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Sunday Salon: On Slumps

July 17, 2011

The Sunday
Yesterday, I finally emerged from the a bit of a reading slump I’d been experiencing for the past week and a half. It was the kind of slump where I still read a little here and there, but I wasn’t breathing books the way that I usually do. It wasn’t the books’ fault at all, just something in me that wasn’t terribly interested in reading. It was also partly due to non-reading stuff taking over: my niece was at the beach with her other grandmother last week, which meant my mom and I had more time to spend together than usual. And of course, the arrival of Bianca led me into a bit of an obsession! ;) I’ve found it best not to force myself to read during slumps, but to just ride it out until one day I suddenly find myself again spending hours immersed in books. But even though I know the slumps will pass, they unsettle me: I just feel ‘off’ when books aren’t front and center in my life. I begin to imagine the emptiness of a life without reading, and I end up profoundly grateful for my good fortune in having free access to so many books, time in which to read them, and the skills necessary for reading and processing them. The one upside of a reading slump is that when it ends, I suddenly feel like a thirsty person gulping water. I want to spend all of my day with books, and I begrudge anything that takes me away from them. Since my slump ended yesterday, I’m still in that revelling phase, so on that note I shall wrap up this post and get back to my current stack. But be sure to share any coping strategies you have for getting through reading slumps!

One-sentence recommendations (there’s a lot of these because I’ve skipped the past couple Sundays but was reading up a storm at the end of June/early July!):

Read The Honor Code by Kwame Anthony Appiah if…you’re looking for some light philosophy and are curious about how honour has been perceived (and changed) in different times and cultures.

Read Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin if…you’re looking for some strong Southern atmosphere or a ‘literary thriller’ and don’t mind the occasional overwritten passage and clumsy handling of race issues.

Read Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton if…the use of a (slightly) alternative world to show up all sorts of gender and class assumptions inherent in Victorian lit intrigues you or you’re a newbie to fantasy but already love classics or you’re just looking for a wonderful book to get lost in.

Read Reading the Middle Ages by Thomas Steinberg if…you’re looking for a great, accessible overview of medieval literature, more insight into a medieval work you’ve already read (he analyses several: check the table of contents) or need some inspiration to start diving into the period.

Read The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier if…you’re a du Maurier fan eager for your next fix or are looking for a nuanced psychological portrait of a man who suddenly finds himself living a stranger’s life (I can’t resist a companion read suggestion: A Trap for Cinderella by Sebastian Japrisot, which also deals with switched identities in France).

Read The Innocence of the Devil by Nawal El Saadawi if…you’re curious about Middle Eastern feminist fiction and don’t mind a confused narrative (I preferred A Distant View of the Minaret, by another Egyptian feminist, myself).

Read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie if…you’re a Christie fan who wants to admire her ability to write more psychological-based characters when she felt like it.

Read The Touchstone by Edith Wharton if…you want to see how Wharton started her career or are interested in classics with a still modern relevance, since much of the book debates how much of a famous author’s private life ‘belongs’ to the public or just want a quick classics fix (it’s a novella).

Read The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette if…you’re more interested in popular American culture than math or enjoy those ‘stunt’ memoirs wherein an author combines learning about whatever topic with lots of personal stories.

Read The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie if…you’re looking for contemporary fiction that will confront you and at times alienate you but ultimately stay with you (if you’re an Alexie newbie, I wouldn’t suggest this as your first experience).

Read Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang if…you enjoy espionage stories, are curious to meet China’s answer to Edith Wharton, or are looking for older Chinese women writers.

Read Read My Pins by Madeleine Albright if…you like books about everyday style/clothes or you’re an Albright fangirl (I wouldn’t recommend the ebook, since this is supposed to be a coffee table style book and includes a lot of photographs of her brooches). ;)

Read White Teeth by Zadie Smith if…you enjoy a strong, brash narrator, powerful writing, and don’t mind a long-ish book full of unlikeable characters who don’t do much (I found myself reminded of White Tiger at times).

Read Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart by Alice Walker if…you seek out books centered around strong, older women and don’t mind a lot of mystical, New Age philosophy.

Read The Zigzag Way by Anita Desai if…you love interior-focused, character-driven stories that touch on several generations or enjoy looks at expat life or are looking for marvelous books set in Mexico.

Read The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart if…you’re looking for a light but fascinating popular science book or are an avid gardener or are curious about alternative, environmentally friendly approaches to agriculture and waste disposal or are just a natural history nerd like me and can’t resist a book all about earthworms.

39 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2011 8:22 am

    Love these blurbs!

  2. July 17, 2011 9:00 am

    I hate slumps. Not having a book that I’m absorbed in, I think, actually makes me miserable to be around. It’s like when I don’t get enough sleep and am then “inexplicably” ornery to the innocent bystanders around me. Is that crazy?

