Unslumping – a readers guide.

Browsing my bookshelves but finding nothing that really interested me.
So many books, so little time

I had a wonderful month of reading in January, so much so that I went ahead and bought myself a whole load of books I wanted to read in February, completely ignoring my towering to-be-read (tbr) list I had promised to tackle before buying any more books. And then, as is often the way, I was struck by every reader’s greatest nemesis… The Reading Slump!

After reading 8 books in January, I only managed 3 in February, 2 of which were audiobooks, and none of them where the books I had so enthusiastically bought, in fact one was a nonfiction I had bought the previous year and the other two I borrowed from my local library. So, my slump wasn’t due to me not having the right reading material or not enjoying the books I had read because fortunately I have really enjoyed every book I’ve picked up this year. This got me thinking about reading slumps, what are they and why do they occur.

What is a reading Slump?

Every reader will experience a reading slump at some time or another. It’s an unspecified period of time when you just can’t connect to your passion for reading. Some people carry on reading through a slump, maybe less so than usual, but it’s a feeling of disconnect from the book and a general apathy for reading. From conversations I’ve had over the past month with my fellow readers, its not usually anything to do with your reading material, it’s possibly an external factor or a feeling within yourself. If you’ve experienced a slump I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think caused yours?

Why do bad slumps happen to good people (readers)?

I can only speak from my own experience and using the qualitative data I have picked up on my incessant scrolling of social media – so take it for what it is! Looking back at my own slump, I think it started with over exposer to reading and books due to spending a ridiculous amount of time on Book Twitter and Bookstagram. Each session resulted in me adding something to my reading basket and on a subconscious level I’m certain that it added a layer of pressure for me to be reading certain types of books rather than what I wanted to read. I felt over exposed to and overwhelmed by all the choices.

Another factor that contributed to my slump was losing track of time. In the UK we went into our third lockdown at the end of December. I’m sure at this juncture losing all sense of time and purpose is a universal experience, just going through the rigmarole of life, with no social interactions and limited time outdoors, our lives basically became Groundhog Day. Initially it was fine, finding our rhythm, settling our children, planning our days, but I think by the end of January I had had enough. I don’t work so my days have very little structure and anything I do commit to is essentially down to my own whims. I read solely for pleasure and I blog because I like talking about books and reading. During my February slump I even stopped blogging. Although arguably I had all the time in the world, I lacked the motivation. The lack of structure and incentive compiled with my own indifference resulted in my spiralling slump.

Conversationally others have commented on slumps being caused by book boredom. Not being able to find the right reading materials, reading too much (I’m not convinced by this on either!) and feeling intimidating by that ever-growing tbr and thus ignoring it entirely. The pressures of social media: reading the right books, posting the right pictures, writing the right reviews, also popped up frequently as a cause. The pressure to constantly post, whether to satisfy the algorithm or to remain relentlessly relevant and engaged, is an exhausting and unending cycle.

How to Unslump.

The million-dollar question. I think unslumping occurs naturally, so each one is entirely individual. I also believe that slumps are completely normal and possibly even healthy. It’s almost a chemical reaction inside our bodies telling us something isn’t right about the way we are approaching something we usually love to do. As with everything in life, it’s always recommended to take a break, whatever your passion, over exposure or over indulgence will lead to some form of disinterest. All that being said, I think there are a few steps we can take to ensure our transition is smooth and timely.

One of the things I did was listen to audiobooks. I am a regular consumer of audiobooks anyway, but it made me feel connected to reading and books at a time when I wasn’t physically reading any. I also read more magazines and newspapers. Engaging with these different formats gave me an alternative perspective. I found out about books from channels other than social media and read reviews by authors and journalists about upcoming books, and older favourites. I also sought out more reading blogs, I wanted to stay connected to my reading community but also keep my distance.

When I did finally feel like picking up a book I decided to go for a collection of short stories (recommended by a podcast I had listened to) followed by shorter books. As soon as I picked up my first book I knew I was out of my slump as I instantly wanted to read it, unlike the feelings I had during most of February, but I was still tentative in my approach, afraid the slump would creep back into my life.

I also made a point of reducing the amount of time I spend looking at what others are reading, particularly on Instagram, which is one of my main sources of book envy. It’s okay if I don’t get sent an advanced reader copy (arc) or if I don’t have the entire collection of whatever genre or theme publishers are pushing at the moment, my bookshelves will survive! I don’t have to like, comment and share the content of popular bookstagram accounts, hoping that it will have a positive impact on my own account. I love bookstagram, not because I aspire to have lots of followers (because, so what?) but because it’s a community that I feel wholly part of and comfortable with. Of course sometimes I get overly absorbed in it, but I’m getting better at learning my limits. I love engaging with fellow book lovers, but I have to prioritise real life over my virtual one. That means actually reading the books I love and not simply talking about them or taking (subjectively) good pictures of them.

As I said earlier, I think its healthy to take a step back from anything that begins to consume you. Initially I felt bad about not reading as many books as I had intended but as the days turned into weeks I began to accept that I was reading less that month. I also asked myself why I felt guilty for not reading for a few weeks when I had previously gone through years of neglecting my reading habit. Part of the reason was that I felt I had to explain myself and my reduced appetite for books to others, I didn’t.

For many of us our way of life has changed dramatically over the last year, and change is difficult. Sometimes we just need to switch off from everything and remind ourselves about the things we truly love and value and reintroduce them into our lives, slowly. What we don’t need to do is feel guilty or question ourselves and our worth if we suddenly, or even reluctantly, decide to disengage with something. Its perfectly normal, and you will unslump at your own time and pace. Enjoy the process sans guilt or pressure, you might find yourself doing something you enjoy more or learning something about yourself, and when the time is right, you will get back into reading.

Do let me know if you’ve experienced a reading slump and how you managed to get yourself out of it.

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