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The Dreaded Reading Slump (and a brief January retrospective)

February 12, 2015

Today, I updated my books read page with my February list. Although we’re almost halfway through the month, it went quite quickly: I’ve only finished four books, and that includes my bedtime audiobook (as opposed to my regular audiobook, I only listen to this one to help me fall asleep and it has to fit strict ‘no nightmare inducing’ criteria; lately Georgette Heyer has been fitting the bill but now I’ve discovered some Trollope audiobooks and plan to reread the Barsetshire Chronicles). Considering I usually read twenty to thirty books a month, I think it’s official: I’ve been in a reading slump.

On Monday, I was feeling a bit despondent, for no apparent reason. And then I realised I’d barely been opening books at all, and that I couldn’t point to much else I’ve been doing instead, other than trip planning and some knitting. But certainly nothing solid enough to account for only reading four books over almost two weeks! No wonder I felt a bit lost and disconnected.

I have no idea what causes reading slumps: they can certainly be related to my health, as during flare-ups my brain finds it more difficult to read and I can’t always physically hold a book. But I tend to realise this nowadays and opt for lighter or more engaging books during those times, and my ereader fixes the second problem. This time, I just seemed to feel antsy whenever I sat down to read, and found myself reaching for my phone and some internet browsing instead, in between the little daily tasks of living, and then suddenly my day had disappeared.

So I did the only logical thing on Monday night: I went to my bookcase and picked up Dorothy Dunnett’s Niccolo Rising. I only fit in fifty pages before bed, but I woke up on Tuesday wanting nothing more than to get back to the book. I finished it yesterday (leading to a later than usual evening walk for Thistle), and I believe it’s broken my slump and helped turn around my mood. I can’t get back the potential of the lost days of early February, but I hope to read as much as possible during the rest of the month! This experience has reminded me to check in with myself; hopefully in the future I’ll notice more quickly when a reading slump has begun, so that I can reach for a trusted author to break me out of it. After all, what’s a reader without books? In my case, a dissatisfied, restless, touchy sort of creature who focuses on improving everything in sight, thus overlooking the quiet richness of her life. Thank goodness the remedy is so simple.

Do reading slumps affect your moods, or vice versa? I genuinely seem to become a sadder person if I go without at least an hour or two of reading a day.

To end on a more cheerful note, do all of you WordPress bloggers know about the ‘gallery’ feature? I’m using it on my books read page this year, and it’s so fun (and easy) to see a collage of covers representing each month! Here’s a pictorial representation of January:

 

It was an interesting month for me, with a mix of new authors and old favourites, but definitely heavily weighted towards fiction. I realise I didn’t blog about many of these books, so this is your chance to ask me questions about any that might catch your eye!

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34 Comments leave one →
  1. February 12, 2015 2:31 pm

    I love this gallery function! So fun to look at book covers and an easy way to see a reading “list.” It is about time for me to read some more Erdrich. Though I have continued to purchase her books, I haven’t gotten around to reading them and I sure do miss her!

    • February 12, 2015 4:35 pm

      Isn’t it cool? My apologies for not responding right away to your other comment, btw; it got caught in the spam filter.

      Erdrich has continued to grow on me, and now I love her. I think I’ve read 5 of her books now; her little travelogue Books & Islands in Ojibwe Country is just wonderful. It’s what convinced me to pick up another novel after not caring for Painted Drum (my first experience with her). My favourite novel so far is The Master Butcher’s Singing Club, but Plague of Doves was really excellent & came close to challenging it. She reminds me of Alice Hoffman: the way she has a storyteller narrative voice and a strong sense of history/place/relationships between people and the magical realist moments woven in. It’s a style I love. :)

  2. February 12, 2015 5:15 pm

    Oh the reading slump. It’s my mood that causes it. If I’m feeling down, then I’ll find myself in a reading slump. I’ll carry a book around with me for comfort but I’ll find it hard to read. I re-read favorite books to escape it.

  3. February 12, 2015 7:39 pm

    I listened to The Cat’s Table on audio and really enjoyed it. I also like Laurie King’s Mary Russell books. You have a lot of authors there that I would like to try, also. I don’t know if I know what you mean about the gallery function. Do you mean creating a gallery from the images you’ve uploaded to the blog? I do know how to do that, but I never thought of doing a monthly round-up of all that I’ve read that way. It looks really nice!

    • February 17, 2015 6:18 pm

      Yep, that’s what I meant about the gallery. I don’t know why it took me so long to notice it. hehe

      I love the Mary Russell series; this is my 3rd time working my way through it (I discovered them when I was 18, which is now a decade ago! crazy!).

  4. February 13, 2015 6:11 am

    Nothing like DD to get you out of a slump – it worked with me several times. I have the last of the Niccolo series in the TBR, along with the stand-along King Hereafter and then that’s it, no first-time-reading of a DD historical novel ever. Probably the reason why I’m been waiting so long to pick ti up…

    • February 17, 2015 6:20 pm

      Ha! I reread the Lymond series before trying the Niccolo ones, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read her writing with Philippa and of course Lymond. ;) I should have trusted her!

