July 2003

Jessa Crispin


How to combat reader's block

We all go through periods when nothing can hold our interest. Every book we pick up seems boring, we’ve made it to page ten on about a dozen books, and television watching suddenly increases. Breaking out of the cycle of despair seems hopeless. “If only I could find that one book that will take me out of this,” you think, as you throw yet another barely-started book onto the floor.

Reader’s block tends to happen after reading either a really good book or a really bad one. Nothing seems to live up to the great book we just finished – I have this problem after nearly every Salman Rushdie book – or everything seems it may be as bad as the piece of shit we just finished.

So how do we move on and start to love reading again? I don’t claim to have the answer. After all, I go through these spells on a regular basis as well. But a few of these suggestions may help.

1. Note to self: Stop it with the Law & Order re-runs already. You don’t even like the regular Law & Order as much, it’s just a pale imitation of the Vincent D’Onofrio show. I have no problems with you watching every rerun of Criminal Intent you can possibly find on your 73 channels of cable goodness, but the TNT two hours of the first L&O is not as satisfying, and you know it. That’s prime reading time right there! By the time it’s over, you’re too tired to really concentrate, and then it’s only an hour until The Daily Show. So give it up.

2. Read comics. You can trick yourself into actually thinking while reading again with comics. You start reading and think, “Look at the pretty pictures! Fluff read!” And then you’re sucked in and addicted. Personally, I recommend something like Preacher or Y: The Last Man, both funny enough to disarm you.

3. Re-read a favorite. Whenever I’m between books and it’s looking bleak, I turn to Jane Eyre. No matter how many times I read it, I never get sick of it, and within ten pages I’m completely hooked. This especially works for me during the after-a-great-book reader’s block as it’s sufficiently great, yet not intimidating enough to induce the same problem after I’ve finished it.

4. Grab a pile of books, get the hell out of town, and reduce your distractions. Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery. If you have a few days you can take off from work, go visit a friend or family member who lives out of town. Take a large stack of books, anything remotely more accessible than Ulysses, and while they’re at work, read your ass off. If you can’t run away for a weekend, get out of the house, sit somewhere quiet, and try reading there. Just don’t be in a place where you can go to the refrigerator, check your e-mail, watch Law & Order reruns, play with your cat, do laundry, bake cookies, pay your bills, anything to keep you distracted.

5. Stephen King. Works every time. I got into an argument the other day over which was better: old, classic King or the newer more "humane" King. I still say everything pre-The Stand revised edition, but if you think Bag of Bones was one of his best books, try a more recent release. Either way, after you hit page five or six, you're usually completely hooked. And read him guilt-free. I may hide the Stephen King paperbacks on my bedroom shelves, but I'll proudly read him in public. If you're caught reading Dean Koontz outside of your closet, however, people should feel free to flog you.

6. If nothing else works, take a break from reading. Make a decision on an amount of time that you will take from reading. And don't spend that week or two watching crap television and downloading porn. Spend the week renting all of the movies you should have seen by now but have not. Or baking cookies. Or crank calling the White House. Just stay away from those Law & Order reruns, or you're finished.