As far as I can remember, I’ve only ever experienced two proper reading-slumps. The first was when I was 19 and finished the final Harry Potter book and was so wracked with ennui I couldn’t concentrate on ANYTHING for several weeks (it was Twilight, of all things, that finally snapped me out of it, but that’s a story for another day.).
The second reading slump is only finally coming to an end right now. And I’ll be honest with you — this time, it was scary.
Since January 1st, I’ve only completed 19 new books. 19! We’re half-way through the year! Since I normally average 70 books per year this is obviously way below my usual reading pace.
The scary part is, for the longest time I haven’t even really wanted to read. In fact, there were times when reading felt like a slog; a chore rather than a joy. I started to wonder whether I had lost the bug, whether I’d ever really enjoy reading again.
I’m happy to report that the fog is finally lifting. Last week, I devoured both The Red Tent by Anita Diamant and Brief Cases, the newest Dresden Files short story collection by Jim Butcher (although, in this case it would be more accurate to say I “marathoned” it considering I listened to the audiobook. But more on this anon), and for the first time in a long time, I honestly enjoyed the act of reading again.
In order to save my future self and any other bookworms who may happen upon this blog from the undue torment of an extended reading-slump, here are my top 5 tips of busting a reading-rut! Let me know if you have any other tips to share.
1. Join a book club
I was lucky enough that my most recent workplace was chock full o’ nerds so I was able to join not one, but two book clubs.
One was a club dedicated to YA literature (a genre dear to my little black heart). We started out meeting in the office during our lunch break, but as people left for new jobs, we shifted to a Milestones restaurant because Monday night is Bellini Night (4 bellinis and 4 appetizers for $40 — can’t really go wrong). Turns out that a standing meeting with cocktails and conversation is a GREAT motivator to actually read that month’s book.
Maybe I’ll write a post in future about how to start/structure book club meetings (spoiler alert: I heartily believe they should involve booze or food or both).
The second book club I was involved in at work was actually a comic book club. I love comics, but I tended to stick to the same kind of thing (Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series or Bill Willingham’s Fables). Being a part of my workplace’s comic book club (CBC) exposed me to so many different styles of comic I would never have thought to check out such as Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and What is Obscenity? by Rokudenashiko.
CBC was especially interesting to me because it was mostly made up of designers and illustrators who had a very different perspective on the comics we studied. Coming from an English lit background, it was really cool for me to get exposed to new ways of analyzing a piece of work (hopefully my fellow book clubbers felt the same).
Speaking of comics, this brings me to tip #2…
2. Try a comic book
In the depths of my reading despair, I often felt like I couldn’t concentrate on anything to save my life. Enter, comic books!
Firstly, they’re short — usually you can blast through a trade paperback (a collection of shorter comics) or a graphic novel in an hour or so. This helps with the whole lack-of-concentration issue. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment when you finish it.
Secondly, the pictures! When reading feels like pulling teeth, try really looking at the illustrations. Great comic books artists can tell an entire story using little to no words. This article has some great examples by Romanian illustrator Ileana Surducan.
One of the books we read for the CBC was Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, which I finished in under an hour but returned to several times over the following days because the illustrations are gorgeous and I really wanted to absorb them.
If you’re new to comics, you could do worse than reading this comprehensive guide from comicbookherald.com on where to start.
3. Return to old favourites
If you’re really in the weeds and don’t know how to break out of your reading slump, why not pick up an old favourite? Around Christmas, I rewatched all three Lord of the Rings movies (extended editions, of course) and decided it had been too long since I’d read the actual books. Reading them this year has been a slow but rewarding process. The stories are so familiar to me that I don’t feel bad if I go days or even weeks between chapters since I never really lose my place or forget what happened in the previous chapter. The books are like an old friend — there for me when I need them and even if lots of time has gone by, we pick up exactly where we left off.
While we’re on the subject of old favourites, why not try listening to them instead? Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Howl’s Moving Castle — all of these books are childhood favourites that I decided to listen to the audiobook version of in the past year.
Audiobooks are a wonderful way of revisiting stories because, while the stories themselves are familiar, the delivery allows you to experience them in a totally different way.
4. Audiobooks count as reading too!
While we’re on the subject of audiobooks, I want to say for the record that audiobooks TOTALLY count as reading too! As long as you’re absorbing them and not simply using them to fall asleep to (ahem…guilty of this myself sometimes), audiobooks are every bit as valid as any other book.
There are also some books that are better as audiobooks. For example, the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. I started off reading the books, but quickly switched to audio once I realized they were narrated by James Marsters (Spike from Buffy!). He does such a good job of narrating the stories that I don’t think I could go back to the written version.
I’m also a massive fan of Neil Gaiman and will read anything he has written over and over again. He’s also a fantastic narrator of his own books and I would highly recommend listening to Norse Mythology rather than reading it (since the stories themselves are folklore and probably came from an oral tradition, it feels apt to hear them spoken aloud).
5. Podcasts are your friend
If you’re digging the audiobook format but finding it a little, um, expensive to maintain (Audible ain’t cheap by any means!), why not try listening to a podcast?
I think it’s fair to say that podcasts are having a moment right now, and no matter where your interests lie, I guarantee there’s a podcast out there for you!
But Alex, I hear you cry, isn’t this a list about getting out of a reading slump? How the heck can podcasts help?
Well, oh doubting reader, let me tell you. In my opinion, good podcasts fulfil the same need within me that reading does. They spark my imagination and creativity, they soothe, they inform, they make me question, they entertain. To paraphrase Blindboy of the Blindboy Podcast, they provide a kind of aural “hug”. And when you’re in the depths of reading despair, and nothing seems to interest you, no matter how hard you try, it’s ok to find comfort in other media.
So there they are, my top 5 tips for busting a reading-rut. No matter what route you go down, remember this — if you give yourself the time and space to refill your creative well, you’ll eventually find your way back to your love of reading. Promise.