The Art of a Reading Slump

Anyone who enjoys reading enough to consider it a kind of almost-necessity to their daily life knows what it means to be in a reading slump. (And if you don’t, email me because I seriously need to know what it means to be a continually productive person.) It begins the very moment you’re done with a novel. You close it, put it on the shelf. You think for a moment about how good or bad it was, how it either moved you or didn’t. You think about the ending and how it’s different from the beginning. Then you do something else, and you stop thinking about it for awhile.

Forgetting is the second step of a reading slump. You’re busy, so you forget to pick up another book. You have finals, so you forget there’s a world outside highlighters bleeding through textbook pages or never ending powerpoint slides. You forget that libraries aren’t just a place for studying.

The third step blends in with the second so easily that you can’t always tell the difference. It’s the act of noticing that reading is not as pertinent to your situation as something else is. I have an essay due tomorrow, so I shouldn’t start a new book tonight. And that’s true, speaking as someone who has started a new book soon before a due date. But eventually, the situation shifts without you realizing it. Suddenly, there’s a new episode of Survivor on tonight, so you don’t read. Or YouTube exists, so you don’t read.

This is the fourth step: active procrastination. Usually, this accompanies some internal issue you aren’t addressing. Because reading can be fun, can be great. It offers a sense of accomplishment once completed that requires only participation and introspection, yet is infinitely worth it. So, why don’t you? What’s stopping you outside this specific moment? This is the step I get stuck in the most, because at its heart it’s a stasis. A refusal to move forward, for whatever reason. 

Then, something shifts. It can be anything, really. Internal, external, dramatic, subtle. It doesn’t need to be named or pinpointed, because to be honest, you did enough introspection during the fourth step anyway. So after the change, you pick up a book. (It can be a short story or a poem, but to be honest, a book is best. I recommend All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater for this step because it's a good guide to miracles and darkness.) You may not finish the book. You may set it down and start the steps over again, or skip to one in particular. This is step five, the attempt.

Step six is the success. It occurs the exact moment you finish a book, because I didn’t mention something during step one. There’s usually a happiness–unless you’re reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles–that presses the lingering threat of a reading slump back when you finish a book. It’s there in step one and step six, so sometimes they are the same step even if you only realize so later.

But if you don’t repeat, if you don’t forget, then you are out of this cycle for now. I understand that most people’s emotional wellbeing isn’t tied to how much they read, so when you read “you”, don’t assume it has to be addressed to you. Really, not reading is often a result of how I feel, not the cause. But the act of reading itself is often a mixture: I begin a book because I can, and I finish a book because it inspires me enough to see where it goes.

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