I have found myself in one of the most frustrating places to be as a reader and a writer. And I am sure we have all experienced such a place at one point or another. I am, of course, referring to that paradoxical reality known as a reading slump.
The primary symptom of this ailment—at least in my case—is something that could be characterized as an overdose of pessimism. When so many new books seem to exist only to push an agenda, it’s easy to feel like nothing new is worth reading. But of course this is not true as there are plenty of books ready to entertain and enlighten us.
A secondary symptom of a reading slump is the inability to carry out a sort of cost-benefit analysis that determines which books are worth starting and then which books are worth continuing after starting them. I am sure we have all been in a position where we start a book that seems promising only for it to take a disappointing downswing further on.
Because of this, it’s natural to put immense pressure on books we start reading. The bottom line is that books take a lot of time to consume. They are different from movies or music, which can be consumed in a relatively short amount of time. Literature is not a passive art form; it asks the consumer to be actively engaged, thus reading can be a very taxing activity. That is not the case with movies, where all we need to do is sit there and take in what is being displayed to us.
One of the most precious currencies available to us is time, and none of us want to commit this currency to something that is not going to give us something worthwhile in return. And because books take time, a much higher standard exists when choosing a book to dedicate our time to: Realizing that we have been robbed of our time by reading a text that ultimately disappoints us halfway through or even at the end is painful.
However, when we look at the canon of great books and authors available to us—one need only mention, for example, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bible, Greek epics and plays, Dante, Mark Twain, Laura Ingles Wilder, and so many more—we are reminded that books are very much worth our time and energy. Of course, there will be stories that disappoint, but turning to great literature is a near-foolproof way to find books that will stimulate our minds and enrich our souls.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, [and] difficulty.” While Roosevelt wasn’t referring to reading here, his point is applicable: Reading does require more work than, say, watching television, but it can also be much more rewarding.
One of the most important things we can do when we find ourselves in a reading slump is not to guilt ourselves into reading just anything. To do this will only make the reading experience more miserable, which is the precisely opposite effect reading should have on us. Reading a book because we feel like we have to read something only steals the magic of what a story of any stripe can do for us.
I am doing my best to just ride my reading slump out for a little bit longer, believing that I will get over it and will be back to reading in no time. If you happen to be in the throes of a reading slump of your own, try to determine what got you there in the first place, assess your symptoms, and then patiently wait it out. As with most things, this too shall pass.
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