Book Slump

I’ve got a confession to make: I haven’t been reading.

I’ve only been off the wagon for a week or so, but since I’m a firm believer in reading nearly every day (and writing nearly every day) it feels super weird to not be in a book. Also I’m a writer with a day job in publishing: I should be reading all the time!

Part of the problem is that I checked out a book from the library and started reading it, so I feel like I should be reading that if I’m reading anything. It’s a novel from an author whose short stories I really admire, and comes highly recommended to me by a trusted writer friend—and I just can’t get into it. Usually I’m pretty quick to cut a book loose if I don’t like it (life’s too short) but this is my second time trying to read this novel and I’ll feel so guilty turning it back into the library unread again.

Here are some of my other excuses for not reading:

1. I’m editing a lot.

I’m proofreading two books for my day job right now, which obviously includes a ton of close reading. It’s super satisfying to catch that misplaced comma right before a book goes to print, and I always learn new grammar rules when I’m proofreading (for example, did you know that “if worse comes to worse,” “if worse comes to worst,” and “if worst comes to worst” are all acceptable phrasings? Because I didn’t.) but it does get me a little burnt out on reading for fun. Also, the fabulous magazine where I’m an editor is currently taking submissions (send us your stuff!) and so I’ve got a thick stack of short stories to read for that on my bedside table as well. Together, all this editing is making it hard for me to get fired up about a new summer read.

2. I have a book hangover.

The phenomenon of the book hangover is well-documented: it’s hard to get into a new book right after you finished a book that you loved. It’s like leaving a coffee date with your best friend and trying to start a similar conversation with a stranger on a bus. That last book just got you. That last book was better written, and the characters were more realistic. Never mind that you’re comparing how you feel about characters after finishing a whole book about them to how you feel ten pages into a new story—nothing will ever compare to the masterpiece you just finished.

I usually don’t get book hangovers, since I’m lucky to have a constant flow of terrific book recommendations coming in from my friends. But the last book I read was the incredible Gold Fame Citrus (seriously check it out right now, it’s tremendous) and I’m having a hard time moving on.

3. I’m not writing.

I’m interested in hearing whether other writers get this, too: when I’m writing a lot, I’m more excited about reading, and the opposite is also true. Maybe it’s because my writing time and my reading time both depend on my free time, so they wax and wane in unison; maybe it’s because not-reading and not-writing both come from a general feeling of being stuck that I sometimes struggle to pull myself out of.

My total time that I spend on being a writer (instead of being a magazine editor, being a marketing coordinator, or being a person who watches The Santa Clarita Diet) gets split between actual writing, editing, submitting my work, and community-building—that is, actually going to readings to read or to listen, reading and critiquing my friends’ work, and drinking wine with other writers, which is a crucial and often-overlooked element of the writing process. I find that weeks and months when I’m more focused on editing and submitting my work than writing new work, I’m less excited to read, perhaps because when I’m looking at my own finished work it’s easier to get caught up in comparison than when I’m writing fresh work, which I try to allow to be as messy as it needs to be. When I’m prepping my own work for publication and reading published stories at the same time, it’s super easy to wonder why my sentences aren’t as polished, my prose not as elegant, my structure not as efficient as this other writer’s. Of course it’s because I haven’t had a series of professional editors sit down and work on it over several months, but try telling my reptile brain that. I have tried telling my reptile brain that. It does not care.

 

Of course, none of these are good enough reasons for me to take a break from reading, and a good book can overcome any excuse, in my experience. Time to go back to the library!

 

Do you ever get into a book slump? What’s your cure? If you’re a creative professional, do you find that your interest in consuming art in your field is affected by how your own work is going?