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You may recognize the telltale signs. When a dreaded reading slump sets in, a wandering mind plagues me. Words blur on the page and jumble as they stream into my ears. I begin book after book and not in my happy juggling way. The desperate slog of cramming words into my brain that seems as if it simply cannot ingest another syllable discourages me to bookish tears.
If you’re wondering why reading slumps occur, Steph Auteri writes in depth about them in a fascinating essay, Is Reader’s Block a Real Thing? Even if our slumping symptoms and reasons differ, being a bibliophile who’s unable to submerge yourself in a story when you want to hurts. Should you find it difficult to bask in a book’s magnificence, test out these six suggestions in the hopes of resetting your reading luck.
Follow Along While an Audiobook Plays
In Does Tracking Reading Make It Less Enjoyable?, I reflected on the delight of listening to Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, translated by Gregory Rabassa, while reading along in my beloved paperback copy. I wondered over how busy ears and hands centered me and altered my reading life in unexpected ways, “I ignore texts, emails, and social media. Rarely distracted, the focus of it resembles a date with myself: such sweet attention and self-care. I think I’ve discovered a new preferred way of reading.”
If your thinker meanders too much while reading, slide in earbuds and grab a matching audiobook, and copy for your fingers in an effort to completely immerse yourself in your title of choice. Honestly, the more I read this way, the more I yearn to repeat it.
Read Poems Aloud
As summer days dwindled, I spent time with the season’s poetry releases. With a skull already teeming with poems from The Sealey Challenge’s quickened pace, I dabbled in a piece or two. With the intention of finishing three titles before Autumn Equinox, I needed to read farther and faster. To encourage concentration, I began reading poems aloud.
To an audience of pink ranunculus on the coffee table, I recited snippets and stanzas from Master, Simon Shieh’s breathtaking first collection exploring the body, dreams, obedience, and trauma, like “the little we know of memory / the little it knows of us” from “Mythomania” and, from “Clearing the Hills,” “As morning comes, I consider the origins / of sunlight. How far it must have come / to get here. How far it would have to go / to escape.” While reading Ariana Benson’s stunning debut collection, Black Pastoral, I marveled over the music of lines and entire pieces, including “Antipastoral: This Green and Pleasant Land,” “Crown Shyness,” and “Aubade After Earth.” I felt moved to speak the words from this meditation on love, history, memory, and trees, which won the 2022 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and hear them mingle with air. How the s sounds in Sam Sax’s “Lisp” from Pig, a captivating collection about, of course, pigs and desire, friendship, and violence, flooded my apartment. Within two nights, I finished all three collections.
Why poetry? Whenever I face a reading slump’s abyss, I, contemplating length, reach for poems. For me, poetry feels restorative, a touchstone. It urges me to, beat by beat, revel in sound, and what a joy that is. Poetry not your thing? Attempt this with other short forms: flash fiction, micro essays, vignettes, and more.
Plan a Reading Date
A big believer in the power of accountability groups, I suggest scheduling a reading date with one or more of your book-adoring dearests. Having someone present to witness your reading progress in companionable silence might better commit you to the task. A bonus: After the reading date, you have someone there to discuss your book, and theirs, with! If scheduling time with another person is difficult, you could, via email or text, share your reading goals for the week, month, or stretch, then report back following your planned deadline.
Venture Outside Your Go-Tos
If you’re struggling to read in your favored areas, maybe you need something new. Here, go-tos can refer to book formats, genres, settings, themes, and on and on. Because I tend to pick up character-driven novels, selecting a plot-driven romance, mystery, or horror story relaxes particular reading muscles and lets the story scoop me up. Because I frequently turn to fiction and poetry, choosing a nonfiction title seems like a treat that I sometimes savor and sometimes slurp.
So, if you usually read books where the landscapes and surroundings resemble yours, selecting international literature unfolding in an unfamiliar locale might mend your reading slump. If you power on your e-reader for every reading session, is it possible that your hands miss the weight of a book and your nose the smell of pages? If you gobble doorstoppers, perhaps a novella that you can slide into a cardigan pocket could speed up your reading. How can you be certain unless you leap toward something different?
Return to a Favorite
If you’re a rereader, you understand that a tried-and-true title can sate a restless palate. You know what to expect. You adore the characters, or they at least interest you, and you like passing hours with them. If you’re flirting with the idea of rereading, you grasp the book, the one that sporadically whispers to you, the one that pumped you so full of awe you imagined your head floating away like a balloon into the clouds. Go forth and locate that beauty on your shelf or scribble it down to rediscover at your library or independent bookshop. If you detest rereading because there’s simply not enough time to reread when so many unread books exist in the world, skip this option.
Gaze at Pages with Pictures
On my birthday eve, I wandered around an art museum. Unabashedly lingering in front of paintings, I let my thoughts drift and gulped what my eye was drawn to: pastels and brushstrokes and perspective and movement and backgrounds. A true rest for me; that dreamy afternoon filled me with gratitude.
When blocks of text intimidate me, I often indulge in books featuring art. A children’s book, a graphic novel, or a graphic memoir or four usually heals my reading soul. It has proved so effective that I strive to keep an unread graphic novel in my TBR pile. In fact, I recently — for a wishful reading-slump antidote — bought The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner.
Just last Sunday, I sat next to a stack of four in-progress reads, flustered about where to start. Instead, I revisited Kobi Yamada’s Maybe, gorgeously illustrated by Gabriella Barouch, which I read to my darling and our pup. From cover to cover, it took three minutes and a palmful of seconds, and it made me feel accomplished, ready to seek another book. Spurred on by its inspirational sentences: “Try as many things as you can try. See as much as you can see.”
By trying one or a sampling of these recommendations, may reading slumps remain in your past. If essays about reading slumps and Rioters’ possible solutions comfort you, check out How Books About Books Get Me Out of Reading Slumps, Why Comics Are the Ultimate Reading Slump-Buster & Restart, and Why I’m Beginning to Embrace Reading Slumps.