Newsletter 1

I’m Leaning Into My Reading Slump

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A.J. O'Connell

Staff Writer

A.J. O’Connell is the author of two published novellas: Beware the Hawk and The Eagle & The Arrow. All she’s ever wanted to do in life is read and write books, and so, is constantly writing at least one novel. She holds an MFA in creative fiction, but despite the best efforts of her teachers at Fairfield University's low-residency program, remains a huge dork for sci-fi, fantasy and comic books. She is a journalist and has taught journalism to college students. She blogs about feminism, the writing life, and whatever else comes into her head at Blog: A.J. O'Connell Twitter: @ann_oconnell

I’m in a reading slump, but this time I’m going to try to think of it as an opportunity.

It’s a pretty bad slump; I have a pile of three very thick novels on my nightstand, a list of books I want to read on my computer, and an e-book I checked out from the library waiting for me on my Kindle. I know I am going to enjoy all of these books, but I can’t make myself read them.

Sometimes, when bad things happen, I lose interest in reading fiction. The bad things could be happening to me personally, or to people I know, or the bad things could be happening to the world, it doesn’t matter. I just stop reading.

Reading slumps are relatively new for me. When I was growing up, and going through the social hell that was middle school, I read as an escape.

In fact my reading habits drove my poor mom, a YA librarian, crazy. She helped kids with my problems at work every day. She was an expert in relatable YA fiction. She would bring home books that helped other kids: coming of age stories, stories about kids who didn’t fit in, all the Judy Blume that ever Blumed. Nope, not for me. I had no interest in any of that, because I was going through my own coming of age story at the time. I really didn’t want to spend my reading time suffering through somebody else’s adolescence.

Instead, I read The Lord of the Rings three times and stayed up late reading pulp sci-fi from the ’70s. (I still haven’t read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.)

I sought refuge in stories about grown-ups who had adventures, because that’s what I was looking forward to: adulthood, when I would be in charge of my life. Now, as an adult, I just stop reading.

I lose my interest in reading fiction, because I don’t have enough feelings left — after reading news stories about people who have been through hell, or witnessing how much hate there is in the world —  to get emotionally attached to a made-up character, who is inevitably going to suffer, because pain and suffering make for good stories. I lose my desire to read fiction because I want to do something, not read something.

During these slumps, I often find myself wondering what the point is. Why even bother reading fiction? Why bother getting invested in imaginary conflicts when there are so many horrible things happening in the real world? I already know the answers to these questions —  reading builds empathy; it makes us better, by allowing us access to the thoughts, feelings and experiences of others; it gives us a laboratory in which to safely experiment with the problems that plague our world — but none of those answers make me want to read a novel.

In the past, I’ve tried to fight my reading slumps. I try to force myself to get into a book. I read the first page of a bunch of different books, and see if one sticks. I’m a reader, I tell myself, so I should be reading.

This time, though, I’m letting myself slump. I will let dust collect on that pile of novels. I will let the e-book return itself to the library.

Instead, I will let myself focus on the things that are causing the slump. I’ll read the news stories that bother me, and I will read columns, and other people’s opinions on social media, even if those opinions are uncomfortable. I will read calls to action. I will get involved. I will try to take better care of real people. And, then, when I’m ready to empathize with imaginary people again, those novels will be waiting for me.