I got 'reader's block' in 2023

This time last year, I made what I thought was a simple (and easy!) new year's resolution to read a total of 12 books in 2023.

I got 'reader's block' in 2023
Photo by Sincerely Media / Unsplash

The bookshelf did not get read down

This time last year, I made what I thought was a simple (and easy!) new year's resolution to read a total of 12 books in 2023.

I am embarassed to admit that I read a grand total of two - yes, count 'em, two books in 2023.

I actually got off to a great start by finishing Stacey Lee's excellent young adult novel The Downstairs Girl in a week. Because one of my reading goal's was to Read My Own Bookshelf, I chose to follow it up with Rebecca Burns' Rage in the Gate City, a history of the 1906 Atlanta race riot.

Cover image for Rage in the Gate City by Rebecca Burns. Credit: University of Georgia Press.

Both books take place in Reconstruction-era Atlanta and take different looks (The Downstairs Girl is historical fiction) at the emergence of segregation, Jim Crow laws, and violence targeting Black and minority Americans in the southern U.S. in the early part of the 20th century.

It seemed a natural fit to read the fictional account first and then follow it up with Burns' history of a race riot that Atlanta - which prides itself on being the 'city to busy to hate' - would rather forget.

I planned to do a joint review of both books - comparing what I learned from both about a city I called home for more than 20 years. (And that review is coming.)

Burns' wrote an excellent book on a period in Atlanta's history that many of its white citizens either don't know about or would prefer to ignore. But the heaviness of the subject matter was too much all at one time.

With everything going on in our lives and in the world, life got in the way. And I found myself avoiding picking up Rage in the Gate City. It remained - all year - on the side table next to our couch, reproaching me silently.

So, not only did I avoid reading Rage, I avoided reading any book.

I read newspapers, magazine articles, German lessons. But any time a book caught my eye, I put it on the list of books to read after I finished Rage in the Gate City. I knew I should finish that one first, but I just couldn't.

And I felt guilty. If the people the books were about could endure everything that happened to them, the least I could do was read about it, learn about it and share that information with others. But still I didn't.

In retrospect, I wish I had given myself permission to just put it on hold and read something else in between. It helped absolutely no one, past or present, that I let it sit on my side table while other (less weighty) tomes sat on the shelf - all unread.

I could have admitted to myself that I wasn't in the right mental space for it and read something else in between. I could have been willing to read two books at once, and just alternate. (That's something I've honestly never done. I'm big on reading one book at a time - start to finish).

In a previous life, I worked as a newspaper reporter. I often got writer's block and couldn't think of anything to type until minutes before deadline. Then, suddenly, with the deadline looming, I would think of the perfect lead and the article would flow from there.

Last week, with Dec. 31 creeping closer, I picked up the book from the table and read it. I'll save my impressions for a different post. I'm glad that I finished it. I'm also glad that I took some space before reading it.

I needed to be in a different frame of mind to really appreciate the level of detail and context that Burns brings to the topic.

And I learned a lesson to take into 2024 and beyond: Don't let the reading challenge get in the way of the reading.