Reading Habits

The Only Way Is Through: Overcoming the Reading Slump

For most of my life, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the notion that reading was declining. I suspect, like so many things, that this concept came about with the advent of social media, when we could easily complain to each other about those times we just didn’t feel like reading, or couldn’t bring ourselves to pick up a book, or were too distracted to concentrate on reading. If you didn’t feel it in the pre-blogging days, it’s just that you haven’t read in a while.

At this point, the existence of the aforementioned decline is inevitable. As with any reading-related issue, there are countless helpful tips for getting out of a reading slump, lists of books guaranteed to break the slump, and other miscellaneous discussions. Reading decline is something to be feared, to be avoided, and to be broken as soon as possible. With so much to read, how can you bring yourself to stop?

Still, if you’re willing to ask yourself such questions, it may be time to accept a recession.

When I was younger, I didn’t know that books — reading — could be a form of fandom. I also didn’t know what a fandom was for a long time; I grew up in rural Oregon in the 80’s with no TV. I didn’t even understand that writers were living beings like everyone else. I least remember Beverly Cleary and Ursula K. Le Guin living in the same town as my father. I would never have thought about where they lived.

It’s almost hard to imagine people growing up among book fans the way they are now, with authors being approached via Twitter and tours, and all the ways authors are expected to make themselves approachable: writing personal essays, staying online, and being personable as writers. It’s also hard to imagine growing up with that fandom, that love being commodified and packaged, even for something as broad as a “book.”

All I know is – from being a music-obsessed kid, from being a nerd, from growing up on Star Wars – identifying with the things you love so much that they become the key to your personality, your identity, and your life part. The lens through which you see the world. “[x things] are no substitute for personality” is now a meme, and often a brutal one. This is an effective way to demean a person: to attack them by what they love, to tell them that love doesn’t work.

But loving one thing and showing, acting, showing your love for that thing—those things can be decoupled. They can go hand in hand but don’t have to. Sometimes, it’s best to keep them a little bit apart, tuck your love for something into a safe pocket, let it relax, let it rest, let it exist out of sight of others. Sometimes, it’s a good thing that it’s just yours for a minute.

I think there’s a decline in reading, especially for those of us who read a lot online. Sometimes, not reading is actually not participating in the online book culture, which can be overwhelming and extremely competitive and often leaves a person feeling some kind of failure simply because there is no way to read all the content they think they should be reading. The Internet of Books is generally a great place, full of connections, great memes, and great recommendations, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to take a break sometimes. Book challengesreading lists, the 100 [insert genre] books you need to read before you die, the next hot thing, last year’s hot thing you never got around to reading: stay away from all of them. Put down the e-reader. Start Netflix.

Of course, this isn’t a case of a drop-off per read. But if that’s the case for you, then rolling the dice to choose your next read, or reading the first 10 pages of half a dozen books at random — these things aren’t going to help. They just make you feel more cramped and behind. Find something else you enjoy doing and do it for a while. If that event was just “rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender from scratch for the seventh time,” that wouldn’t matter. Do it. You need it. You need to feed your brain with other things for a while and recreate the space for the love of reading.

The reading slump that leads me to believe this phenomenon is another one that I’ve heard many people have experienced: the spring/summer 2020 reading slump.

In March 2020, I watched 94 episodes of TV. In June? One-hundred and fifteen. I’ve talked about this before: As the world around us takes on new shapes, I just want to see people in space under a lot of stress. I don’t need comforting stories. I don’t want books at all; they are my source of comfort in life.

Perhaps everyone going through this particular downturn sees it differently, whether it’s distraction,a lack of motivation, or simply not feeling like reading. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s okay to take a break from reading, and that it doesn’t mean you’re failing as a reader or as a person. It’s important to remember that reading should be a source of joy and enrichment, not a chore or a competition.

In conclusion, while there may be a decline in reading, it’s important to remember that taking a break from reading is okay and even necessary sometimes. It’s important to prioritize your mental health and well-being, and to remember that reading should be a source of joy, not stress. So if you’re feeling burnt out or overwhelmed by the online book culture, take a step back and do something else you enjoy for a while. Your love of reading will still be there when you’re ready to come back to it.

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