How to Dump a Reading Slump



Always books. Never boring.

This is a guest post by Josh Corman. Josh splits his slivers of free time between his incredibly patient wife, his wildly energetic son, the Kentucky Wildcats, and a tall stack of books. He also teaches high school English and blogs about faith, fatherhood, and culture at thethingaboutflying.com. His novels, short stories, and a memoir have appeared on his computer screen and in various desk drawers. Follow him on Twitter @JoshACorman.

I’ve lived vicariously through enough pro baseball players to recognize the signs of a slump – the shoulders droop, the chin hits the chest, hesitation replaces assertiveness, and soon enough the poor bastard’s mired in a two for twenty-one stretch with no end in sight. Fans, teammates, and the slumping player himself are left to wonder where it all went wrong.

I know how they feel. If reading were a sport and the people in my social circle formed a team, I’d hit cleanup, but folks, I’m in a real humdinger of a slump. I’ve finished just one book in 2013. One! I’ve currently got bookmarks in four more, including Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story and Brad Gooch’s Flannery O’ Connor biography. These are excellent books, books that I absolutely want to finish, but I’m creeping through them at an inexcusable pace and simply don’t feel compelled to pick them (or anything else) up with any regularity.

Since we readers don’t have the benefit of professional coaches and consultants or video breakdowns to pin point the niggling little flaw that’s transformed into a debilitating reading handicap, we’ve got to exercise some old-fashioned industriousness and dig the way out ourselves. How to break such a cold streak, you ask? Here’s the plan:

Step 1. – Narrow the scope. I wasn’t joking around when I said I had bookmarks in four different books, and while I’m always reading about people who say they don’t feel alive unless they’ve got at least a half-dozen in the hopper, ending my cold streak is going to require more focus than that kind of reading load allows. I’d wager that the same is true for many readers. We can’t think about all the books waiting in my “to-be-read” pile or whether we’re picking the “right” book to read next. That kind of thinking leads to reading paralysis and distracts us from the book on the bedside table. So back on the shelf with you, John Dos Passos! I’ll get back to you, so stop it with that pouty look. I’m doing this for both our sakes.

Step 2. – Be more intentional with reading time. Every reader runs into the busyness problem sooner or later, but if we want to make sure that reading has a place in our day-to-day, then sometimes we’ve got to accept that our schedules don’t often part before us, leaving an unclaimed hour for our books. A faltering hitter puts in extra time in the cages. Whether we have to temporarily replace another cultural pursuit (like, say, power-watching The West Wing on Netflix) or simply set the alarm half an hour early and brew and extra helping of coffee, getting more purposeful about putting our nose between some pages is the reader’s equivalent.

Step 3. – Seek familiar waters. We’ve all got reading bucket lists, even if they exist only in our heads. We want to read widely and deeply and suck out all the marrow from a great many wonderful books. This is all very well and good, but if you’re slumping, it may be time to go with what you know will provide a spark. If you love detective novels or YA series with a supernatural twist or essay collections then get your feet under you with one of those. Or, failing that, re-read an old favorite to find your rhythm. Just feeling the pages move from right to left might be the trick to getting your swing back.

Alright team: let’s all put our hands into the imaginary middle. ‘Read!’ on three. One! Two! Three! READ! Now let’s get out there and break some slumps.

Let me hear it, you readerly types. Have you ever been on a reading cold streak? What are your best slump-breaking tips (bonus points for more baseball-related figurative language)?