    A tiny part of me is always nervous when I start a new book that it’s going to be really “meh” and open up slumpy possibilities. As for this week, I feel like I’m in the middle of a “life slump” which is actually making reading waaaay *more* appealing which would be great but for the life slumpy-ness.

    Anyhow – glad to hear your slump is on its way out already. Happy reading!

    • July 18, 2011 6:34 am

      I get cranky too, so I don’t think it’s crazy! ;) The advantage of being a multibook reader is that I don’t have to worry about 1 causing a slump. lol

      I hear you on life slumpy-ness: that defines the past couple years for me. :(

  3. July 17, 2011 9:18 am

    I particularly loved your reviews of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (even though I haven’t read it, but just love that you tell us what you think, no matter what others might have said about the book), White Teeth (which I tried to read because my wife loved it, but didn’t grab me) and The Toughest Indian in the World (agree that is not the place to start for Alexie newbies, I’d recommend The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian myself, because — at least, in my mind — it’s quintessential Alexie).

    • July 18, 2011 6:34 am

      Thanks! I’m curious now to see what others have said of Crooked Letter, lol. I’ve yet to read True Diary, etc.: I’m reading his books in published order. Can’t wait to get to it!

  4. July 17, 2011 9:49 am

    I’m so glad you liked Tooth and Claw! It’s just so unique, I love it.

  5. July 17, 2011 10:11 am

    I was in a slump for most of June, but July is going much better! I hope the rest of July is wonderful for you. :)

  6. July 17, 2011 11:05 am

    Man, Alice Walker is just made out of mystical New Age philosophy, isn’t she? I’ve never not been disappointed by any of her books since The Color Purple. Either they’re all New Agey or they’re full of equally crazy theories such as that (grrrrrr) the oral polio vaccine caused AIDS which it SO did NOT.

    • July 18, 2011 6:35 am

      This was my first Walker, but your comment makes me suspect she’s not an author for me. Eek to the vaccine theory!

  7. July 17, 2011 12:03 pm

    I know just what you mean about slumps. I hate them, but they do seem inevitable. The hardest part is negotiating that sense of being unsettled and not quite right with the world, and I completely agree that going with it and doing other things is the best way out. I tend to switch to watching tv, which I hardly ever watch, or favourite old films. Very interested in The Touchstone by Wharton and Jo Walton, who suddenly seems to be on everyone’s lists. She’s not my usual fare, but I am most intrigued by the sound of her novels.

    • July 18, 2011 6:36 am

      Walton’s newest has taken over the blogosphere, hasn’t it? Oh well! I tend to watch more TV on DVD/movies during reading slumps too: it’s also what gets me through fibro flare ups!

  8. July 17, 2011 12:25 pm

    I suspect you still read more during a ‘slump’ than I do in my most voracious state. ;-) I may check out Reading the Middle Ages. Looks interesting.

    • July 18, 2011 6:37 am

      Well, this was a mini-slump, so I was still reading. In real slumps, usually provoked by fibro, I literally won’t open a book for days in a row. So I doubt I always read more than you! ;) Reading the Middle Ages is nice and short, which makes it easy to look into. ;)

  9. July 17, 2011 1:15 pm

    I have no solution for slumps, alas–especially since I seem to be in a prolonged one at the moment myself. Mine usually seem to be more time related, though, so I know that once I have more time, I’ll be back to the books.

    I’m making a note of Reading through the Middle Ages for some future slump-free period: there are quite a few items from that era I’d like to read, but maybe I should start here.

    • July 18, 2011 6:39 am

      Aww: I hope you find more time soon! As I said to CB, Reading the Middle Ages is nice and slim, so doesn’t take too much of a time investment.

  10. July 17, 2011 1:57 pm

    When I first glanced at this post, I thought you had read this much in the past few days! :-) Silly me. I’m glad to hear that you’re out of your slump. They’re the worst.

  11. July 17, 2011 2:11 pm

    I haven’t had a slump in a while, but like you, I just ride them out. My book club is reading Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter next month.

  12. July 17, 2011 2:36 pm

    One-sentence reviews are fun! Love this format. I have a slump it seems at least once a year. I always end up feeling like I’m just letting books slip through my fingers… but it doesn’t really matter, does it? We always get back to the books. I had some grand plans to read a bunch of varied selections but then got sucked into the Game of Thrones books. I think I’ll be busy for awhile!

    • July 18, 2011 6:40 am

      >> I always end up feeling like I’m just letting books slip through my fingers

      Yes! Exactly that feeling! I’ve yet to get into the Game of Thrones mania, lol.

  13. July 17, 2011 5:35 pm

    I’m totally an Albright fangirl! I saw the display of her pins when I was in Washington DC last year and they were fabulous! I’d still like to read the book too.

    As for reading slumps I just dive into other stuff that needs to be done. Whether it’s laundry, weeding, or blog visiting there’s always something to do around here. What I’ve found more difficult lately is trying to get anything done while dealing with tendinitis in my right arm. It’s been getting better with acupuncture but I still have trouble with anything that weighs more than a pound or two. It puts limits on what I can get done and then I feel guilty reading while others are doing my chores.