      I used to space series or just the backlist of a beloved author out for years, so that it would last as long as possible. But in the last couple of years, I’ve started treating myself to getting through them at a much brisker pace, because if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, I’m happier knowing I’ve spent most of my time with my very favourite authors. I hope that doesn’t sound too weird!

      (And there’s always rereading once I’ve read everything the first time. I love getting to experience a book more than once!)

  5. February 13, 2015 8:16 am

    My mood definitely influences my reading. The more stressed out I get… The less I read… Which is funny because when I am stressed is the time you would think I would want to escape with a book.

    • February 17, 2015 6:21 pm

      Sometimes when I’m stressed I can’t read either Kelly. It is ironic, isn’t it?

  6. Kathy permalink
    February 13, 2015 9:02 am

    I remember when Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris (Erdrich’s husband) used to be required reading in high schools. Would you describe Aunty Lee’s Delights as an enjoyable read? I love books that include other culture’s cuisine.

    • February 17, 2015 6:23 pm

      It’s a mystery book (the first in a projected series), but there’s a huge emphasis on food, with descriptions that frequently made my mouth water, so I definitely think you’d enjoy it. It’s a funny mix of fairly light tone with more serious social commentary; it does read as a debut novel but a very good debut. I’ll be reading more of Yu in the future, for sure, and the author interview included afterwards was just delightful.

  7. February 13, 2015 9:32 am

    Reading slumps are so frustrating aren’t they? I get the whole restless, sad thing too and nothing seems appealing. I recently noticed it generally happens for me around this time of year so I’m beginning to suspect it has much to do with the weather outside and the long Minnesota winters finally getting to me. February is a month to endure and then it will all be okay. Glad your slump is over!

    • February 17, 2015 6:24 pm

      I had the opposite problem in Texas: by August and early September, I was ready to weep when it kept hitting 100 every day! It’s good to find those patterns, since then you can remind yourself it’ll end eventually. :)

  8. February 13, 2015 12:01 pm

    21 books in 1 month! Impressive! (I find reading slumps don’t affect my moods so much as they push me to get interested in something else for a while. For example, when I don’t feel like reading, I’ll start to draw more, or knit or do Sudoku, or go to the gym more often. Generally everything comes in waves.)

    • February 17, 2015 6:25 pm

      Oh yes! I don’t consider those slumps per se (although of course they are), but I *definitely* have weeks or months where I’m focused more on knitting or photography or, say, travel research (lol) than reading. I guess I don’t consider that slump because it’s positive, not negative? Also, I still read a bit during the good times, just not much, whereas during the bad slumps, I don’t crack open a book at all.

  9. February 13, 2015 5:10 pm

    I find I have “bad” reading slumps where I keep looking for a book but everything seems blah and unappealing and “good” slumps where I just don’t feel like reading right now but for sure I should check out this or that later when I’m in the mood.

    • February 17, 2015 6:26 pm

      That’s an excellent point; I experience both too. I don’t mind the good ones, but the bad ones are just awful!

  10. Steve permalink
    February 14, 2015 7:22 am

    Hi Eva
    I’m glad you’ve gotten over your reading slump. Are you on Twitter? If so, I’d love to follow you 😊

    • February 17, 2015 6:27 pm

      No I’m not active on Twitter anymore.

  11. February 14, 2015 7:56 am

    This year so far has been slump-ish for me. I read nine books in January and only TWO so far in February! Part of that is due to picking up and putting down books I haven’t been enjoying (as opposed to forcing myself to finishing them) and part of that is due to just not prioritizing reading over silly things like TV. I have a trip planned later this month and I’m working a lot of hours next week, so I honestly am not sure if I’ll get out of this slump anytime soon. But I do like your idea of picking up a favorite author – maybe I’ll try that this weekend. :)

    I am interested in your thoughts on the Erdrich novel because I read one of hers a few years back and wasn’t a big fan. But that could just be me – most people seem to love her novels.

    • February 17, 2015 6:30 pm

      Trip planning manages to eat hours each day, doesn’t it?! Crazy.

      Which Erdrich novel did you read? I started with The Painted Drum & didn’t like it; it took me years and reading a nonfiction book by her to give her novels another go. But now I love her fiction too. :) This one was really good, but I’d suggest The Master Butcher’s Singing Club first. Or the travelogue Books & Maps in Ojibwe Country.

  12. February 14, 2015 6:41 pm

    I know what you’re going through! I go through reading slumps especially when stress with and life in general happens. Having anxiety and depression makes it very difficult to focus on what I am reading. So yes, my moods are affected by slumps (and vice versa).

    My go to books in this case are mysteries and quick reads (that need just the right amount of concentration). Yes, YA will do just fine because they usually have a happy ending (the ones I have read so far). Good God, my teenage self would cringe but I pair a classic with a lighter book most of the time.

