What Do You Read When You’ve Got Reader’s Block?


A copy of Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan has been sitting on my bedside table, collecting dust, for almost a month now. 

I can’t touch it. I’ve tried. I enthusiastically purchased it back in June, read the first thirty pages, and now I can’t start again. And it’s not because it’s a bad book! Exciting Times has all the makings of a novel I’d love: It’s written by a young and brilliant Irish writer – who is often praised in the similarities shared by fellow mid-20s Irish writer Sally Rooney. It’s a modern love story; exploring the complications of attraction and the gap between what’s felt and what’s spoke. And it’s jam-packed with the sharpest, deadpan humour I’ve read in a long time. Like… *chefs kiss*

But, in case you missed it, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic that has upended nearly every facet of normal life, and with New Zealand having only recently returned to a version of “the real world”, things have been chaotic. Everyone needs everything yesterday! And I do too! I get it. I have deadlines bleeding out my ears. But whenever life or work becomes chaotic, I simply lose the capacity to read. Which is frustrating, not least of all because reading is the perfect anecdote for stress. Editors note: Instagram is not. Neither is TikTok. 

When I was young, and all my friends were self-described bookworms and I wanted to pretend I was too, I’d re-read my favourite novel over and over again, in order to find some sort of rhythm to the process. A method to the madness. A means to build my confidence. That book was Looking For Alaska by John Green. It was my reader’s block anecdote. 

Reader’s block is not dissimilar to writer’s block. Both are painfully annoying. Both grow worse the more you fixate on them. And both foster a sense of guilt, of embarrassment that we’re not being “productive enough” in our downtime. Anne Helen Petersen, a journalist and the author of the forthcoming book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, told The Guardian, “We’re so used to making every moment of ours productive in some capacity,” she said. “Like, I’m on a walk, I should listen to this information podcast that makes me more informed or a better person.”

She has a point. But it’s still driving me insane. So, tell me, what’s your reader’s block anecdote? When you haven’t read in months, when you’ve lost your flow and need to find it again – what do you pick up?

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