Our Reading Lives

So You’re (Still) in a Pandemic Reading Slump

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

Eight-ish months ago, most people’s everyday lives shifted dramatically. You may have gone into lockdown, lost your job, started to work from home, begun homeschooling your child(ren), or experienced any number of other major lifestyle changes. It’s not surprising that a change in your routine meant that your reading life changed, too. Maybe you, like me, watched as it seemed like everyone else began reading more than ever, while your Goodreads challenge goal became insurmountable. Still, while some people handled stress and a lack of social contact through more reading, you (hopefully) recognized that everyone deals with stress differently, and it’s okay that you weren’t reading very much.

Now, though, it’s eight months later, and you’re still in a reading slump. Or maybe this is a new reading slump, or the latest in a series of reading slumps. Either way, now that we’re firmly in the “new normal,” it’s feeling more concerning that you can’t seem to get back into your normal reading routine. We all go through ebbs and flows in our reading lives, but it’s been a long time now, and you want to regain your usual reading habits. There are many articles on Book Riot about how to fight a reading slump, but here are my six strategies for combatting a pandemic-related reading slump in particular.

1. Make a Routine

Even at this stage of the pandemic, most of us are still adjusting to this new way of life. You may be juggling more than ever, or you may have almost no structure in your days at all anymore. Either way, if you want to prioritize reading, it helps to build it into your schedule. Maybe you don’t have a commute to read or listen to audiobooks during, but you can carve out that time in other ways. One strategy is to read as soon as you wake up, even if it’s just for ten minutes. Instead of reaching for your phone, keep your book on your bedside table. Another popular reading habit is to read before bed, which can also help you wind down and fall asleep more easily (unless you get sucked into your book!). The good thing about linking it to sleep is that no matter how unorganized or packed your schedule is, you go to sleep and wake up every day. By linking your reading to that, it makes it easier to ensure you’re reading—at least a little—every day.

2. Change the Format

If you can’t seem to sit down with a physical book reliably, there are other ways to incorporate reading into your life. Audiobooks can be lifelines for when you’re busy. You can listen to them while doing chores, commuting, or even while staring at the ceiling because it’s all too much. You might also try adding an ebook to your phone, so that instead of doomscrolling Twitter, you read a few pages while waiting in line at the grocery store or in other snatches of time in your day. This is also a great time to pick up comics, especially if you don’t usually read them. Try reading manga or superhero comics or slice-of-life graphic memoirs. If stress is killing your attention span, the illustrations might help to draw you in, and just shaking up your usual reading choices can help break a slump.

3. Change the Genre

Similarly, trying new genres can be a great way to get out of a reading slump. This can mean any kind of change. Maybe you usually read very heavy political or historical nonfiction and trying a lighthearted romance novel will be a good change of pace. On the other hand, maybe you’ve been trying to dive into escapism for the better part of a year and something serious and challenging will be a good change of pace. Try picking up genres you didn’t think you liked—the pandemic has changed us, and you might find yourself responding to things you weren’t expecting. Self-help or poetry might help you find clarity in this new situation. History can put our current “unprecedented” times in context. Sci-fi and fantasy can help you put aside this reality and imagine a different one for a while. Whatever your usual reading habits, shake things up by reaching for a book you never would have tried before. To really get out of your comfort zone, get a friend or family member to recommend you a book with the promise that you’ll give it a try, no matter what it is. The Read Harder challenge is another way to broaden your reading horizons!

4. Reread an Old Favorite

Okay, so you’ve tried different formats and new genres, and none of them are sticking. You just can’t seem to find a book that hold your attention. Well, luckily you already know many books that you’re guaranteed to love, because you’ve already read them! Even if (or especially if) you’re not usually a rereader, returning to a favorite book can help remind you why you love reading in the first place. Personally, I recommend going back to a childhood or other sentimental favorite. It can also help you return to the habit of reading, because you don’t have to work to keep track of the names or plot points. You can just enjoy returning to an old friend. You might find new meaning or gems you forgot in those familiar pages. Of course, there’s always the risk that you may not enjoy it as much this time around, but I find that books generally fare better in rereads than expected. Treat yourself to a book you already love!

5. Read About Pandemics

This one is definitely a matter of taste. If you’ve been trying to read escapism for many months, though, and it’s not taking, it might be worth going in the opposite direction. Maybe instead of trying to run away from our current reality, you’ll find it more useful to get context for our current moment. Even this far into the pandemic, it’s hard to wrap our minds around. Reading about historical or fictional pandemics might help you better understand our own. If you don’t know where to start, check out The 16 Best Pandemic Books, Fiction And Nonfiction. Tread carefully: you know best whether reading about pandemics will help your reading life or just make you more stressed and overwhelmed. When you’ve tried everything else, though, this might be the wild card that snaps you out of the slump.

6. Lean into the Slump

You’ve heard it all before: reading slumps are normal, and everyone handles stress differently. At the beginning of the pandemic, this probably was more comforting than it is now. It feels like this far into it, we should all have a routine and be used to it. We should have adjusted and should no longer be overwhelmed. That’s not how it works, though. We may want everything to be normal again, but it’s not. You are likely still dealing with big life changes and uncertainty about the future. You may be dealing with an avalanche of responsibility and/or serious financial worries. Those didn’t go away at the six month mark of this pandemic. You might also be grieving, both personally and more broadly for the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been lost from this disease. We all want this to be over, but it’s not. Which means that we have to be generous to ourselves. Maybe reading isn’t the way to get through this. Maybe this whole year will be marked more by TV, movies, YouTube, TikTok, or even Twitter. Listen to what your body and mind really need right now, without judgement. Books will always be there for you, but it’s okay if you need to set them aside for you.

So those are my six strategies for dealing with a pandemic-related reading slump! I hope that you find comfort in these trying times—there really is no non-cliche way to say that at this point, is there?—whether that comfort is in reading the history of pandemics, a middle grade comic, a soothing audiobook, or in putting aside books for now and flipping on the TV. Good luck!