We have all been in that funk, when we stop reading. There is no shame in it. Go ahead, raise your hands how many of us are in a reading funk. I’m currently there now as I read Beloved by Toni Morrison (which is amazing btw). One reason for my pause on reading is because it’s too hot. It’s too hot to read in the living room, too hot to read outside, and too hot to read in the bath. I’ve gone back and forth in my mind, is the heat a good enough reason to stop reading. Well, yes.
Reading is a comfort and can take you away from an uncomfortable place. However, sometimes reading cannot take you out of that place for long. I can get through about 20 to 30 minutes of reading before my body starts to get hot from sitting in a living room with poor ac and ventilation.
Another reason I’m struggling to finish Beloved is because all I can think about is the dumpster fire rolling down a hill that is our current pandemic that has ripped through the seams of what we thought was a civil society. Toni Morrison’s poetic writing style can only distract me for so long.
No Shame in Not Reading
People don’t realize how much energy reading takes from you. Yes, it is a magical journey that lets you escape into someone else’s narrative and story. But you are also running through that journey (figuratively speaking). How many times have you gasped or felt your heart race after a juicy part? How many times have you cried so hard you couldn’t read through your tears after your favorite character dies? Why do you think so many people read before bed? Because it is exhausting! And sometimes, you just don’t have that energy to give.
There are other reasons to stop reading. You haven’t found the right book. Here is an unpopular opinion, terrible books get published (I’m looking at you Twilight). I tried to read At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcon and maybe got a quarter of the way through before I realized I didn’t like it at all. So, I read reviews on GoodReads convincing myself “well if this reviewer loves it so much then maybe I can too”. Until I found a review I would write “I read over half the book and then the end and that was all I could take”. That was all I needed. I was not alone in not liking the book. So, this book has joined a list of other rejected books that I will not return to.
Knowing when to stop is more powerful than tormenting yourself through a book. It makes you a better book lover. Don’t let other people shame you into liking something either through a review or to your face. You are allowed to not like classic or popular books.
It’s Not a Race but a Marathon
There is no shame in pausing your reading journey and there are many reasons to do so, like the weather or a bad experience.
When I was in middle school, we were group into color coded reading levels. I struggled to read and was placed in a lower reading level, let’s call it the yellow reading level. While my friend was a stronger reader and placed at a higher level, let’s call it the green level. Every book in that school library had a colored sticker on the spine to indicate it’s reading level. If you picked books outside your reading level, the librarian would remind you to stay with your level and find a more appropriate book.
The books with yellow stickers were awful! So, my friend and I would walk through the stacks together, grab books with green stickers, and she would check them all out while I pretended I couldn’t find anything. The moment we left the library I finally had my hands on books I wanted to read. One of them was Say Goodnight Gracie by Julie Reece Deaver. That was the first book to make me cry. For my entire primary education, I have been placed in lower reading levels. And that one experience stopped me from enjoying books but also believing that I could enjoy books for years. It wasn’t until I was in college when I took my brother to the public library. We came back with arm loads of books, we were adults and wouldn’t let anyone, not even a librarian, stop us from reading.
Another time I stopped reading was in graduate school. No one tells you this but going to library school does not mean you get to read fun books all day. Instead, you read boring academic books and are assigned to a lot of group projects. The best and preferred way to read an academic book is the “grad school skim”. Essentially, you read the most important pieces of the book; the introduction, a couple of sentences from each paragraph, and the conclusion. It sounds easy but academics like to put nuggets of information in the strangest places. So you have to practice the grad school skim and it takes all of grad school to master it.
Having two methods of reading can really ruin reading for fun. I tried to read “fun” books (anything that wasn’t academic) at night. But I found myself skimming and not retaining any of it. While academic books can be read relatively quickly, “fun” books should be read at your own pace. I like to read “fun” books slowly. Sometimes I finish them quickly depending on the writing style but most of the time it takes me a month or two to finish a book. The only books I could read for fun in grad school were Jurassic Park and Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. These books are almost written for the screen so it was easy to read them quickly and more than once (yes, I double dip- no shame).
Make a Few Friends
You may be shocked that a librarian would tell you it’s okay to not read. Well, I’m not like my middle school librarian who tells you what you can and cannot read. Instead I’m the librarian telling you to take as long as you need, a few hours, few days, or a few years. The moment will come to you and the book will too.
Reading is mostly a solitary event. You are always alone with a book. Not having someone to talk to about a book can be another reason to not read. However, it doesn’t have to be. While your library may be closed (as it should be) during the pandemic, many of their programs have moved online, including book clubs, story time, and crafts.
Try out a virtual book club or two. Not all book clubs are great based on the reading list or the people in the club, but I suggest trying it out. I’ve joined my library’s and while we read a romance novel that I normally wouldn’t bother looking at the cover let alone read, it was fun to roast the characters and talk about how we would handle the situation. And all virtual book clubs are BYOB!
You can also find a librarian or book lover on social media. GoodReads is a great place to start for book reviews, connecting with friends, and tracking your reading (if you are into that). Search for authors or books on Twitter. You’d be surprised how many readers pop up under #stephenking or #librariansoninstagram on the holy trinity of social media; Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Follow them for recommendations, inspiration, and other normal people things like Susan Orlean’s drunk tweets. Share your own reading journey on social media even if the book is awful!
There is so much more to reading than the act of reading. Reading connects you to deeper parts of yourself, to your friends and family, and to society. Reading can also drain you of emotions and energy. Reading can be a chore and books can be terrible. Reading is a journey with twists and turns, stops and road blocks, and amazing views. Enjoy the journey and don’t let anyone shame you along the way.