Our Reading Lives

Is it Possible to Read Too Much?

I have a working theory that my brain is only physically capable of reading a certain number of books over a given period of time.

I’ve had a moment every year for the last four or five years where I just get tired of reading. I go through a series of wonderful books, I’ve got some momentum going and then, poof, my interest in picking up another book just vanishes.

In 2012, that month was November, when I only managed to read three books total (my average is more like 8 to 10 per month). This year, I suspect that month will be September — so far I’ve only finished two books, and don’t look to be making much progress on any more.

Although this period can feel like a reading slump — Jeannette has artfully illustrated what this is like — I tend to think of it differently. For me, it feels like there is some sort of switch in my brain that turns to OFF once I’ve consumed a certain number of words, keeping me from reading more. No matter how many books I pick up or how excited I am to read, I can’t see to make my brain focus long enough to finish one for a few of weeks. And then, just as quickly, the slow down ends and I can read like a madwoman again.

My (working, ridiculous) theory is that it must be some type of biological safety valve that keeps me from taxing my brain too much, forcing me to put books aside in favor of lesser forms of entertainment like old episodes of New Girl until my neurons have recovered enough to start reading again. Or maybe I just get tired. Who knows. I’m not a scientist.

Unlike a slump, which is unwanted and unneeded, a slow down is a necessary, forced break. It’s a time to do some mental spring cleaning (regardless of the season) and get my reading life back in order — clear off some shelves, donate several bags of unwanted books, organize my holds list at the library. I don’t like being in this period, but I’ve come to accept that it’s strangely necessary for my mental health.

Do you think it’s possible to read too much?


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