Reader’s Block

So we’ve all heard of writer’s block, but only recently did I come across the much more mysterious ailment known to some as “reader’s block”.

Generally it involves an inability to start, persevere with, or finish a book, but mostly it just means not being able to sit down and take pleasure in the long loved pastime of reading. Truly, it is as repulsive a condition as it sounds.

And for the last several months I have been a sufferer.

To none other than myself does this come as more of a shock. I, who my entire life have prided myself on finishing every book I start, no matter how awful, “just in case” the ending redeems it. I who must read to better my craft. I who enjoy a good book above all things.

But alas, as the end of the year draws nigh along with the deadline to my 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, I find my bookshelves spilling over with beautiful, glorious, new books, most with bookmarks poking out at about page 80.

I attribute this unhappy chapter of my life to several contributing factors. Those being:

  1. Writing. This year my writing has taking precedence over all else as I’ve grappled with recurring deadlines and the seemingly-impossible task of writing a novel for assessment. I’m sure I’ll post more about it later, as it’s been the primary reason for my blogging absence these past months.
  2. Working. This is a bit of a conundrum. At the beginning of the year I scored myself a job at a lovely little independent bookstore. One would assume that such a position would generate increased reading. Sadly, the opposite ensued. 9 hour work days on top of uni have resulted in earlier bed times and less brain power when it comes to extra-curricular activities.
  3. Greed. Working in a bookshop certainly has its perks, but my inner greedy reader has been unable to cope with the continuous arrival of new and wonderful books. I get one chapter into a book before another one comes into the store looking all sultry and readable, and I get distracted. As such, I have purchased many books this year, but most of them remain unfinished.
  4. (In)Sanity. The combination of the above factors have together tested my sanity. Reading for work and reading for uni have at times made the activity seem a chore, and let’s face it, who likes chores? Any free time I’ve been able to pilfer, I’ve dedicated to sleeping, eating, or the peaceful enjoyment of staring quietly at blank walls.

The whole thing has been mildly traumatic, but in the meantime I’ve discovered a few gems. Yes, a handful of books actually managed to bulldoze through my reader’s block and give me hope. It’s not that the other books weren’t any good, in fact when (if?!) I get over this ridiculous phase, I’m sure I’ll love them to bits.  It’s just that they weren’t totally, absolutely, incredibly phenomenal. And really, how many books are?

With standards like that, I was destined to be disappointed, but a few shone brightly in the darkness nonetheless. Without further adieu, allow me to share with you the top five books that prevailed over the dreaded reader’s block and made my reading year:

5. A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold. 

The second part to the third in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. This is my favourite book in the series so far. I heard along the grapevine that the series was originally intended as a trilogy, and I could tell by the end of this book that for many of the characters things were wrapping up nicely (or bloodily, depending on the character). I haven’t yet been able to move on to the fourth book, knowing that it’s now time to introduce many new characters and saddened that some of my favourites won’t be there to carry the story through. Nevertheless, I look back on this instalment with great fondness.

4. The Hunger Games.


This was a bit of a surprise. I watched the movie and whilst I enjoyed it, I wasn’t all that fussed. When I finally got around to reading the book it sucked me right in and I didn’t put it down until I’d finished. I then went on to read the next two in the trilogy and while I didn’t enjoy them as much as the first, they were still pretty amazing.

3. A Casual Vacancy.

Not the most enjoyable read of the year, given the dark and depressing themes throughout, but even despite that I still managed to finish this 500 page corker of a book in a matter of days (quite a feat for a reader’s block sufferer). It even inspired me to write a review.

2. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. 

When in doubt, go back to a classic favourite. If I’ve read it once I’ve read it a trillion times, but I’m currently re-reading this Tolkien masterpiece and haven’t been able to put it down yet. Beautiful prose, characters and story: what more could you ask for?

1. Ready Player One. 

READ IT. Seriously. If you know what’s good for you, read this book. It’s an absolute nerd fest with a nostalgic appreciation for 80s pop culture, old school video games, RPGs, anime, and a firefly called Serenity. The blurb describes it as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix” but I don’t think that does it any justice. Yes, there is a “golden ticket” aspect to it and certainly it takes place in a dystopian not-so-distant future where we spend most of our lives in a virtual reality simulation, but the premise itself is totally original and SO MUCH FUN. In fact, it’s so awesome, Warner Bros have already bought the film rights to the book. If you need further convincing, check out Patrick Rothfuss’s Goodreads review:

Need I say more?

There you have it. The books that got me through nothing short of a peculiar reading year.

Have you ever suffered from “reader’s block”? If so, which books, if any, have pulled you out of it? And for those of you who think reader’s block is as silly as it sounds, tell me instead what books you loved this year. Go on. You know you want to…

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Dear Santa…

As I was driving through town the other day, something shiny caught my eye. No, it wasn’t the sun, nor was it the reflection of my wintery moon tan in the rear view mirror. On closer inspection, it turned out to be tinsel.

“Tinsel!” I thought to myself. “Can it be that time of year again already? Surely not.”

Then I heard the sweet serenading sound of carols emitting from shop windows and knew it to be true:

Christmas had arrived.