    Would you recommend “Claire of the Sea Light”?

    • February 17, 2015 6:35 pm

      Jo, I experienced depression in 2008, and I couldn’t read a thing, so I completely understand. My flare ups are a bit like that; my seratonin levels get really depressed, so I can only read comfort books that don’t require a lot of concentration. Traditional mysteries are one of my go-to reads too! Have you read YS Lee’s YA mystery series? If not, you might like it. :) And I agree that happy endings are pretty crucial to reading during bad times!

      I would recommend Claire of the Sea Light; it’s a strange, elliptical kind of story that sort of spirals around itself, as if Danticat decided to make a fractal out of a novel. And it doesn’t have a very precise beginning or ending. But I loved how real the characters felt: they come upon all kinds of challenges and face the kinds of decisions we all face in life, and they all try to figure out their own solutions. It’s a very human book, and the extra dimension of seeing such universal issues play out in a Haitian setting, and thus peeking into lives both very similar to and different from my own, was the icing on the cake.

      • February 19, 2015 3:36 pm

        Thank you for the suggestions! I added them on my TBR list. I just finished the Goldfinch and I am in a huge literary hangover so maybe Claire of the Sea Light will pull me right out of it.

  13. February 15, 2015 1:55 pm

    I definitely feel off when I’m in the middle of a reading slump. It doesn’t happen to me often, fortunately, but if I’m not in the middle of a book that is at least engaging my mind, even if I don’t love it, the world just doesn’t feel right. I think I need to read Dorothy Dunnett at some point. So many people I know turn to her for comfort reading, so I should give her a try.

    • February 17, 2015 6:39 pm

      Having now read the Lymond chronicles (twice!) and the first of the Niccolo books, I’d say that Niccolo Rising is far more accessible/reader friendly than The Game of Kings (first of the Lymond books). For instance, it’s all in English. And there aren’t obscure quotations every page. And you know most of what’s going on, most of the time. So if I were recommending Dunnett to someone I didn’t know well, I’d probably suggest beginning with Niccolo. But the author herself recommends the Lymond chronicles first, and I’m sure you’re the kind of reader who will manage Game of Kings just fine. :)

      To be honest, it wasn’t until the 5th or 6th of the Lymond books that I was completely won over. But now she’s definitely a comfort author for me (although she doesn’t treat her characters terribly well, so the rereading was more comfortable since I already knew what would happen and could brace myself for the bad/anticipate the good)!

      • February 17, 2015 6:43 pm

        Interesting! Thanks for the suggestions!

      • February 17, 2015 8:29 pm

        You’re welcome! By ‘won over’ in my previous comment, I meant ‘total Lymond fangirl,’ lol. Because I loved Dunnett’s writing style & how evocatively she creates settings from the very beginning!

  14. February 15, 2015 2:36 pm

    Good to hear you managed the slump so well and are back to being a happy reader. I usually have go-to books for book slumps, quite often mysteries. But these days it’s usually because of thesis and work stress and feeling too restless and guilty to focus on fun reading. I’m trying to do better, hopefully setting aside half an hour for bed etc and routine will help. Also, how fun the gallery feature looks!

    • February 17, 2015 6:42 pm

      I love mysteries! Those and fantasy books are definitely go-to slump breakers for me. :)

      My usual bedtime routine includes getting into bed an hour before lights out time & just reading. I saw somewhere that the light from screens can confuse our circadian rhythms, which gave me a good excuse to prioritise books (and my ereader, since it’s the kind that doesn’t light up itself)! Of course, during a slump I end up internet browsing instead, and I definitely don’t sleep as well, but of course that doesn’t mean the internet browsing is the cause.

      Anyway, I hope you can find some time to get in fun reading! And don’t feel guilty about it: I think making time for books as a reader is as important to our health as brushing our teeth!

  15. lisaalmedasumner permalink
    February 15, 2015 7:47 pm

    I hate reading slumps. They happen to me very rarely, usually during times of emotional distress. Then it will just be impossible for me to focus on the words I’m reading. I do think Trollope is a good cure for any kind of slump.

    • February 17, 2015 6:43 pm

      I must admit that while I loved the Baretshire series, I had far more issues with the Palliser novels. I still enjoyed them, but I had so many more caveats, that I’m relieved to be back in Barsetshire now. :)

  16. Renata permalink
    February 19, 2015 1:14 pm

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/opinion/oliver-sacks-on-learning-he-has-terminal-cancer.html?_r=0
    Eva I read this and remembered how much you enjoy Oliver Sacks. Just wanted to share this very sad news with you =(

  17. March 12, 2015 12:27 pm

    Hello! I definitely feel as though I’m missing something if I don’t read at least a few pages a day. It sets things right, reading. I love the gallery feature and am going to try it out. I’ve heard so much about Cat Valente’s book and the Night Counter also looks v interesting:)

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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