When You Just Can’t Even (Read)

It’s happened to the best of us. Call it what you will, a slump, a rut, a dry spell; we’ve all had times when we just can’t seem to take solace in, make time for, or even just plow through our reading.

It could be that the act of reading itself is difficult and you’re struggling for the stillness required to sit, focus, and run the pictures in your mind that will transport you. It could be that you’re in a place where you’re too busy (either real or imagined), and you can’t find the time. Possibly you’re just stuck on what to read next, and nothing sounds good, or conversely, everything sounds good, and you’re paralyzed by choice.

Recently, fellow Book Squad member Kate and I sat down and had a conversation for the Book Squad Podcast regarding reading slumps, and I thought I’d translate that into a blog post for folks who currently ARE reading things. (If you’re already looking at this post and thinking TLDR—Too Long, Didn't Read—head over there now.) We try to distill the information we've found floating around the Internets, paying attention to what has actually worked for us in the past and sharing some things that might work for you, should a dreaded slump show up on your doorstep. With that, here are our tried and trues.  

Create some time and space in your life for books. Take a vacation... IN YOUR MIND. Take a day or half day off of work (or school, but don’t tell your mom I said so), and allow yourself to get reacquainted with your bookshelves and then see what cranks your engine. A common pitfall these days is that even while reading something we enjoy, we find ourselves getting antsy, reaching for our phones to see if we’ve gotten pinged. Do yourself a favor—put it on a charger away from where you are and let the urge to check “just that one thing” wash over you and recede, unheeded. You’ll get the most out of your time off that way.

Okay, now that I’ve told you to get off your devices, I’m going to tell you to get back on them to do some very specific searching to help you regain your “joie de read.” (I’m so sorry.)  

Enthusiasm is catching. BookTubers—those aren't weird potatoes, they're book reviewers on YouTube—and Bookstagrammers can give you inspiration on what to read when you can’t talk to your favorite librarians. On BookTube, try The Poptimist. On Instagram, you can follow libraries, bookstores, and publishers galore, but also individual Bookstagrammers like Books and Snacks. Or Won and Books. Or Bezi. And for fun, check out James Trevino, who makes whimsical posts starring… books! 

Consider a change of venue. Creating a reading nook can help flip the script on your reading ennui. I’m partial to making it a ritual—brewing a pot of tea, securing my blanket and pillows around me, and just digging in. Finding a coffee shop (if you like to read surrounded by a throng of humanity) or a silent space (in public or even in your parked car!) can help turn that rut around.

Re-read an old favorite or discover new titles by a beloved author. Sometimes the work required to get into and understand a new world, or to develop an attachment to new characters is too much and zaps your enjoyment. It’s totally permissible to get back into a book that you know will reassure you, “I am a reader, reading is my jam.”

And now for something totally different… If you don’t normally read them, shorts stories or even flash fiction can jolt you out of the doldrums. I recommend Heating and Cooling and We Are the Animals. Pick up graphic novels if you don’t normally read them. A few to try are Stitches (a darkish memoir) or Hyperbole and a Half (a deep but silly memoir). Pick up something hilarious. Kate recommends I Might Regret This , and I recommend Unabrow for a hearty guffaw. Switch up your genres.

Audiobooks! Audiobooks are not cheating; they are reading. If you are too busy or restless to sit and read, give this a go. Try either the audiobook version of your favorite book (this only works if you like the narrator) or trying something totally against type, like nonfiction when you always read fiction. The Stranger in the Woods or Destiny of the Republic are both tasty nonfic picks with excellent narrators.

Get thee to a bookish event! Pretty often, Lawrence enjoys showcasing authors, book-related programming put on by the library, or the book clubs we run. I find that after I listen to an author talking about their book and reading, or being read to, I’m inspired to seek out their work and get to reading. Being in a book club makes sure I read at least two books a month!

Of course, you can always come and see us at LPL or hit us up online for suggestions. But one last suggestion is… just relax into it.  If you love reading, this too shall pass. When the mood strikes you, and you feel a little flicker of interest, revisit the suggestions above to see if they fan the flame. And always, I wish for you happy (and easy) reading!

-Polli Kenn is the Readers' Services Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.