Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Reading slumps

I'm a reader. I read a lot and every day. I'm a frustratingly slow reader, but I put in a lot of hours, so the pages add up. And, as discussed before, I have a weird compulsion for measuring my progress, which is always far short of my goals, one of those goals being an average of 2 complete books per week throughout a calendar year.

One reason I never reach that goal is that a couple times a year I hit what I call reading slumps. I'll be close to the average I'm aiming for and then fall behind when, for a few weeks, I can't get interested in anything or finish anything. I probably spend less time reading during these slumps, but the more noticeable symptom is that I go through piles of books without reading more than a few pages in each. I procrastinate opening them, am quick to dismiss them and, if I don't dismiss them, procrastinate re-opening them the next day.I don't think this is necessarily because I've hit a run of bad books. Often these are books that I've been looking forward to for a long time. And I don't have any enthusiasm for trying an old favorite, either.

I try different strategies to get myself going. I try to catch up on literary journals that have piled up. I usually leave the short story in The New Yorker to last, and those tend to pile up. The complete issues of The New Yorker pile up. Trashier magazines. All of these go down a little easier than literary novels during one of these slumps. In general, I can get into nonfiction more than fiction during the periods, so I'll plug away at some history or biography, and I don't feel as bad about not finishing those if I get bored with them. After all, with biographies, you always know they die in the end. I read a couple of brainier journals recently, cover to cover, that I normally would have only read a couple articles from before they got swamped by more urgent interests. They made me feel so smart that I'm tempted to subscribe to them, but I know I'm unlikely to engage with them like that regularly. Another strategy is to build my stamina back up by starting with genre fiction that goes down more easily. I knocked off a couple John Le Carre novels recently that way.

I can't think of any good reason for these slumps. It's a curious phenomenon but nothing to worry about. It's probably just a form of fatigue, and it's natural to need a break. What's strange is that it's not a break from reading to anything else. It's not like I'm being drawn more to the TV or movies or the record collection. I do all that stuff the usual amount. It's like a limbo. It's like being hungry and all the usual stuff is in the cupboard, but it all looks more tasteless than usual. Eventually something sparks my enthusiasm again and I'm back on track with too much that I want to read asap and regretting how little time I have to read.

These slumps usually only last a few weeks, but the most recent one has been protracted -- really since Christmas, so close to three months now. I think I've finished about 4 books in that time, and I've cracked the spines of dozens of others, including all the "best of the year" books from 2011 that I got for Christmas and had been looking forward to. I'm not sure why this one is lasting longer than usual. Other things on my mind, I guess.

Anyway, I hopefully do feel it coming to an end. I've been putting in a lot more time reading the last few days. Not on a novel yet, but I've been tearing through a couple nonfiction books and worried about how they're still preventing me from getting to other things because they're so long.

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