Combatting Serial Book-Starterdom

Reading slumps manifest in different ways for different people. Some readers know they’re slumping when they just can’t bear to pick up a book. Others become serial starters- starting book after book and never focusing long enough to finish any of them. I recently found myself deep in the doldrums of serial starterdom, slumping my way to DNFing my sixth book in a row. That’s when I finally realized it wasn’t the books. It was me.

Since slumps can take a variety of forms depending on the reader, recovery from the slump can also require personalized prescriptions. In January, Greg wrote an excellent piece about overcoming a midwinter slump that would be excellent for readers who respond to self-discipline. But over in Casa Nelson, attempts at goal-setting and such-like generally end in tons of time spent doing the opposite of my goal. Some weird part of me automatically rebels against all authority, including my authority over myself. For readers like me (re: lazy ones), recovering from a reading slump requires taking the easy ways out. Here are a few easy ways out that have worked for me in the past:

Just Watch Television. Yeah, yeah, TV is the enemy of reading. Whatever. But I’m a firm believer that sometimes your brain needs a system reset. If everything you’re reading is repelling you, perhaps it’s time to give your dome-piece a break. Take a few days and Netflix the hell out of your favorite show, then pick up a book.There’s a good chance you’ll be much more receptive to it.

Go Back to the Kids’ Books. I’m talking Little House on the Prairie, Island of the Blue Dolphins, the Narnia books. They’re simple and fast. You can breeze through one in a few hours, and that small victory may be enough to help you rediscover your ability to focus on an entire book. Plus, you’ll learn how to dry abalones or build a rocking chair. Who knows when you’ll need those skills?

Pick Up a Natural Page Turner. Millions of readers can’t be wrong (ok, yes they can)- there’s something addictive about Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. The Hunger Games, A Game of Thrones– these plot-heavy mega-bestsellers may not be the Platonic ideal of great writing, but the odds are good that you’ll get caught up in “what happens next.” Wham, bam, book is done, thank you ma’am.

Try a New Genre. If you’ve abandoned your trillionth literary fiction novel in a row, it might be time to expand your horizons. Even if your Official Reader Credentials boldly proclaim that you’re a Cozy Mystery Reader or a Devoted Romance Lover, try something new. Pick up a western. Read a snarky, humorous memoir. Even if it doesn’t end up being the best reading experience ever, the novelty of exploring new genre tropes may be just what you need to liven up your reading life.

Read a Manual. No, seriously. There’s got to be something you’ve been dying to learn how to do. Save the planet? Plant a garden on your balcony? Knit? Program a computer? Raise a ferret? Hike over to the library and check out a bunch of books that teach you everything you need to know about something you’re already interested in. That pre-existing interest might be just enough to pull you through the whole book straight to the end- and then you can add your newfound skill to your List of Things I Know How To Do, right under “rocking chair construction.”

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