Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Living With Reader's Block

     I have been absent from this blog for months.  Although I have not been ill in the traditional sense, I have been suffering from the painful malady I call Reader’s Block.  You may call it by a different name, but if you’ve had it, your symptoms are probably like mine: 
Inability to read a complete sentence;
Inability to focus on a page;
Inability to process or remember what you think you have read;
Opening the book on your nightstand and immediately falling asleep;
Giving up opening books at all;
Deciding books make pretty good coasters; and finally
Avoiding print material altogether.

     Concurrently, I noticed I was having increased difficulty with word and concept retrieval.  When I actually could form an idea, I couldn’t find the words to describe it.  Not only were there no new ideas coming in to my head, but there seemed to be nothing coming out of it either.

     I thought reading on my iPad might help.  Instead, the symptoms became worse.  When I couldn’t follow a sentence, I would too easily skip to web surfing and video games.  My score on Bubble Mania became inversely proportional to the number of books I attempted to read. 

     My father, an octogenarian and still avid reader, is convinced our nation is suffering from a collective lack of focus caused entirely by our use of electronics.  Nothing requires sustained attention anymore.  We flip among channels and coast through web pages, spending only the seconds required to gather a general idea of content without exploring depth.  Even our communication has been reduced to one lined tweets and instant messages.  It’s no wonder, he explained, that reading has become difficult.  We have forgotten how to concentrate, to analyze, even to think.

     And so, determined to cure myself of this malady, I deleted all of the time wasting games from my iPad. In fact, I decided not to read on the iPad at all, restricting myself to hard copies or my Nook simple touch (which does not allow web access).   I set the kitchen timer each day for a proscribed reading period, beginning with five minutes, hoping that the time would naturally increase.  When I found something difficult to read, I made myself annotate and connect ideas (remember high school English?) to force myself to focus.   I refused to turn immediately to Google when I couldn’t pull up a fact, instead forcing my brain cells to try and remember things on their own.   Finally, I selected three specific books designed to pull me from the reading doldrums.  (You can read about them above.)

     Thankfully, my prescription worked.   I finally can read again without the timer.  Sometimes I gloss over a paragraph without processing the words, but I can usually make myself go back to focus on the words and meaning.  That paragraph leads to the next paragraph and the next, and before I know it I have finished a chapter.   As far as the word retrieval issue, that’s still pretty dicey at times.    I suppose it could be age related, but I prefer to believe my reading regimen will help bring the words back to me.     


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