Every other month, I think, “I am in a reading slump.” That’s how I describe myself. I love to read, but I am in a reading slump. For the first time ever, I’ve been thinking about that phrase a little more deeply. This term compares so well to Writer’s Block.
I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. I haven’t since I was in my teens. I believe in the human thing: exhaustion, overwork, fatigue. Sometimes life does get in the way of being able to write. Sometimes, we are overwhelmed by mental or physical health challenges, emotional upheavals, or more abstract things like anxiety over climate change. That one happens to me often. Sometimes, you’ve just been writing a lot lately, and you need some time off. That’s believable. That’s not writer’s block. That’s called living.
So why do I think of Reading Slump like it’s some kind of diagnosis? If Writer’s Block is meaningless to me, then why do I put so much stock by the words ‘Reading Slump’?
Speaking for myself…I think it’s a cop-out. A way to deflect blame. Let’s unpack this.
Are We Really Reading Less?
Worldwide, reading rates are falling. This was bound to happen, simply because of the rise of social media being, basically, the dominant form of recreation. The per cent of adult Americans reading any book has declined by -7%, according to a 2002 survey of literary reading in America. A Gallup poll from 2021 went on to say that the number of books Americans read per year was down to 12.6 from 15.6 in 2016. I can’t really find statistics like this for India, which is a pity! But I’d assume they’re in a similar vein, for the simple fact that our lives are now far too full of distraction, and I believe a constant stream of social media use has destroyed our ability to focus deeply.
I know that personally, I went from being able to inhale 800-page books in 3 days to struggling to finish slim paperbacks. I don’t know when or how this happened, but every book I read for the last several years has felt like an event. I’ve started so many that I’ve left halfway. I’ve bought so many that I don’t even open. This is doubly bad because as a writer, it is my duty to read. Engaging with stories is how I learn, and if I’m not reading widely, I am bound to stagnate in my craft.
But things have changed for me this year, almost without me realising it. For reasons, I decided to knock some must-reads off my list: Pride and Prejudice and The Handmaid’s Tale among them. And goodness, was that difficult at first. With Jane Austen, I found the dated language intimidating. But as I persevered, I got drawn into it, and before I knew it, sped through the novel, my heart leaping every time Mr. Darcy spoke to Elizabeth. The Handmaid’s Tale was depressing. I didn’t enjoy it, and I swore I will never re-read it, but I finished it anyway, and there’s a part of me that is curious about the sequel.
And while I read these, immersed, I interspersed them with more relaxing books that would keep me motivated: Over The Top, the memoir by Jonathan Van Ness, among those. (It’s not actually a ‘relaxing’ book–he has had a really difficult life–but it is far more optimistic than The Handmaid’s Tale.) I’m now reading City of Strife: An Isandor Novel, by Claudie Arseneault. After that, maybe I’ll read a classic.
The point is, I feel capable of reading again, in a way that I haven’t been for a while. I wonder how that happened.
It’s All mental
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think I’ve realised that my problem is: I have a mental block. I think I’ve had it for years. It’s too easy to just say I’m ‘in a reading slump’ and therefore not even try to finish a book. For me, the attitude of perseverance often work. I can be kind of willful, which may or may not be a good thing!
But I am determined to read like I used to, again. At least, I am determined to make reading a regular part of my day. I used to be the sort of girl who would read by torchlight after dark. I want to be that girl again (although, this time, I have my Kindle and therefore do not need a torch). Just like I don’t believe in writer’s block, the same way, I am hanging up my belief in a reading slump too.
I look forward to my next book!