I’ve written lately about having trouble recapturing my reading groove. Owing to a variety of factors, reading just doesn’t have the same pull it once did. I’m desperately hoping that the love will return, but in the meantime a conversation with a friend (who’s an avid reader and a bit of a wise philosopher) shed some light on the problem.
We started talking about how time seems to pass more quickly when you get older. When you’re a kid, it seems like an eternity until Christmas or summer vacation. But as an adult, everything seems to come much quicker. Why? Part of it is the fact that adults are busy, busy, busy. Time flies when you can barely look up at the world around you.
But it’s also because adults have been around longer. When you’re eight, a year is just 1/8th of your life. That’s an eternity! But when you’re 40, a year is 1/40th of your life. That’s a much smaller piece of the pie. Proportionally, time becomes much smaller and that’s part of why it seems to go by so much faster.
When talk turned to my reading troubles, my friend pointed out that the cause might be much the same.
When you’re young, all of the stories are new. You haven’t seen the hero’s journey played out a thousand times. You haven’t read so many mysteries that it’s easy to pick out “who done it.” Fantasy seems believable. Thrillers aren’t marred by an overfamiliarity with global warfare and political stupidity. Romance is still sweet because you haven’t been burned by love. Every time you pick up a book, it’s a chance to see something you’ve never seen before, to go on a journey you haven’t yet taken.
But as you get older, it gets much harder to find things you haven’t seen before, or which don’t seem “stupid, unreal, and pointless” given the realities of the world. Even favorite series and authors can stop bringing joy if the story takes an unfavorable turn, or the author starts phoning it in. It takes something extraordinary to get an older reader excited and, let’s face it, there isn’t much extraordinary out there in any given year.
So what’s the solution? My friend faced a similar problem and solved it with two steps. (Sadly, one didn’t involve a time machine that transported her back to her youth.) First, she took a year-long break from reading and refused to feel badly about it. She stopped forcing herself to read when nothing was engaging her. She let go of the feeling of being out of touch with her fellow readers. Rather than plodding through the hotness or the book club’s list to keep up, she simply stopped and pursued other interests.
“Not reading wasn’t the end of the world,” she said. “It was kid of nice to let it go for a while and do other things with my free time. I spent more time with my non-reader friends. The time away from books scrubbed my brain so I could approach reading with a new mindset. Things seemed fresh again.”
Second, when she got back to reading, she incorporated more non-fiction.
“I was never a huge non-fiction reader,” she said. “Outside of the stuff I had to read to answer a question or research something, I just didn’t gravitate toward it. But when I re-entered the reading world, I read more of it. There’s a lot more novelty in non-fiction than fiction.”
I think she’s right on both counts. First of all, the topics available in non-fiction are as endless and diverse as the world around us. For every topic, too, there are myriad ways to approach it. Every author’s point of view is different, so two books on the exact same subject will read differently and contain different facts. It’s a bit more difficult to get the feeling that you’ve seen it all before in non-fiction, particularly if you’re willing to read about any subject from any point of view.
And not reading seems like a “duh” idea, but one worth considering. It seems sacrilegious to give up reading, but everybody needs a break from things sometimes. Going cold turkey may be the thing I need to remind me how much I love it and refresh my perspective.
More, I need to not feel guilty about it. Sometimes I feel pressured to read to keep up with trends for my own writing. But that may also be counterproductive and limiting to my own creativity. I have tons of other interests beyond reading. It’s time to spend time on those things and really enjoy them, rather than forcing myself to read when it’s not interesting. Books will always be there, waiting.
The third thing I would add to my friend’s approach is to try different genres of fiction once you go back to reading. This is harder if you’re a wide reader to begin with, but there is likely something you’ve never tried or only dabbled in. Westerns, maybe, or manga? Try something new where you haven’t seen all the stories already.
My love of reading will return and I’m fortunate to have good friends and librarians who can put my current reluctance into perspective for me. There is a life beyond books (gasp!). I’ll be fine and the books will be waiting for me when I return. That’s the great thing about books. Unlike video games, movies, or some other hobbies, they’re always there, always waiting on the shelves at the library for you to return to them and embrace them.