Hi again bibliophiles! Today’s blog is about Reading Slumps – what they are, how to recognise them and how to ease yourself out of them…
I don’t know about you, but every now and then I find myself singularly unable to engage with my normal type of book. I (and others) call this a Reading Slump. It can be frustrating and unsettling if, like me, reading is an important part of your day-to-day life.
A Reading Slump is not the same as a Book Hangover, though many of the solutions are shared. A book hangover is where you have read a book so good that everything else seems unsatisfying in comparison. The worst book hangover I ever had lasted six months, and was the result of binge-reading all of GRR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books. His world building, his characters and the gritty reality of the plot left me despairing of finding anything to hook me in the same way.
A reading slump is more a general weariness with reading that makes it difficult to commit to a new book, or to focus sufficiently to disappear into the story. Before thinking of how to get out of the reading slump though, it is vital to understand what external factors may be at play. Are you:
stressed by work/university/school?
trying to fit too much into your day?
spending too long on your phone / social media, or checking the news?
getting enough sleep?
All these things and more may be factors which dropped you into your reading slump. The Coronavirus crisis led to the first and third points above for me. There was not much I could do about the first one, except try to unwind through long walks and sport in order to calm myself sufficiently to read. Gradually over the last six months I have got myself into a better rhythm and I'm back ready to read proper complex books again.
And finally, before I talk about HOW to read your way out of a reading slump, it is important to recognise the inter-dependent nature of alleviating external stresses and getting reading again...
Reducing external stresses will get you in the right place to read again
Reading again will help reduce external stresses.
So, it's a virtuous circle. If you can't get into big or complex books - from Middlemarch to Les Miserables, from Camus' The Plague to Kafka's The Trial - you will need to train yourself back to the point where you can. This can be done by reading accessible and engaging books. Here are some tricks which work for me:
You'll already know the plot and the characters so it won't matter if you zone in and zone out occasionally. I read Lord of the Rings as it's my favourite book, and I found myself totally engaged in no time.
2. Humorous books
Put simply, if you are smiling and laughing, you aren't stressing. PG Wodehouse does the job every time for me. His turn of phrase has me in stitches. Also, my favourite funny novel, Nick Earls' Zigzag Street.
3. Adventurous books
Plot driven, edge of the seat stuff that has you flipping pages before you realise. Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers and John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps are go-to adventure stories for me.
4. Detective or crime thrillers
There is nothing like the simple elegance of a cleverly woven whodunnit to get your brain engaged quickly. Agatha Christie is the queen here, and her stories like And Then There Were None, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd worked a treat in helping me out of this year's reading slump. Also, her The Man in the Brown Suit - though that really belongs in the adventure section.
5. Short Stories
Engaging and quick, these are the snacks between meals of the book world but often strangely satisfying. You can pick them up and put them down when you want, and if you don't like one, there's usually another coming. Alice Munro and Anton Chekhov are my favourite short story writers.
Here every word counts, and usually there aren't that many of them. They do trigger the synapses though and often cut through to the emotional and intellectual core much more quickly than prose. I've read lots of poetry to get me out of my slump this year including Susan Coolidge, Siegfried Sassoon, Pushkin, Christina Rossetti, Langston Hughes, ST Coleridge, Robert Burns, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sharon Olds, Judith Wright, Kei Miller and others.
7. Audio books
If well-read, audio books do away with the effort of reading and processing type, which can be exhausting. Some also bring an element of performance. The trick here is of being conscious enough to let the words sink into you and resonate, rather than just wash over you. In the last couple of months I have listened to brilliant audio books of Virginia Woolf's The Waves, George Eliot's Adam Bede and Charles Dickens' David Copperfield. I would not have had the patience to solely read them, though I did read along.
Reading your way out of a reading slump is usually a gradual process - effectively the act of falling in love with reading again. All of these tricks, along with dealing with external stresses can help you. Do let me know if you have any other hints and tips!