The Dreaded Reading Slump: What to do when reading stops being fun

Reading is awesome. Obviously. But lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of book bloggers admit to being in a reading slump. I even fell into one for a bit myself, and lacking the motivation to do the thing you love most sucks.

For me, and presumably others out there, part of the problem is that, while we started book blogging for fun, it can also feel like a job. Suddenly, reading isn’t as simple as popping the kettle on and enjoying a few chapters before bed. There’s a lot of work involved, and a certain pressure to keep up. Before you know it, your reading becomes structured in a way it probably wasn’t in the past. You read publishers’ catalogues and request titles months in advance, your calendar is peppered with publication dates, you’re managing a blogging and social media schedule and your Goodreads ‘Want to Read’ list has morphed into a physical reading pile that casts a shadow over your entire life.

That’s maybe a touch dramatic, but you get the point. In many respects, a staggering TBR pile is a nice problem to have. But there are those times when reading can feel like a duty rather than a pleasure. Many of us become so invested in the structures we build around our reading—our blogs, bookstagram accounts, BookTube channels, etc.—that reading turns into something we do to support those structures rather than the other way around. Books become items on a ‘to do’ list. Before you know it, you’re paying more attention to the page numbers than the words. Your TBR pile inspires feelings of guilt and anxiety and you start to feel like Sisyphus pushing his rock to the top of the hill, only to have to start over at the bottom again.

This is unfortunate for several reasons. First, and most importantly, you’ve made what’s supposed to be your downtime stressful. And while you may feel that churning through titles is good for your blog, it’s probably having a negative effect there too. I mean, if you’re not enjoying reading, do you honestly feel enthusiastic about reviewing and discussing books?

So today I thought I’d share a few of the tricks I use to pull myself out of a reading slump. I’d also love to hear your ideas, so feel free to add ’em in the comments below.

Just stop

I know, I know, you’ve worked yourself into the #cantstopwontstop mindset, and taking a break isn’t an option: YOU HAVE A TBR PILE, GODDAMMIT!!! But what if I told you that we’re not playing for sheep stations? Just step back for a moment and think about it: realistically, what are the consequences of not reading for a day, a week, or even a month? I can guarantee that your readers will not unsubscribe from your blog en masse because you didn’t post your regular Tuesday review, or you took some much needed time out from bookstagramming. Sure your traffic might dip a bit, but your real readers will stick around. In fact, I’ve always found that my blog tends to  have its biggest growth spurts in the weeks after I return from a break—doubtless because I’m feeling reenergised, enjoying my reading and producing better content. So if you don’t feel like reading, don’t. Do something else with your leisure time: listen to a podcast, go for a run, binge watch Nextflix, see your friends (remember them?), knit a scarf. Whatever blows your hair back.

Give it up

Sometimes it’s  not all books but one particular book that’s getting you down. If your current read isn’t gripping you, ditch it.

I used to think it was sacrilege not to finish a book. But the older I get, the more I value my time. Now I give a book fifty pages. If I can’t see it heading in a direction I’m going to enjoy or that’s going to prompt interesting discussion in a review, I’m done. Very occasionally this happens with ARCs that I’ve received from publishers. In those instances, I’ve got in touch with the publisher and politely explained that I haven’t connected with the book and offered reasons why. It’s awkward, sure, but better than lumping them with a review detailing how I forced myself through the story with all the enthusiasm of a kid en route to the dentist.

A note on that: we don’t work for publishers. Or authors, for that matter. While it’s uh-mazing when they’re kind enough to send us review copies, we’re not obligated to give those books glowing reviews or even to review them at all. Obviously, if you don’t review them, publishers will stop sending them. And it’s bad form to request titles you have no interest in reviewing—publishers have a limited number of ARCs and when you choose not to review a title, you’re likely depriving another, more enthusiastic blogger of the chance as well. But if you really can’t bring yourself to finish and review a book, the publisher isn’t going to send a gang of henchmen to your house. Probably.

Choose wisely

Key to avoiding both the situation above and the dreaded reading slump is making smart choices about which titles make it onto your TBR pile in the first place. When I log on to NetGalley, I’m all like: ‘GIMME ALL THE THINGS!!!’ Same goes at the library. And in book shops—though at least there I have my credit card to hold me back. It takes a great deal of restraint to remind myself that there is a vast difference between how much I want to read and how much I can read.

To manage my impulses, I keep a record of release dates for all my review books. I’ve learned that before I request a book I need to check my calendar to see if I’ll have time to read and review it around the release date, or if maybe it’s one to put on my wish list for quieter times. I also try to gather a mixed bag each month, so I’m not stuck reading in one genre.

It also goes without saying, don’t request and read books out of FOMO. It can be tempting to go after the big fish—the books everyone’s hyped about and that the publishers are pushing with all their marketing might. But ignore the herd and seek out the titles that sing to you—you’re more likely to enjoy them, and publishers and authors will be thrilled to see their lesser known titles getting a lil’ slice of the lime light.

On the flipside, sometimes publishers and authors get in touch to ask if you’ll consider reviewing a title. It’s always flattering to be asked and, even if it doesn’t sound like your kind of book, you can feel obliged to accept. Or you just feel awkward about saying ‘no’, especially if you know the author would really value your review. But consider: will you offer a fair review? If you’re not keen on the book to begin with and/or you’re pressed for time, probably not. So maybe suggest some other bloggers who might be a better fit. Or if you want to write a review but can’t squeeze it in at the time, ask if they’d be happy with you reading it at a later date.

Screw the system

Despite taking great care in compiling my reading list, sometimes I’ll look at what’s next and realise: ‘Nope. Can’t do it.’ For example, I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately. It’s been great. My love for teen fiction is near limitless. But this weekend, I looked at the YA titles at the top of my stack and physically recoiled. What I wanted was crime. Really sinister, spooky thrillers. So that’s what I picked instead. Like the bad arse rebel that I am.

But, Margot, I hear you cry, what about order?! What about publication dates?! What about the global book blogger blacklist all publishers consult when deciding who gets ARCs?! Look, I’ll admit, the stakes are high. But remember how the whole reason you started book blogging was because you had to share your boundless passion for reading with the world? Yeah. That. Publishers send us books because we’ve told them we’re excited to read those titles, and hopefully we’re going to share that excitement with our readers. I’m sure they’d rather we put off reading a book for a few weeks and write a thoughtful review when we’re in the mood than post something lackluster on publication day out of a sense of obligation.

Venture out of your comfort zone

Many of us have themed blogs. Maybe we predominantly read in a particular genre, or have taken on the task of reading all the past winners of the Miles Franklin, or similar. That can get boring, even if you love what you’re reading. So challenge yourself. I mostly read lit., smart thrillers and YA, but when I recently found myself in a slump, I mixed it up with Laura Thompson’s biography, Take Six Girls: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters. Biography is not usually my thing at all, but I loved Thompson’s book! More than that, it shook me out of my rut and got me excited about reading and reviewing again.

Revisit the classics

Another way to mix it up is to spend some time with an old favourite—a book that reminds you of the things you love most about reading. For me, it’s Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. They’re all good stories, well told. Beautiful on the surface, dark and rotten underneath. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read them, but it always feels like a homecoming.

Get inspired

My final trick is to reach out to the wider book community. Enthusiasm is infectious. So instead of focusing on your reading, go find other people sharing theirs. Read other book blogs and lit. journals, go to a writers’ festival or a creative reading event. Drop by your local book shop or library. Moodle around on bookstagram. Ask your friends for recommendations.

To summarise: Reading shouldn’t be driven by obligations and rigid schedules. It’s supposed to be enjoyable. Have fun with it.