Our Reading Lives

Reading When Life Throws a Curveball

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Kristen Twardowski

Staff Writer

Kristen Twardowski stumbled her way through working with wolves and libraries and found her professional home doing marketing and data analysis in the publishing industry. Though there will always be a place in her heart for numbers and graphs, the rest of her love is given to words. She recently published her debut novel, a psychological thriller called When We Go Missing, and blogs about books and writing on her website A Writer's Workshop.

The last couple of months have been rough ones for me. When you hit a bumpy spot on the road of life, it makes sense that some things will change. But I hadn’t quite expected it would change my reading habits.

Under normal circumstances, I read a lot of what falls into the category of literary fiction; the shelf in my personal library dedicated to Russian literature is full enough to worry a psychoanalyst. And the other books I read are often more than a little poignant. I love books by Peter S. Beagle, Diana Wynne Jones, and Anne Sexton, but they don’t often tell stories that I would describe as happy. Since I’ve hit my difficult patch, I haven’t been able to touch books like that.

I didn’t even notice the change until I made the fatal error of trying to reread Octavia Butler’s Kindred. It’s a wonderful, thought-provoking novel, and now seemed like a good time to revisit it.

I didn’t even make it through the prologue.

A few pages in my brain just stopped and refused to keep reading. I put the book down and couldn’t convince myself to pick it up again. I’ve had a similar response to other serious books. With the recent adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, I should really reread that book too. But I can’t do it.

Instead I’ve found myself turning towards genres that I don’t normally read. In particular, I’ve started reading a lot of nonfiction and the lightest, fluffiest romances I can find.


Nonfiction is a broad category, and I certainly haven’t been reading everything in it. No self-help books – reading those is truly the path to existential despair – and no books about things that I care too deeply about. Worrying about the environment and social justice already occupies much of my daily life. I don’t need to spend more time thinking about it. Instead I’ve been reading nonfiction about things that I don’t know anything about. If you want to know any fun facts about soccer (football to those of you not in the United States) or criminals from the early 1900’s, hit me up. I’ve recently read all about them.

Light Romance

Did you know that there are seemingly infinite numbers of retellings of Jane Austen books? Until recently, I did not. Some of them are set in the Regency era. Others, the majority, are set in modern day. (One book had the contemporary version of Persuasion‘s Captain Wentworth working as a consultant for a tech firm, which struck me as hysterical.) In books like this, the protagonist overcomes minor obstacles to receive a happy ending with few to no loose ends. Whatever difficulties she – and it is almost always a she – faces her future appears to be an easy one. I’m not by nature a creature who believes in happy endings, but it is incredibly soothing to read about them right now.

Of course I can’t stay in my bubble of sports memoirs and romance forever. But for now, those books are acting as a balm and helping me get through a tough time. I suspect I’m not alone in having my reading habits change as life throws me curveballs. And knowing that these changes are normal is comforting. We are all in this thing called life together after all.

(But if you happen to have any suggestions about more nonfiction or fluffy romances I should read, let me know. I can see the light at the end of my dark tunnel, but I haven’t quite reached it yet.)