total exploration. And then I progressed to literary fiction and some interesting non-fiction material. I even dabbled into poetry once in a while.
I’ve had all sorts of phases with my books too. The reclusive phase where a decent book functioned as a good friend. Hours were spent in a corner flipping through a 300 page novel. There was the social reading phase where books were heartily discussed. I must say, I’ve also been guilty of quoting some books at parties like some pseudo intellectual sipping on wine and nibbling on tasteless cheese.
But nothing could have prepared me for that fateful day. It was that blessed rainy afternoon, a Sunday, and I was at the window with my favorite coffee mug and that fateful book that shall remain nameless (hint: the cover had shades of grey on it). I even remember the page: page 69. The page when I was hit by Reader’s Block. The yawn! I wasn’t sure what it was but I put the book down and fell into a deep slumber that lasted two and a half hours.
When I woke up, I never picked up that dreaded book again.
Life’s never been the same since. Now, when my friends ask me what book it is that I have read, I’m almost embarrassed to tell them that I haven’t read any because I simply can’t. Not because I went to a public school, but because I’m suffering from Reader’s Block. Instead I make up a lame excuse and tell them I haven’t because I haven’t got the time. There’s always time (I don’t have a full time job). I find myself tempted to buy audio books just to keep up with my social circle!
The thought of seeking professional help is tempting but I’m hoping I can stick it to the block before I need to do that. Here are some home remedies that I’ve adopted since my Reader’s Block. None of them have worked for me but who knows, they might just work for you. It’s worth giving it a shot because I believe if Readers Block is left untreated, it might lead to ‘lexical anhedonia’ (fear of reading) or a full blown case of ‘bibliophobia’ (fear of books, not to be confused with bible-o-phobia, the fear of the bible).
Here are some ways to get over Reader’s block:
Join a book club. Under no circumstances should the patient isolate. In fact push yourself and surround yourself with people who read books and discuss books or work in real bookstores (if you can find the few that are left in your neighborhood). And when I mean book club, I’m not talking about Oprah’s book club (this just might have an adverse effect and turn you into a couch potato aggravating your Reader’s Block). Pick a real book club frequented by tall, handsome, hot men who are attracted to the intellectual type. It’s worth a try. Who knows, it might suddenly inspire you to start reading again. You may even find a boyfriend or two. And once he moves in, he can do the reading for you.
Watch a boring based-on-a-novel movie, a movie that is so bad that it’ll make you want to switch it off and read the original book instead. A movie can never capture the nuances of a good book, and the flavour of the characters, all the stuff that stuffy critics and book enthusiasts talk of could actually work in your favor. After watching two hours of paint drying on the big screen, you might just go back racing to those dusty shelves.
Take Baby Steps. If a 500 page literary masterpiece is too overwhelming, start small. Large labels on products at the supermarket are a good idea. Move onto the ingredients at the back. Once you feel confident enough, start with small comic strips and so on and so forth. Before you know it, you’ll be reading War and Peace.
Exercise your eyes, since it’s the prime muscle used while reading. Move your eyes from left to right and repeat over and over. These can be done anywhere anytime. (If you are from China move your eyes from up to down and in the Middle East from right to left etc.). This way, things just might not get too dizzy when you finally do decide to pick up a book and read the first sentence.
Starve yourself of Rich Media. Wikipedia defines rich media as: products and services on digital computer-based systems which respond to the user’s actions by presenting content such as text, graphics, animation, video, audio, games, etc. I’m sure there is a study done at some obscure University somewhere that blames Rich Media for all of our collective short attention spans. After a week of Rich Media fasting, a sentence from even a technical computer manual might just evoke imagery akin to a psychedelic experience through the Amazonian rainforest.
Finally, I think any block can be beaten even a Reader’s Block. And if you’ve reached this far (without simply skimming through the main points) consider the first step to overcoming Reader’s Block, overcome! Don’t stop here carry on. Read some of my other online articles!
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