Finding the joy in a reading slump

It’s a common infuriation, but is there any way to find positives from being stuck in a reading slump?


There’s a common thing readers have to endure, something that happens so often that there’s nothing much to do but shrug your shoulders and casually acknowledge: I’m in a bit of a reading slump.

Maybe you’re struggling to find the motivation to read for a few days, or maybe you’re not enjoying the book you’re currently reading. You accept that you’re in a slump and you move on.

But what happens when your slump stretches from a few days to a week? From a week to a month?

Back in 2019, I was incredibly excited for two specific books; Samantha Shannon’s long-awaited fantasy epic, The Priory of the Orange Tree, and the newest installment in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series, Dark Age. The problem was, after both books came out, I barely made a dent in either of them. I spent years waiting for Priory, and despite being gripped by the first few chapters and being eager to learn where the story was going, I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading it. Similarly, with Dark Age, I spent years reading about the epic life of Darrow of Lykos, but within the first 50 pages of his latest adventure, I found myself completely unmotivated to read on.

In both cases, I knew it wasn’t because I didn’t like the books, but that they were two unfortunate examples of a bigger issue: I wasn’t enjoying anything I was reading.

By the end of 2019, I had read 19 books, which to some is a feat that would be met with thoughts of, “Woah, 19? I can barely even read one!” And it’s true, I know that 19 is an above-average number of books to read in a year. But being in the book world — and specifically the YA book world — where you’re surrounded by reading challenges and book-a-thons, 19 can feel like a sorry attempt — well, in my brain, me only reading 19 can feel like that.

Because of that, in 2019 I tried to do what I’ve always done in the past. I tried to push through and read even more despite not enjoying the experience. Trying to push through a slump, and through such reader burnout, I found myself in a corner. The more I tried to force myself to read, the less I was enjoying it.

But that year I discovered something new about my reading habits: I can read differently.

Having spent years reading YA, and writing for a YA-focused website, I thought it my duty to exclusively read YA. But taking the time to read out of the confinement of YA, books such as Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter and An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard, I realized that there’s motivation to be found in reading what I find myself drifting towards rather than what I think I have to read. This year, I devoured and loved books like A.L. Kennedy’s The Little Snake and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & the Six — two books I had no intention of reading until I picked them up, spur of the moment while wandering around Waterstones.

The weight of expectation for books like Priory and Dark Age seemed to hold me back from enjoying them, while the wonder and excitement of books I had no prior investment in opened a door in me.

And while I still find myself struggling through the year-long slump, I’ve come to understand something else: there’s joy to be found in taking a step back, in not reading every day.

Some time ago, we at Bookstacked discussed the concept of book burnout on our podcast, Bookmarked. In that, I talked about my experience reading Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy a few years ago. I was in the early stages of discovering YA literature and thought that the more of it I could say I’d read, the more welcomed I’d be in the community. For the sake of adding a few extra numbers to my Goodreads challenge (which is another discussion when it comes to reading slumps and book burnout entirely), I decided to read that trilogy as fast as I possibly could, getting through all three books in three days.

The thing is, to this day I couldn’t tell you anything about them. Because I was so eager to add another book to my Goodreads challenge, I barely absorbed anything from those books. But maybe if I’d taken my time I’d feel differently about those books. If I’d allowed myself the chance to read them, I wouldn’t feel such indifference.

2019 was a strange year of reading for me, but I’m glad that I managed to look at things from a wider perspective for a change, taking a minute to think about what I really wanted to do to get through the reading slump that I thought would never end.

It’s taken a while, but I’ve realized that it’s alright to be in a reading slump. Though it might suck at the time, sometimes it’s okay to allow yourself the slump. It’s okay to allow yourself the break, the opportunity to explore a world outside the comforts of what you know you enjoy. The books you love will always be there waiting for you when you’re ready, but who knows what new loves you might find along the way?

Michael is a graduate of the University of Stirling with a degree in English Studies. When he's not juggling reading four books at once, you'll probably find him exploring medieval castles around Scotland.

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