World Book Day 2021: Reader’s block? Tips to get between the pages again...

When the whole world — including celebs like Sonam Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Mouni Roy — was Instagramming #currentlyreading or #goingbacktoreading, this writer crash landed in the K-Drama world. Thus worsening reader’s block that had sort of become a frenemy since 2017. For someone who almost inhaled books to now suddenly not be that obsessed by words on a page didn’t seem normal. K-dramas and handsome Korean actors became the new sarang (it means love in Korean)! The love for books was still there, but when it came to reading, going beyond a few pages seemed a chore.

What is reader’s block?

Reader’s block is literary a dry spell. It means not being able to either read or feel disenchanted with written words. While many readers wade through it by reading till they come across something that gets them in the groove again, there are some (like this writer) who take a break from reading till they feel the pull again.

Bibliophiles speak out

Reader’s block differs from person to person. It might either last a few weeks or go on for years. “I faced it around two years ago, and it lasted for about a year. I overcame it after reading a book that captured my attention and sort of blew my mind. I think it was Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, if I’m not wrong. Once I finished it, I just kept going,” says Nikita Mamtora, who’s pursuing her Ph.D from the University of Pardubice, Czech Republic.

While Nikita might have overcome it, for filmmaker and author Devashish Makhija, it is a different story. “I’m in the throes of it right now… It’s been two years and counting. In the modern era it feels near impossible to overcome reader’s block. If it hits you, it’s probably not going away, not entirely at least.”

The why of it

Succinctly put, there is no particular reason. For this writer, the focal point shifted from fiction on a page to drama on screen. It’s definitely not something to boast about, but the pandemic-induced lockdown also affected imagination levels a bit — as fiction reading is mostly associated with conjuring up the written world in one’s mind.

Seconding this, psychologist and bookstagrammer (@bookgirlsulagna) Sulagna says, “It always seems to coincide with a low point in my life. When something doesn’t go right in life, I tend to feel low, which directly affects my interest in things, especially reading. As reading requires an extra bit of mental effort compared to watching TV or cooking... I just don’t have the energy to read. It goes away once things get sorted again.”

Media professional Priyanka hits a reader’s block when she is preoccupied with work. “There is always a feeling of missing something. For me, at times, it’s guilt and stress that I am not reading, and that finally pushes me to read. Usually, I just ensure that I have read five pages before I sleep. I keep a book next to my pillow all the time so it works out,” she reveals.

Echoing similar sentiments, management professor and poet Dr Bhavya Soni, says, “When I look back, I realise that I face reader’s block especially when I am either extremely preoccupied with my work life or when I face anxiety or depression. I find it difficult to focus on reading in those times and that leads to the block. And, I overcome it naturally as my anxiety or depression subsides or as my work pressure reduces.”

Author K. Hari Kumar says he went through reader’s block after suffering from a viral infection in 2010. “Post recovery, I realised that there was something terribly wrong with my cognitive abilities — I read books, but the words passed over my head. I’d read pages of content with no retention. It became difficult because I was in my last year of engineering, and study materials would not stick in my head. Reading became a pointless activity. I distracted myself by indulging in outdoor activities. Eventually, I read nothing between 2010 and 2012. I just did not want to read because it was going nowhere,” he explains.

Touchy feely!

A common debate among readers has always been about physical books and ebooks. While there are several who prefer the feel and smell of printed pages, there are also tech-savvy readers who have easily made the e-switch! And, there are some, like this writer, who are sitting on the fence, not knowing which side to choose as each has pros and cons. However, when it comes to overcoming reader’s block, the voice seems united: Physical books.

“In retrospect, it was a physical copy that got me out of it rather than my Kindle. Perhaps it reminded me again of all the little things I love about books — the yellowing pages and, of course, that smell of an old book,” shares Nikita.

Adding to this, Devashish says, “I spend so much of my life writing on my laptop and researching online that I cannot bear to read an ebook. So, even if I know I wont be able to get past 10 pages of a book, I’d still prefer to pick it up, feel it in my hands, touch the page, smell it, read it languorously, until it slips out of my hands and collapses on my chest as I pass out of exhaustion, and then I hug it absently as I doze.”

And, Sulagna isn’t a fan of ebooks either. “Reader’s block or not, I’ve never been comfortable with ebooks. Having highly myopic eyes, reading ebooks has been stressful. I feel like my reading experience deteriorates when reading them. So I always prefer physical books.”

Overcoming it

Dr Prerna Kohli, Clinical Psychologist and Founder, MindTribe.in, says patience and slight effort are the keys to overcome reader’s block. “A lot of people try to finish every book they pick up, even if they don’t find it enjoyable. It will be helpful to remind yourself that reading is supposed to be enjoyable, and you don’t have to finish things that don’t interest you. You could also try reading a different genre — sometimes reading the same type of books can result in boredom or lack of motivation. Reading different kinds of stories can excite you and help you surmount the block. There are many things you can do to make reading exciting again, but what you will need most of all is patience,” she maintains.

Adding to this, Sulagna says, “Mix the genres. If one is reading a classic or a historical fiction (which tend to be slow-paced), follow it up with a thriller or romance (which tend to be fast paced). Plus, it’s never good to force yourself to read. If you are going through a block, just let your brain rest. Do something else maybe, give your brain something else to feed off.”

“Touch and hold and carry your books around. Books have feelings too. They’ll seduce you back eventually,” Devashish adds.

Dr Prerna feels staying away from technology can help one overcome reader’s block. “Our glossy screens distract us from reading as they are filled with a lot of ‘dopamine increasing’ features. If you are tired of reading but still want to consume books, you can try listening to audiobooks. Or, you could reread an old favourite to remind yourself why you love reading. Beating yourself up for not reading much will not help you overcome reader’s block, only time and effort will.”

The other side

While for these bibliophiles reader’s block was beyond their control, for journalist and author Roshmila Bhattacharya it was a conscious decision. “I haven’t read a book in four months, in particular my favourite authors in the creative genre, as I have been developing some stories for OTT and didn’t want anything I read to unconsciously influence my stream of consciousness. It’s very easy in our profession to “borrow”, the challenge lies in being original and thinking out of the box. And for that it’s best to find your muses in real life rather than the written word. So, for the moment all the words I am reading are my own. But I am looking forward to reading the books I have been hoarding, just as soon as I submit my own work and it is accepted,” she says.

So don’t give up on your printed buddies just yet. Soon the pages will beckon and words will lure you with their charm!

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