    • July 18, 2011 6:43 am

      Jealous! I’m an Albright fangirl too. :D

      I’m sorry to hear about your tendinitis. I actually have an acupuncture appointment next week: I hope it helps my pain! Anyway, the point is I completely understand the guilt re: chores…when my arms are bad, I can’t cook, and I feel awful watching my mom cook while I read. Plus, I love cooking and she doesn’t. So frustrating.

  14. July 17, 2011 8:53 pm

    This has nothing to do with anything posted here, but after seeing a post of yours a while back, I just went to NetGalley and downloaded A Noble Band of Women as it sounds right up my alley! Have you read it yet? What did you think, if so? If not, would you want to read it together? Perhaps not for at least another few weeks, but it could be fun!

    • July 18, 2011 6:41 am

      Hi Aarti! I’d love to read it with you (haven’t gotten to it yet). :D Sry I haven’t replied to your e-mail; I’m horrible at e-mail. I always wait to reply to e-mails from friends until I’m in the mindset to write a really good, smart, funny e-mail, and then the original one gets buried in my inbox and I forget. Must work on this system.

  15. July 18, 2011 8:13 am

    And Then There Was None is one of my favorite books by Agatha Christie. I just adore it! I actually just requested a book by Christie from the library as I’ve been in the mood for a good mystery. I loved Rebecca by DuMaurier and have been meaning to read more by this author for awhile now. Soon I keep telling myself :)

  16. July 18, 2011 10:45 am

    I never knew at all about Albright and her brooches. Weird/cool.

    Also, isn’t And Then There Were None sooooo much creepier than your average Agatha Christie? I got the audiobook to listen to last fall when my boyfriend and I went to Yellowstone. The park isn’t exactly a creepy place, but driving around all alone listening to this really atmospheric and psychological mystery about an isolated location was!

  17. July 18, 2011 12:54 pm

    I hate reading slumps but I ♥ this list. I’ve only read Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and it was great. So I’ll have to check out this one you recommend. I haven’t read that particular title by Walker yet but she’s one of my favorite authors. All of her writing isn’t new age philosophy. I’m adding that Nawal El Saadawi title as well. I really enjoyed her most known work: Woman At Point Zero.

  18. July 18, 2011 1:49 pm

    When you read as much as you do I am guessing that occasional slumps are inevitable. Glad you got over your last one so quickly. I love the one sentence blurbs.

  19. July 18, 2011 2:02 pm

    I feel like I’ve already experienced 2 or 3 reading slumps this year already… or maybe it just seems that way because I’ve been so busy that it’s been hard keep my blog up to date! Either way, I’ve long learned that when I don’t feel like reading, there’s no point forcing myself to do so. I generally just leave my books alone for a few days and that’s generally enough time apart for me to start staring at them longingly again! I admit to feeling the same way that you do during a slump, though; even when I haven’t been enjoying what I’ve been reading, there still tends to be part of me that wants to read and feels really out of sorts until my passion for books is restored!

  20. July 18, 2011 6:37 pm

    Glad you pulled through – the books look good.

  21. July 19, 2011 12:28 pm

    Phew, what a list! Like you any kind of reading slump terrifies me. It’s almost like I don’t know what to do or how to live without books as that constant. I’m there now and just can’t focus on any book. Eecks hoping it ends soon :)

    As to your list of books, so glad you enjoyed even if not loved Saadawi. I might have to pick that one up to give it a try at some point. Also, The Honor Code has been on my wish list for quite some time, glad to see it was good!

  22. July 19, 2011 4:11 pm

    I love your one sentence recommendations as much as your longer posts! Hopefully you’ll get your reading mojo back but don’t stress out over it, it’ll pass. I tend to go for something light or funny to read or watch lots of DVDs until I feel like picking up a big book. Sometimes it takes a while but I use that time to catch up on watching tv;P

  23. July 19, 2011 4:28 pm

    I’m interested on White Teeth and Lust and Caution which I want to read the book and watch the movie. It’s only understandable that slump happens in Summer, I’d rather be out there than indoors!

  24. bookgazing permalink
    July 21, 2011 4:27 am

    Blargh to slumps, I hate them so. It’s awful when it not longer seems natural to just go on to the next book (although I watch a lt of films and tv during those times, so it’s not so bad for me). Putting both ‘Lust, Caution’ and the earthworm book on my list.

  25. July 21, 2011 2:29 pm

    I’m in a BLOGGING slump, I’ve read tons of good books lately but just can’t get to writing about them. I love your blurb posts, though, maybe that’s the way to go.

    I’m most interested in READING THE MIDDLE AGES from this list. I’m curious about Alice Walker since reading THE COLOR PURPLE, but from your comments and those of the others above, maybe not…


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