After a few moments contemplating how on earth this had happened – after all, surely it hadn’t been a whole 12 months since last Christmas? – and a few moments more humming along to John Lennon’s Happy Xmas, my thoughts finally wandered to Christmas presents.

This time last year I posted a list of 10 Christmas Presents for Book Lovers, for the simple pleasure of imagining what I would buy for myself and my book-loving partners in crime, had I the means to do so. This year I’m once again trying to save my pennies for more nomadic adventures, but if you’re in need of gift-giving ideas, from library kits to book ends to book-related jewellery, or, like me, simply enjoy imagining what your Christmas list would look like if you owned a money tree, check out the post for some fun suggestions.

Meanwhile, I’ve since come across a mandatory addition to the list. If there’s one thing you buy this Christmas, may I suggest (read: demand) you head over to Spineless Classics and feast your eyes on the awesomeness.

Imagine your favourite book, every word, mounted on your wall as art.

EVERY. WORD.

Take a look:

Pride and Prejudice from Spineless Classics

Is it not the coolest thing ever? They have a wonderful selection of children’s, adventure, historical, religious, romantic and great classics to choose from. Even more exciting, however, is today’s release of their latest design.

Drum roll please…

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from Spineless Classics

That’s right. You can now admire the entire text of the first Harry Potter book in a single 700 x 1000mm sheet. And if you’re feeling guilty about spending the money, feel better knowing that 100% of the commissions they pay to the publishers is going to J.K. Rowling’s children’s charity.

This year I’ve told Santa to bypass my house and have an early night (the chimney is still under construction, you see). But had I sent him a letter, it would have included a Spineless Classic on the list.

How about you? Any book-related goodies you’d like to see in your stocking this year?

EDIT 05.12.12 

A new edition to the list could not be denied a place in this post. Introducing The Hobbit:

The Hobbit from Spineless Classics

The Hobbit from Spineless Classics

The Casual Vacancy – Review

I may be on a temporary blogging hiatus, but how could I resist the temptation to briefly return and share my hot-off-the-press thoughts on The Casual Vacancy, the latest from one of my favourite authors, JK Rowling?

There’s been much speculation in the book world over her first adult novel. Will it live up to Harry Potter? Will she fail miserably? Why is she writing a book for adults? Why is she writing at all? WHAT THE HELL IS THIS BOOK ABOUT?

With little to go by but a fairly inscrutable blurb about a dead man named Barry and a town “at war”, I set my expectations as low and as neutral as they could possibly go, the Harry Potter fanatic inside me squealing desperately at the opportunity to once again get inside JK Rowling’s brain, and eagerly anticipated the hour in which we were allowed to open the embargoed boxes at work and start reading.

Two and a half days and little sleep later, I finished the last page of the book and sat down to make some sense of my thoughts:

A dark but fascinating social commentary by an exceptional writer. 

Barry Fairbrother’s death is the precipice on which we, the reader, meet the inhabitants of the small town of Pagford, each self-righteous in their perception and judgement of everyone around them. The only decent person in town seems to have been Barry himself, which is the standard by which the rest of the characters are measured, all of them falling short in their own way. The story itself follows the lives of these characters, as they move from Barry’s death, to his funeral, to the election to fill the council position he so “casually vacated”, and the aftermath of every complication along the way.

There is no real plot that I could identify, just the simple act of observing a town in crisis and sensing the rising tension as families and relationships unravel. I suspect this lack of discernible storyline will be its undoing for many readers, but in many ways it is the novel’s greatest strength; relieving the reader of any misplaced presumptions that things will be okay, that a hero/heroine will save the day, that things will wrap up nicely. Instead it frees the reader to just go with it, get to know the characters, and watch them fumble about in the mess that is their lives.

Whilst The Casual Vacancy may show no evidence in subject matter of the JK Rowling we are so used to – preaching hope and goodness to the masses, comforting readers that good will always overcome evil – it is no small consolation that in the writing itself, Rowling excels. There were hints of Dickens, Austen and other wordsmiths of centuries past in the darkly comic tone and particularly unhurried pace of the narrative. Quite simply, the writing was magnificent and never fell short of the expectations placed on her by the simple but sophisticated standard set in Harry Potter.

With the ugly realities of poverty, rape, suicide, abuse, pedophilia, politics, class struggles and mental illness* setting the sombre tone of the narrative, I don’t think this is a book any reader can “enjoy”, so much as appreciate for its stark candidness, captivating characters, and wonderful writing.  It is a brave novel, an almost cruel reminder of how easily we judge those we perceive to be “below” us, the self-sabotage we envisage got them there, and the vicious cycle that ensues when it appears that something, or someone, is beyond help and therefore not worth the time to help.

I don’t think The Casual Vacancy will be for everyone; it’s comfortless and often downright depressing, something I usually steer well clear of in my reading (and had me certain for at least the first 200 pages that I wasn’t going to like it). But despite all that, it turned out to be one of those rare books that on the last page had me mourning the characters I had come to know so well and sitting in silent awe at all the extraordinary things they had to say.

Have you read/will you be reading The Casual Vacancy? Tell me your thoughts, dear readers!

*They really do mean it when they say “adult novel”. No wizards or dragons here. Move along, kids.