The Reasons I Don’t Read: Causes of the Dreaded Book Slump

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Peter Damien

Staff Writer

Peter Damien has been reading since time out of mind, writing for a very long time, and been hopelessly lost to a disgraceful addiction to tea for a few years now. He writes short stories, comics, a lot of articles, and novels at an achingly slow pace. When not staring at words, he spends a lot of time in the woods, as befits a man of his hairstyle. He lives with a billion books, a tolerant wife, too many animals, and also two small boys. When it comes to writing, the small boys are, frankly, no help whatsoever. You can find Peter on Twitter, if that's the kind of thing you're into. Twitter: @peterdamien

I don’t think I’m going out on too much of a limb when I say that the major thing we talk

BOOKRIOT: Always books, rarely riots

BOOKRIOT: Always books, rarely riots

about, here at Book Riot, is “reading.” The contributors are mainly readers, who do a lot of reading, and who occasionally pause from all that reading to talk about reading with other people who are also pausing in their reading to read about reading.

I thought it would be interesting to talk about the flip-side of this, which happens regularly to me which is when I abruptly stop reading. I often wonder about this with other people. I occasionally see it mentioned in passing, but that’s about it.

I am a big reader, but occasionally I just stop reading. It can happen for tons of reasons, such as:

A good book ruins me. This is easily the most common cause. I’ll read a book that is so astonishing and to which I connect so thoroughly, I am bereft when I finish it. It’ll completely take over the inside of my head. What will occasionally happen is that I’ll finish the book and, if the author has other similar books, I’ll go straight into them because I’m trying to recapture the feel of a book I wasn’t ready to be done with quite yet. Occasionally, I’ll simply start over. (I finished The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, turned to page one, and immediately read it again). These two strategies don’t always work, though, and when it fails…I stop reading. It can be a few days or a week or so before I have space for another story.

A boring book bogs me down. This also happens a lot, and I wish I were getting better at recognizing when it happens so I could learn to compensate…but I never quite do, alas. What’ll generally happen is, I’ll start a book and it won’t set me on fire, but I won’t hate it or be quite bored enough to go “this is crap” and move on. Problem is, without realizing it, I won’t especially want to read it. So every time I sit down with some free time, I’ll automatically glance at the book, I’ll think “not in the mood for that,” and then goof on Twitter, or watch a movie. Eventually, I’ll look up and realize I haven’t read anything for days (or weeks- I lose track of time, I think). Somewhere in there, I realize I need to shelve it and go onto whatever else I’m itching to read.

Shit happens. Life, on the whole, is infinitely preferable to the alternative…but despite that, I swear life spends fully half its time wearing big boots, trying to kick you squarely in the side of the head. Maybe that’s just my life, I don’t know. What I do know is that sometimes, it stops me from reading. It is always a difficult thing for me to disengage from my own mind and fully immerse in something, and it’s harder still when life, that bastard, is trying to do you in. Some people retreat into books when life gets tough, and I’ve always envied that. Very rarely, I will (like the time I crawled inside American Gods for a year and didn’t come out) but mostly, my reading collapses.

See, this picture isn't me because there's a BOOK

See, this picture isn’t me because there’s a BOOK

I go on vacations. We talk about vacation reading off and on around Book Riot, and there is a never a conversation I am more silent during than this one. I’m aware that this is just a personality quirk of mine, but I do not read on vacations. I used to pack lots of books and it was years before I fully realized that this was pointless. They go untouched. I dunno why this is (I’m listing here, folks, not analyzing. I don’t know what the hell my brain is doing most of the time, let alone why) but it definitely is. Now, I don’t even pack a book. Not a single one, for any kind of trip.

My reading exists in phases. This was the one which caused me the most angst over the years, and it’s only recently that I’ve come to really understand it. The fact is that even if life isn’t trying to kill me, I’m not on vacation, and I’m not stuck in a boring book, I will still just…stop reading. I think of it as a kind of drifting away, really. It operates almost like the phases of the moon, but without the fixed monthly schedule. I didn’t even notice it happening until a couple years ago when I began keeping a reading log and noticed the occasional, regular gaps that began appearing in it every now and then. At first, it really bothered me. Why am I not reading? I am spending too much time watching movies, talking to people on the internet, exercising, or whatever. It would bother me and I would make a concerted effort to get back to reading. Sometimes this would work, and sometimes it wouldn’t, and when it didn’t I would get really bugged at my own failure as a reader.

Now, I kind of take it into stride. It just seems to be how I work. Maybe I need a mental break, or maybe my mind just wanders like the tides. There’s nothing much that can be done about it – forcing it is never a good idea, that’s the death of anything – and so I’ve just taken it into stride. Sometimes there are days and whole weeks where I don’t read a single thing, and don’t want to. So I watch a lot of TV (Hello, Orange is the New Black. Hello, Breaking Bad) and trust that soon enough, I’ll wander back and read a zillion books, very quickly. It always happens.

So that’s me, an avid reader, occasionally not reading. This is dangerous to admit, but the truth must be known. Listen, you may never hear from me again. Already, I can hear The True Readers approaching. I can hear their slow shuffle-steps (lulling you into forgetting their true speed). I can hear their long-limbs dragging. They’re coming up the stairs, they’re clawing at the front door. They’re –


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