Which Books or Authors Get You Out of A Reading Funk?

When the words from a book build a wall in front of you.

It happens to the best of us. You stare at your TBR pile on the shelf and not even one of them calls your name, no matter how excited you were when you were buying them. You start a book only to drop it after a few pages, and try another one, but nothing is doing it for you. It sucks!

There are a number of ways to get out of that funk. It can be any other activity that is not reading, like listening to a podcast, doing other hobbies, meditation…anything but reading. Sometimes spending time off your reading couch and in an actual word can pull you back into the reading world.

There’s also another way, which always works for me – reading, I know, it doesn’t make sense but it’s kind of a ‘fight-fire-with-fire’ thing and it works.

What I do is go back to the books I love the most, or the genre that got me into becoming an avid reader.

Here are the books and authors, in no particular order, that kick me out of my reading funk.

Dr Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou Books

There is just something soothing and wise about Auntie Maya that just pulls me back into the world of reading. I also listen to her interviews and poetry recitals so much that when I pick up one of her books, I read in her voice and it sounds like sitting on the porch with an auntie or grandma sitting behind me on a rocking chair telling me a story. My favourite of her works is A Song Flung Up To Heaven. (See review).

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

One of my favourite classic authors. His novels inspired me to write and whenever I hit a wall, I’ll pick up something I’ve read before like Devils or Notes from Underground and I don’t even have to finish it. A few chapters and that hunger for reading and just consuming book after book returns. My favourite of his books is Crime and Punishment.

Poetry

I have subscribed to Poetry Foundation so I receive daily poems and if I want more I just head to their website www.poetryfoundation.org. It is a wellspring of some of the best poetry in the world. Dr Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, Koleka Putuma, Rumi, Nayyira Waheed, Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Langston Hughes, Ben Okri and many others. I recently bought this collection below and I am in love with it.

English Classics

They also work and there’s a particular way to read them; I have to be alone, with a cup of tea or coffee and some baked goodies, preferably scones. Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens and many others.

Mystery and Thriller Books

Specifically David Baldacci and Jeffrey Archer. This is because these are the books I started off with when I was growing up. These are the kind of books that dominated our bookshelf so whenever I’m in a funk I’ll pick up one of these guys (my roommate has a lot) and I’m back in the game.

Bessie Head

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read Maru. It’s short and it’s everything I love and enjoy about African literature. I’ve been reading it since high school. I keep having to rebuy a copy because I either give it away or sell it when I do my shelf declutter.

The books I cannot read when I’m in a funk a non-fiction books. Never. It just doesn’t work because of their weight and seriousness. I’m struggling already so I need something softer or more exciting.

How do you get out of your reading funk?

A Walk ‘Down Second Avenue’ with Es’kia Mphahlele

I’ve been wanting to read this book for years, as Es’kia Mphahlele is well known as one of the most prolific figures in African writing and this particular title is a highly recommend classic. I finally got my hands on a copy and as a South African, knew from the beginning that I would enjoy this praised autobiography. The book made me long for a reread of Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy. Although the two books are twenty-seven publication years apart, each is a story about growing up in South Africa during the apartheid regime.

Mphahlele and his siblings are taken to the country at the age of five to go live with their paternal grandmother. (Remember Maya and her brother off to Stamps?) Later on his mother fetches them and they end up in Second Avenue, Marabastad in Pretoria.

The life in Maupaneng village is filled with stories of walking seven miles to school, bare-fist river fights, livestock, hare-hunting, story-telling at the communal fire, and the white sands of Leshoana River. In Marabastad they were in the slums. The people who had left the village for work in the city had described it as a glamorous place but where they lived was place far from glamorous, where there were long queues at the communal tap, thick smoke clouds from coal braziers in the yards, dirty yards, one room for a large family to sleep in, leaking iron roofs, and many other grim living conditions.

The marrow of the story, however, is the hideous face of apartheid and the lives of black people during that time through his lens, as a boy, throughout his growing up and as a man. The many characters in the book each give a picture of the various struggles of black people during those times, the violence, and the poverty, the hard work that didn’t have much reward, the sacrifices and most of all the fear of the white man. Mphahlele details his fears, his anxieties, and anger towards the system and the way white people had set it for their sole benefit.

There are children rummaging backyards for food, police officers who didn’t think twice when it came to violence towards young and old, the mothers who worked so hard washing clothes for white people and looking after their needs to make little money that went into the education of their children, and the hierarchy of who was better off than the other amongst blacks, Chinese, Coloureds and Indians, all under the whites. He also takes us through his literary journey and activism.

As a black South African, I was frustrated because of the familiarity of the events he shares, but I couldn’t stop reading it because even through the horrors and setbacks there is something encouraging about the way he kept on going. And it’s not just him but how Blacks at the time fought through those hard times, and still are.

The Social and Political Tensions in South Africa, in ‘Disgrace’ by JM Coetzee

A look into post-apartheid South Africa.

The South African Flag

Fifty-two-year-old David Lurie has an affair with one of his university students, jeopardising his reputation and his job. He leaves Cape Town to stay with his daughter on a farm in the Eastern Cape. His stay turns out to be longer than he had planned and things are hurled into chaos when there’s a violent attack on the farm and father and daughter are left wounded in many ways.

Disgrace is set in post-apartheid South Africa and shows a shift in power among the races, and it explores these social and political tensions through compelling storytelling. The protagonist, David, illustrates this shift in status. He goes from being this snobbish university professor in the city to a peasant.

Violence is also woven into the story and plays an important role in setting the direction in which the story goes. It is also shown in its different forms, not just the assault which takes place on the farm but also with his affair with a young student as well as the way he justifies it as desire.

South African history and cultural interactions are adequately portrayed, and you love and hate the characters, and go on a rollercoaster of feeling towards them. It is interesting and broadens your understanding of some of the crucial bits of South Africa.

Disgrace – J. M. Coetzee