Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The twitchiness preceding full-on reader's block

So, yeah. I've abandoned The Summer of Genji and feel like a total loser for it, but The Tale of Genji is really not the sort of book I'm up for right now. I suppose most people's lives slow down somewhat in the summer, although mine does just the opposite (gotta love those bookstore tourists), but that's not really why I'm not up for a 1000+ page, 11th-century Japanese court drama. I'm just too tired. Too much is happening that is making close concentration impossible.

Right now, I want and need books with no more than five major characters. I want wide margins and print that isn't very small. A novel that's not too long would also be nice; when experiencing that fatal combination of fatigue, reader's block and blogger's block, the more books that can be sped through the better. I want either irresistible writing (like what I'm reading now - The Exploded View) or a damned fine plot, but preferably both, obviously. If you can recommend books that fit some or all of these parameters and aren't penned by Banana Yoshimoto, I would be grateful.

My first such book of the summer was the eighth Brother Cadfael medieval murder mystery, The Devil's Novice. There are 20+ novels in this series but I'm already beginning to feel nervous about running out; I've never come across a set of books so reliable. Yes, I know that Peters/Pargeter wrote many more books not in this series, but the medievalism forms a great deal of the attraction for me. It's crazy, but even though Cadfael's compatriots are hardly more spiritually transcendent than your average bear, reading these books make the cloistered life seem shockingly appealing to me. It's really quite disturbing, but in a very pleasant and homey way.

But as to The Devil's Novice specifically, this novel tells the story of a young man entered into Cadfael's monastery quite abruptly and under cover of darkness one night by a father who refuses to kiss him when they part. It soon comes out that, not coincidentally at all, another young man (Peter Clemence) taking a message to some northern landlords from a bishop working on restoring peace to the country, has gone missing from the young man and his father's home.

The book focuses on young Meriet Aspey's ill-fated attempts to adapt himself to a cloistered life when he clearly doesn't belong there, and Cadfael and sheriff Hugh Beringar's attempts first to find the emissary and then to discover his murderer once his body has been found. It took me quite awhile to begin to even suspect who the murderer turned out to be, which is good. Much more satisfying, however, was Peters' close pairing of this local murder with the entire country's precarious political situation - the novel is set in 1140, during a bitter battle between King Stephen and Empress Maud for the throne. That's all I'll say, for I wouldn't want to spoil things too much for anyone.

As always, Peters soothed and wooed me with her excellent story-telling; The Devil's Novice really helped stave off an aggressive case of reading block which seemed on the verge of engulfing me. It's not completely at bay yet either. Dramatic language, yes, but reading to me is absolutely crucial to my happiness. I could give up many pleasures, pastimes, and forms of mental engagement but it would be too awful to contemplate not reading. And yet, I am somehow, at least once a year, afflicted with a twitchy and uncomfortable inability to find almost anything I want to read, never mind having the ability to concentrate. Do any of you suffer from reader's block or the threat thereof? If so, how do you overcome it?

And to confirm your sense of me as a drama queen, here's a poem by Sir Thomas Wyatt. Yes, I am comparing books to fickle and coy lovers, damn them.
"They Flee from Me", Thomas Wyatt

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle tame and meek
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
And therewithal sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, Dear heart, how like you this?

It was no dream, I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindely am served,
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

8 comments:

Celine said...

I usually overcome it by writing a book. I'm suffering mid-book writers block at the moment and so am reading up a storm. It is a state of bliss I must say!

chasingbawa said...

I love Brother Cadfael! And once I finished all the books in the series, I went on to P.Doherty, Candace Robb and Susanna Gregory. There's still lots of historical mysteries out there!

And I for one am impressed that you gave A Tale of Genji a go. I think it's a book that people dip into or take a looong time to finish. I've only ever read it as a manga and it was still confusing!

Colleen said...

Celine: I'm afraid writing a book isn't a likely option for me! ;P

chasingbawa: Thanks so much for the thoughts on the post-Cadfael reading world! And I'm glad I'm not the only appreciating Ellis Peters. :)

heidenkind said...

LOL I will have to remember that poem for the next time I have reader's block. ;)

I'm actually going through this right now-I can't settle on a single book and have started and stopped maybe three or four just this week. So I decided to try something completely different--manga. It's actually helping quite a bit! Manga is perfect for when I feel like a can't concentrate on anything.

Bellezza said...

I've heard such awesome things about Peter Ellis' series. My problem differs from yours; I'd actually welcome a 1,000 page novel if I could just get through the five I've promised to review! No more commitments from me to publishers, thank you very much. I prefer to read what I want this summer. If I can get to it... ;)

Biblibio said...

Oh, reader's block is a big problem in my life. My solution is to acquire lots of new books. Then I have tons of options, and enough new books to distract me until my mood shifts again.

That's a pricey option, though, so I recommend Method B: The absolute opposite of the typical. Last year, I had a reading slump so I treated myself to a sci-fi month. The last few weeks I've had reader's block, so I've decided to read a randomly found young adult fantasy epic.

By the way, the premise of "medieval murder mystery" sounds awesome. Just saying.

andrew said...

Based on an informal survey of literally three of my friends and family, reader's block is a very common phenomena among people who read a fair bit. I want to echo "heidenkind" above that I find switching formats helps. I pick up some comics or collections of short stories and just dip in-and-out a bit--clears the cobwebs.

Colleen said...

heidenkind: Manga's not a bad idea...or at least a graphic novel of some sort. I think we have one or two lying around here I haven't read.

Bellezza: See, that's exactly why I don't do reviews for publishers. :)

Biblibio: I went to the library with your diversity advice in mind and got a bunch of kids/YA books. Here's hoping they'll be different enough...!

andrew: I love informal surveys! Thanks for looking into it for me. Also, if you and Harry could tell me your very, very favourite YA fantasy novels, that would be appreciated. :)