Let’s be honest: we’ve all been in the position where even having read a tiny amount of a book feels like a nightmare. As a child or as an adult, it’s so easy to let something like this put you off. For me it was “Wuthering Heights”. I was maybe eleven or twelve, having branched out into classics in the last year or so, and tried so hard to read it. I had been told again and again – by teachers, websites, adults – that it was a MUST READ and so there I was. Trying to read it. Even now nearly twenty years later, it doesn’t matter how many people tell me it’s their favourite book. And it put me off.
For a while after that, I struggled with the idea of picking up any book. Having not finished a book wasn’t really something I was familiar with at that age; turning away from a book by choice was alien. And being young, I was definitely naïve as well; classics were classics, surely? I’d read Dickens and Austen and others. Why didn’t I like this? I almost felt as if the books as a whole had shunned me. Side note; I was 1) a very dramatic child, and, 2) dealing with untreated mental illness, which is perhaps why I took it quite as hard as I did. But it was a valid, genuine experience all the same, and I didn’t quite know what to do with it.
I would wander around the library or look through my shelves at home, with a mental block towards picking up a book. Is there such a term as readers block? Because that’s what it was. It was like writers block, where you just gaze at the page or screen and nothing happens, except there I was, looking at books with nothing jumping out, shouting to be read, where there was normally a chorus of them.
This has happened to me since, of course, but that first time was just that; the first time. Any “first” is a BIG deal when it happens, and these include geeky firsts that other people might not understand.
As it was, I was lured out of my readers block by a little known teen fiction series our school library had. Several of my friends ended up reading them too, we’d take it in turns for the books, and we had a mini book club whilst the series kept us going. After that I was back on a roll and reading anything within reach again, but what I’m trying to get at here is that you need to find a book or genre or author that you want to grab hold of and never let go. You also need to give yourself total and utter permission to walk away from any book that doesn’t suit you. It doesn’t matter why. You can dislike the dialogue, find the characters 2D, or just not enjoy it. It really is okay. Put the book down. There’s no communal punishment by the book people of all lands. Pick something else up instead. Try something new. Change genre for a while.
I still haven’t been able to read Wuthering Heights. I’ve tried several times in my life, at different ages, and it just isn’t happening. What I have read, though, is a long and varied collection of different books. Some classics, some general fiction, some romance, some dystopian, some factual, some books I would have never read if I hadn’t rejected what I originally planned to read.
Of course it’s good to give anything a fair try; never give up at anything immediately. But if you’ve read a hundred pages and you are struggling to stay awake…. walk away. If you’re worried about book shunning, tag me on Instagram or Twitter and I’ll reassure you the book community still loves you, even if you don’t like a book they’ve been raving about.
Here are my top five tips for finding what grabs you:
- Give any book a fair try. If any book was judged by its first page, there would be a lot of unread books. Of course a good start is important, but you won’t get that from fifty words. Depending on the length of the book, pick a number of pages you’re going to get to before you decide to discard it. Then you’ll either have your own permission to put it down or you’ll want to carry on reading. Sorted.
- Pick a book based on its cover or title. If you’re struggling with readers block after a bad book experience, go into a book shop or charity shop and wander around until something catches your eye. Don’t analyse it. Pick it up, and take it home. Start reading immediately. Whether you like it or not, you’re reading again, and will probably have learned a bit more about what you want from a book.
- Ask for recommendations. Ask everyone. Family, friends, the internet, the librarian, people in book shops…. The key to this is, however, to decide based on what you know about yourself and them as to whether you put it in your mental “read” or “discard” pile. When you ask for a recommendation, you don’t have to be asking for something you’ll actually read. Sneaky? Yes. Effective? Also yes.
- Branch out. A lot of people have a favourite genre of books, and that’s completely fine. But to find that favourite genre, or to generally find books you’ll like, you have to search around a bit. It’s kind of like dating. Work out what you do and don’t like in a partner, and also what minor sacrifices you’re willing to make to get those things. If you normally read historical fiction, try some crime, or historical fiction that contains crime. You like chic lit? Try some YA thrillers. The world is a book filled oyster.
- Don’t limit yourself. Related to the above but also very different. Don’t feel like any book is above you, or that you are above any book. Of course you can read Chaucer without a degree. Equally you can have seven degrees and love a bit of classic Goosebumps. Don’t aim to define yourself by a genre, or let a genre define you. Read whatever the hell you like.
In the last month I have read books about forensic anthropology, romantic fiction, crime / thriller, historical fiction, and several other things. It’s okay to experiment. Find what suits you. Don’t build up those walls. Just read.