I want to read, but I can't.

A good ol' reading slump, courtesy of the pandemic.

It’s been another one of those weeks — both long and short and exactly the same as the weeks before it. The pandemic has robbed most of us of any sense of routine because, really, eat-sleep-work-repeat is what everyone's autopilot is running on right now. 

So, I thought I'd change it up (as much as I could) and make this week’s edition a casual read. I want to talk about something that's been plaguing me for a while now — a reading slump.

A huge chunk of my identity comes from being a reader. So, you can imagine my consternation at being in a months-long, seemingly unending reading slump. 

It's not for lack of trying either. Over the last twelve months, I've tried reading nearly fifty books across multiple genres — romance, young adult, middle grade, and even nonfiction! But somewhere between pages 10 and 35, my brain goes, "Nope, not this one." 

All Hail Mighty ‘Rona

It’s not just me — many of my friends, people I know on Twitter, and just about every other tweet I see seems to say we're in a collective reading funk. So unless everyone's got a Yeerk1 in their brain refusing to read, there's something else that's affecting us. 

As it turns out, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our attention spans and our ability to focus. Along with a deadly virus, we're now dealing with an inability to consume new ideas.

Oh, joy. 

When I think back to how much pandemic-related content I've consumed over the last eighteen months, it makes sense. Even though you'd think I'd be desensitized to it, I'm still regularly overwhelmed and resort to muting keywords. 

I'm still working on breaking my slump, but recently, I've been reading (stories) again. So, if you're in a similar pickle where you want to read but somehow just can't, here's a helpful list of what worked and what didn't for me: 

  • Reread old favourites — I reread The Foxhole Court2, the first book in the All For The Game trilogy and made it halfway through the second before my brain gave up. Since your brain continuously rejects new ideas and things during a slump, rereading an old favourite could help you get back in the zone. Although, other than that one book, this tip didn't work for me. I find rereading old books (unless I'm specifically in the mood) boring. I already know what will happen; there's nothing to excite me and keep me reading. 

  • Change it up — Whether it's the format you read (ebook vs physical copy vs audiobook) or the genre (young adult vs nonfiction), you could try breaking your reading slump by choosing something that's not usually on your TBR3. For me, this meant switching to newsletters and fanfics (although I struggled with those too for some time). I'm a picky reader, so I'm not too open to switching genres unless I'm drawn to the book. If you're anything like me, you'll probably have to experiment to find what holds your attention other than what you usually read.

  • Pick up a graphic novel or read a short story — Something everyone recommends: give your brain bite-sized stories to devour. Short stories are easy to read, unlike the pressure to finish a whole 300-page book. It's like when you tell your brain you're only going to work for five minutes, and then you can do something else.

    Graphic novels are easy to read and finish too. The human brain (especially mine) likes completing things, so I've been able to read short stories and small comics/zines here and there. Oddly, if it's a whole short story collection, I'm immediately put off. My brain sees the collection of short stories as ONE BOOK to be completed, so I stick to one-shots I find online or in fanfics. 

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  • Buddy read — The few books I've managed to read during my slump have been buddy reads. The idea is to pick a book and 1-2 friends to read it with. You all start at the same time and share updates to put some positive pressure on each other, aka encouragement. You can hold each other accountable, and once the book is done, you can fangirl or dissect the loopholes — socializing and reading, you’re killing two birds with one stone!

It can be hard to be okay with not reading. With half the people telling you that all successful people read for at least fifteen minutes every day and the other half racing through their Goodreads goals with 65901 books read by July 2021, it can be really overwhelming.

Give your brain a break

We're in a global pandemic; it's okay to delete your Goodreads goal this year. Take a break. Go and (re)watch a TV show — there's absolutely no reason to force yourself and feel shitty when you can't read.

People go through phases of reading and consuming content throughout their life, so there’s no need to panic. A reading slump doesn’t mean that you’ll never read again (although that’s also totally okay).

I know I measure (or I used to) who I am by the number of books I read every year. I want to read widely, I want to be a prolific reader. But sometimes, my brain wants to take a chill pill and just rewatch a sitcom. That’s okay.

Reading is fun, or well, it should be. That’s why we invented fiction — to indulge our fantasies and write about things that we can only visualize with our minds. But if you force yourself to read, you’re making it a burdensome chore, and you’re practically taking the fun out of it.

Whenever you feel the pull, pick up whatever catches your fancy and read it. It’s okay if you read two pages or twenty or none at all.

I hope you give yourself and your brain the time and space to relax.

Be kind to yourself, friends.


Food for thought: Sometimes, a reading slump is just you forcing yourself to read a book that you actually don’t want to read.


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1
A parasitic alien slug from the Animorphs series. I tend to pick these books up (there are 54 of them) when I’m in a slump and need something fun, easy, and exciting to read that doesn’t require much brainpower.
2
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3
To Be Read (list)