You’ve lost that reading feeling…Jessica Norrie
A beautiful thing is dying (not quite the words of the Righteous Brothers hit because of copyright laws). You don’t care if the book slips down the back of the sofa or gets left out in the rain; the hero can whistle and the heroine’s dull. No other story or setting would grab you either; they’re just lines of senseless words. For some time now, you haven’t been in the mood.
Instead you’ve got that rotten feeling. A lifelong, reliable healthy habit is failing you. With it disappears your route away from stress, your imaginary version of worlds where anything can happen but all will be resolved, and your escape from situations and conversations you aren’t enjoying. Gone too are access to laughter, empathy, information and travel, new friends (and adversaries), intrigue, entertainment and the luxury of shedding tears over something that never happened. You’re stuck in the real world with the fire doors locked.
Why does reading loss occur, does it matter, and if so, what can you do?
For me it happens when I’m stressed, or worse – unhappy, grieving, in pain perhaps. I lose concentration. Even low brow pot boilers (for which I have great respect) demand a minimum level of focus, and I can’t give it.
It also happens when external demands force themselves into my consciousness – not always a bad thing. I couldn’t read (much) when my children were small. My life rerouted to their time zone and responded to their exuberant or crashed out states – there didn’t seem to be much in between but it had been in the between times that I read. The children are taller than me now, and I’m reading again. Occasionally I read a novel so good I don’t know how to follow it – like the day after a special, rich meal when nothing seems appetising. Nor could I read when my job was demanding and the management unreasonable, or when my to-do list had more pages than a Victorian novel. I missed it.
You may be unable to read because of snacking on social media? But concentration is sapped by gobbits of other people’s trivia, or even snatches of worthwhile information, complete with comments, trolls and links to yet more trivia (or worthwhile information). This article on using social media at work calls it the “pinball effect”; the effect on leisure can’t be very different.
Even before social media, I used to find I could read on holiday in peaceful countryside, but not on city breaks where my senses were already over stimulated by lights, noise, architecture, traffic, food, entertainment…So during city breaks I give myself up to the art galleries I came for and leave reading for the aeroplane. In the countryside – well, the landscape tells its own story. That distant hill is a chapter with the next one behind, the foreground sheep are (restful) characters, and the path winding along the river is the narrative. People watching on the beach is a pleasure too, sitting in parasol shade before an ever changing screen of small stories. Or watching the waves, research has shown, leads the mind to a calmer and more creative space. To read or not to read – it doesn’t matter.
Paradoxically, it can be wanting/having to read that stops us, as when our attention can’t make it to page two of a book prescribed by a course or book group. Bookbloggers, wonderful people who review and publicise books without pay and get a lot of undeserved criticism, admit sometimes to feeling snowed under by the stacks their “hobby” has sent their way, and longing to read “just for themselves”. I’ve no patience with sites like Goodreads that encourage you to set reading targets, numbers of books and genres you’ll read in a week/month/year. We all have enough targets at school and work nowadays.
Reading should be a pleasure.
It does matter when stress takes away the ability to read. It’s a vicious circle because books and stories are exactly the relief we need. When grieving, I might find empathy; when feeling guilty or defensive about my behaviour I might find my reactions mirrored (hence my joy in Rachel Cusk’s books inspired by her family life, and Elizabeth Jane Howard’s about mothers and daughters).
A bereaved friend found comfort in Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Everyone has different books that speak to them thus, echoing thoughts and expressing feelings on their behalf. Everyone knows the rare clarity of being surprised by a phrase into a standing ovation: “I feel that! She’s telling my story!” Reading those books is as good as therapy (and cheaper). The account makes sense of our experience and we take another step towards recovery.
When the loss of reading does matter, how can you get the pleasure back?
If you are not reading because you’re stressed or depressed, don’t make it yet another thing to beat yourself up about (I’m saddened how often I come across this on social media.) Do yoga instead, or mindfulness, or walk in the park, better still on a beach. One day you’ll read again.
