The Reading Yips

It can happen. A library of books surrounds me, a veritable larder of story goodness, carefully selected in my hours perusing the shelves. I choose my honey and curl up and my thoughts wander. Where do they go? The pages turn and I am not reading. Perhaps this is not the book. Not the book for today. A different book perhaps? Surely that will hold my attention…

It happens semi-frequently. Perhaps I am tired or over-ambitious in my choice of book. It is always temporary. And yet I worry with each new, familiar experience. What if this is it? The moment that I catch the dreaded, mysterious affliction that seems to plague others. Am I becoming “too busy to read” ?

It happened again. In the last two weeks I have started and paused on the following – The Light In August, William Faulkner, The Mind’s Eye, Oliver Sacks, Suddenly, A Knock On The Door, Etgar Keret, Candide, Voltaire… I can hear you tsk tsk me. I tsk tsk myself. These are good books Kate! It is no time to panic. I calmly, so so calmly (It means nothing!) return them to the pile and go out in search of inspiration.

Archives (the local second hand, enormous bounty of a bookstore) will not let me down. I browse. I select books that I have heard of, books that I have not, books that look pretty, books that make me laugh and books that speak of Paris (it was a very french kind of browsing). I check for the titles I’ve been meaning to hunt down, many of them absent.

I start again. The History of the Thirteen, Honoré de Balzac. I want to be in Paris again. I want to revisit it, fuelled now by the brilliance of these descriptions, as pertinent today as they were then. I have staved off another reading hiatus with fresh, pre-loved reading fodder. Alas, the heroine dies of anxiety when her husband will not believe her. I have stumbled, head first, into Radcliffe-esque gothic.

I am adrift again.

  • Have you had the reading yips?
  • How do you maintain reading momentum when your concentration won’t cooperate?
  • Help!
Image credit: Donated by Pearson Scott Foresman, an educational publisher, to Wikimedia Commons
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12 responses to “The Reading Yips

  1. Yes, I’ve felt like this a number of times. >.< I was trying to get through a collection of Kafka's short stories the other day, and I just could not take in a page. Ended up going for a walk in the sun and when I got back I found myself reading a Murakami novel instead. :/ Maybe you could try going for a walk yourself, or re-reading the blurb/re-visiting what had drawn you to that book in the first place?

    • Haha! I have a collection of Kafka short stories that suffered the same fate not all that long ago. I will revisit them again shortly. The walk is one of my favourite relaxation techniques and I’ve been known to address the reading yips by going for a walk and listening to Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter. Fresh air and Stephen Fry is pretty glorious. Murakami is ALWAYS a good substitute. For anything really.

      Also I see you’ve just been freshly pressed! How exciting! Congratulations! I’m loving your blog so far. Thanks for visiting, commenting and following.

  2. I think that as with all artistic endeavours – reading is that too – if you don’t feel it, just walk away. Otherwise, the reluctant efforts will make for an inferior experience indeed.

    Maybe an art book? Some meaty book thick with pictures that will make your mind wonder and focus on what is inside rather than outside the covers.

    • That is very true and the art books are an EXCELLENT suggestion – I have a little collection of them on my coffee table that don’t get nearly enough attention, they are earmarked for the next case of the Yips! Thank you Aubrey!!

  3. That happens to me mainly if I pick up a book when I really have my mind on something else. All I do is read the same page over and over with the original ‘thing’ in my mind still in control. Changing the book sometimes helps though. It infuriates me as I get very little time to just sit and enjoy a book, how dare the yips steal that small amount of time from me!! Grrrrr…..

    • Grrrr is right Metan! I use reading to wind-down quite a lot, it drives me nuts when my best attempts to switch off and become absorbed in a fictitious world are thwarted by other relentless thoughts. When things get really bad, I pull out the least-recently read Harry Potter instalment. There is nothing quite so good as Harry Potter for getting completely lost in a good book. Do you have a staple fall back?

  4. This happens to me a lot with non-fiction. I should be underlining and/or making checks, but I get hooked on one word or phrase and I miss a whole paragraph! It makes it very tough to follow an argument. My solution? I give in. I simply allow my mind to wander and wonder about what I just read. Then I come back and I am ready to tackle the next paragraph. Rinse. Repeat. Write down your daydreams. Sometimes they are the stuff of short fictions.

    • That’s a pretty great rinse-repeat. I should definitely write down my daydreams. I suspect they would be much shorter if I had to commit them to paper. I struggle with non-fiction too – I love history, but some of it is just not written for readers. My solution for those is to insert bookmark and come back later. I still have about half of Mao: The Untold Story, waiting for the next day I need to read some more communist china history, having already studied it in modern history class I was thrilled to have access to previously censored information, but it was heavy going…I think I stopped just after the Great Leap Forward, but it’s there for a rainy day!

  5. Actually my fall back at times like that is to pull out my ipod touch and play a few rounds of a timed word game. It is distracting and helps to reset my brain into words and concentrating instead of the other thing that is stealing my thoughts. It is much easier to pick up a book after that and be able to settle into it.
    Harry Potter books are definitely a good place to immerse yourself, although I think my choice of book most likely to be dragged out for purposes of complete distraction would be Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Any one of them, I’m not fussy 🙂

  6. Pingback: The Reading Yips | holistic complications·

  7. So true, sometimes ~ I had the yips with Paul Theroux’s “The Tao of Travel”, but have found Madeline Albright’s “Prague Winter” holding my attention! Sometimes returning to the book while in a different mood, during a different season, sheds a different perspective, and sometimes a “yip” remains despite wanting to like a book so much! It is hard to shut the mind off to other things some days and get lost in a book. No matter how busy one gets, though, the joy and wonder of truly losing oneself in a good read can’t be beat! ~ Kat

  8. It happens to me a lot, definitely!

    I might be a little late to this bandwagon but…

    I find that starting a book can certainly be difficult and choosing the right one to follow a great one you’ve just read is really difficult. I generally stick with P.G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster, it’s light and warm and refreshing. I read a chapter, have a giggle and tend to know exactly what I want to read after that. I suppose it’s a kind of book palette-cleanser? Just what I need for a book hangover! I also listen to an Audiobook if I can’t decide what to read, I find it breaks up the cycle a little bit.

    I only just came off a reading hiatus recently and I have to say I am so, so relieved! We should catch up soon! xx

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