Reader’s Block and The Ten Books Challenge

Southern Spines Summer ReadingThe summer came and went rather quickly, as most summers are wont to do. After powering through two back-to-back classes in May through July, I had a few weeks in August to rest and recuperate before the beginning of the fall semester.

90% of my productivity disappeared during the three weeks that were my summer break from school. After a solid seven months of reading and writing for school, work and Southern Spines, I experienced what others have dubbed reader’s block. I just could not read more than a few pages a night before going to bed. I couldn’t finish a book, and it had nothing to do with the quality of the books on my nightstand. I had hit a wall and couldn’t bring myself to crack a spine or write about books.

The fall semester is now underway, which has forcefully jolted me back into binge-reading, but I am still having problems with the writing. Writer’s block (aka fear) has really laid into me in the past couple of weeks, which is doubly terrifying when you have to write for a living. A good friend who is also a full-time writer advised me to abstain from all television and only read books for pleasure (with the exception of my required reading for school) as a cure for the writer’s block. “Oh, and don’t play Candy Crush either,” she added. FYI: I have never indulged in Candy Crush, but I did realize that I’ve been playing Sudoku on my iPad rather obsessively. It’s one way that I’ve been numbing out.

So why in the hell am I here? As a way of thwarting the beast. This is one easy exercise that I borrowed from Facebook, where another writer friend challenged me to name ten books that have left an indelible impression on me. I knew if I spent too much time thinking about this challenge, I wouldn’t do it, so I just cranked out the following favorites with a little explanation for each. Here’s to wading back in! Have you ever experienced reader’s block? Writer’s block? What cures have worked for you?

Ten Memorable Books

Ten Memorable Books

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I desperately wanted, like most readers, to be as brave as Atticus and to spend a lost summer tracking Boo Radley with my older brother and best friend.
  2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. My high school librarian, Mary Brown, told me I would love this book and I did. I’ve been obsessed with true crime and nonfiction novels ever since. I considered writing my thesis on Capote, but music took me in a different direction.
  3. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I needed one of Tan’s tear-gobbling turtles when I openly wept while reading this book on the subway.
  4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. I saw the cartoon movie first, but have enjoyed subsequent page-turning escapes into Narnia.
  5. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. This was one of those instances of finding the book I absolutely needed to pull me through a difficult time. Plus, Wally Lamb is one of the kindest authors I’ve ever met.
  6. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. I still hear my third grade teacher, Mary Walker, reading this book aloud to our class.
  7. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson. It’s hard to pick only one of her novels, but images from this mystery still percolate in my brain. Plus, I love Thalia.
  8. The World According to Garp by John Irving. This was my introduction to John Irving. I read a good portion of the book one night when a crazy doctor insisted that I submit to a sleep study; there was very little sleep to study.
  9. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I read this over the course of a month or two, during a time when I had severe reader’s block. Only reading a few pages a night forced me to savor the stories. I recently re-read this book for a class, which revealed so many new layers.
  10. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Often I’ll pick this book up off the shelf and read the first couple of pages. Have you ever caught yourself not breathing while reading an involved scene in a book? This one will stop your breath.
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2 Responses to Reader’s Block and The Ten Books Challenge

  1. Sarah's Book Shelves September 26, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    What a great list! I wrote my high school junior year term paper on In Cold Blood (thank you to Mrs. Bishop for letting me choose something off the “list”) and, like you, have loved true crime and Capote ever since. Have you read Ann Rule? Her book on Ted Bundy is absolutely terrifying. I also loved Garp – one of my all-time favorites!

    • Alison Law September 27, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

      Sarah, it sounds like you and I had similar introductions to In Cold Blood, a book that has stayed with me for more than 20 years. I haven’t read Ann Rule’s books. Maybe I’ll add the Ted Bundy true crime book to my Goodreads list.

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