This blog post will appear at the end of UK Mental Health Awareness Week. Perhaps you need something channelled towards the feelings you’re experiencing. I’m not suggesting people with severe mental ill health should be palmed off with a book, but mild to moderate sufferers may have books prescribed to complement medication. The Reading Agency has some good lists here.
If you’re not reading because you can’t find anything that interests you or the last book was a hard act to follow, try a change of genre. Forget novels: try travel, biography or history – they’re full of stories too. Perhaps you’ve read too much of the same thing recently. Try poetry – each poem is different – and relatively short!
If a book seems turgid, is there a film version? The film will give you entry points and help you visualise.
Remember old favourites. For my mother this was P.G. Wodehouse, for my daughter Harry Potter, for me it’s loved childhood books. If I keep mentioning the same names in these blog posts it’s for a reason: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Joan Aiken, Hester Burton. But you will have your own. Bill Bryson makes me laugh, and the chapters are short, always helpful when concentration is poor. “...what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversation?” – so look for illustrated books. Magazines are lighter; good magazines lead you back to good books anyway. Try Good Housekeeping (and its supportive book group).
We don’t always do ourselves favours. Is your reading light strong enough, are your glasses right, are you sitting comfortably? Is your phone out of reach and earshot?
Above all, don’t fret. Those who worry about not reading are not the people who should be worrying. They’ll read again one day. It’s the others who need to get on board.
Jessica Norrie ©2018
My thanks to Jessica for offering strategies for those times when reading might be the last thing on our minds… but actually might be beneficial in so many ways. Have you a book or author you turn to when you need to get your reading kick started again?
The Magic Carpet – Jessica’s new release.
Outer London, September 2016, and neighbouring eight-year-olds have homework: prepare a traditional story to perform with their families at a school festival. But Nathan’s father thinks his son would be better off doing sums; Sky’s mother’s enthusiasm is as fleeting as her bank balance, and there’s a threatening shadow hanging over poor Alka’s family. Only Mandeep’s fragile grandmother and new girl Xoriyo really understand the magical powers of storytelling. As national events and individual challenges jostle for the adults’ attention, can these two bring everyone together to ensure the show will go on?
One of the recent reviews for The Magic Carpet
Based on what is obviously a deep love for and knowledge of the teaching of young children, Norrie weaves an utterly engrossing tale of contemporary London life.
I was gripped from the outset by the vibrant reality of her characters and situations
The writing style is apparently effortlessly easy. Situations develop ,are resolved and all the time one is hungry for more . To learn how the lives of these people who I quickly came to love will turn out. And how the children’s plays will be received when performed
The book has obviously been very fully researched . Not once did I feel that she verges on cliche. I cannot recommend this book too highly
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Magic-Carpet-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B07TXZP2S2
And on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Carpet-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B07TXZP2S2
Also by Jessica Norrie in English and German
Read the reviews buy the books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jessica-Norrie/e/B01CEUZF26
and on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Infinity-Pool-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B011RA8QZW
Find more reviews on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3270629.Jessica_Norrie
About Jessica Norrie
Jessica Norrie studied French literature at Sussex University, and trained as a teacher at Sheffield. Then she wandered into parenthood, told her now grown up children stories, and heard theirs. A qualified translator, she worked on an eclectic mix of material, from health reports on racehorses to harrowing refugee tales. She taught adults and children, co-authored a textbook and ran teacher training. In 2008 came the idea for “The Infinity Pool”, which appeared in 2015 (and in German in 2018). Her second novel “The Magic Carpet”, inspired by teaching language and creativity in multicultural schools, is published on July 22nd, and she is working on a third. She also spends time blogging, singing soprano, walking in the forest and trying to move out of London.
Connect to Jessica
I know Jessica would love your feedback on the post and it would be great if you could share. thanks Sally