What if I told you that being a librarian had ruined me as a reader? Well, it would be a lie. Mostly.
About four times a year, I suffer a bit of a reading crisis. You could call it a reading slump if you’d like, but given that my day job involves connecting people with books, I consider it a full-blown bookish crisis. I feel an obligation to be up on what’s new; plus, shiny new books! If I’m preparing for a community book talk program, I’ll spend weeks and weeks of late-night reading specifically for what that audience might like. It starts to feel like an assignment.
Luckily, this happens only occasionally. Seasonally, in fact. And, luckily, I’ve found a few ways to climb out of the plotless, character-void abyss of a reading slump that comes after required reading. Here are five ways I’ve found to connect with books again, along with my personal book prescriptions.
Choose a different format. I’m not just talking e-book versus print here. I most often read new releases (hardcover, checked out from the library) or soon-to-be-released (which means digital advance copies on an ereader). My favorite format, however, is trade paperback. The size is great for bus commuting and couch reclining, the weight feels good in my hands, and I plain and simple just like this type of book best.
- Rx: Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett (2013). A novelist hits her head right before a reporter interviews her, and whatever she said (she can’t quite recall) has made her a literary darling in great demand for her wisdom on writing and publishing.
- Prescription notes: I had checked this out twice in hardcover, but returned it both times unread. I was attracted to the redesigned cover (a basset hound!) and a blurb from super librarian Nancy Pearl.
Shop differently. I work in a building with close to a million books (Yes, I know! Bliss.) Yet I do most of my browsing online from reviews and Twitter. I’ve lost the “serendipity in the stacks” that lead to some of the best discoveries. Sometimes I just need to get out of my regular book selection space — computer screen and my workplace — and visit a book store or another library.
- Rx: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (2012). A rom com with an unlikely relationship between a quadriplegic and the young woman hired to help him.
- Prescription notes: That description didn’t exactly pull me in, which is why I hadn’t placed it on hold at my own library. It also was one of those books that I didn’t need to read, because it was so widely shared and read. Then one day, three years after it was published, I came across the book — a nice, clean trade paperback version of the book — on display at a different library branch. Sold.
Read short stories or essays by a favorite author. I was going to say “pick up a collection of short stories.” But what I’ve found is that to come out of this particular slump, I need assurance that an author’s style and voice will keep me going. I stick with authors I know I enjoy, but look for their shorter work.
- Rx: We Live in Water: Stories by Jess Walter (2013) and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace (1998).
- Prescription notes: Walter’s slim collection of short stories offers the same wry observations I found in my favorite of his novels, The Financial Lives of the Poets. As for Wallace’s nonfiction, I fall in love anew each time I read one of his essays.
Base your next book on its appeal characteristic. Do you read for character, story, setting, or pure love of the language of writing? Sure, it’s possible you read for all four, or for different ones depending on your mood. But what’s the common appeal among your favorite books? For me, it’s character.
- Rx: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015). I’m still reading this one, immersed in the lives of four friends who first met at college. I don’t ever want to come out of this book.
- Prescription notes: This character-rich novel is such a satisfying reading experience for me, reminiscent of my other favorite character novels: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.
Ask a professional. Talking to a librarian or a bookseller is the truest form of reading therapy. A good one will get you talking about what you like in books, and give you a book match based on clues you’ve given when talking about books you love AND the mood you’re in at the moment. Ask a friend for a book recommendation and you’ll often get one of her personal favorites; ask a librarian or a bookseller and you’ll get a suggestion tailored just for you.
- Rx: Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia (2014).
- Prescription notes: A librarian friend handed this to me, knowing I’d first be intrigued by the cover art and then enticed by the set up. If Glee and Heathers had a baby — and added a mystery — it would be this book. I read it in two sittings, and was back on my way to being the reader I am.
My quarterly slump is behind me now, and I’m off for a great reading season. Here’s hoping you are, too.