Tuesday, February 9, 2016

What to Do When You Don't Feel Like Reading

Because if you don't feel like reading, you might need a teddy bear for Comfort and Consolation.
So I've read one book this year.

I've read a lot of pages, but the books are long, so I don't hit the end as fast, or they have a lot of trigger elements I can't deal with, so I have to set them aside.

Anyone else feeling the same struggle?

I'm not kicking myself over it, though. For one, that doesn't help me read any more pages. For another, this is a season of life in which reading a book a week is too much. But I thought, why not talk today about what to do when you feel like you can't hit The End? There are some tips I've picked up along the way, and while they don't solve the problem, they do ease some of the angst.

1. Choose shorter books. 
I decided this was going to be the year of long books. It still is, but this might not be the month for long books. I've been trucking through Our Mutual Friend since January 1st, and I just hit halfway (I think--which is still decent, being over 400 pages.)

Long books won't help with the reading struggle. Choose shorter ones: books around 300 pages or less if you're used to 500 pages, or maybe less than 200 pages if 300-400 is your upper limit. Choose novellas too. There are so many good novellas out there, and you can read a novella in a day and have the excitement of another book to check off your list. I love novellas, and I have a couple lined up to read that I'm really excited about.

2. Choose books with good writing. 
Last December I was working to hit a writing deadline, and made the mistake of reading a poorly written book at the same time. I didn't know better, but immersing myself in this particularly long book and trying to keep up a good quality of writing at the same time just weren't going well. If you're a writer and you're struggling with reading right now, take extra care to choose good quality literature. I know sometimes the pulp fiction is easier to get down. There are seasons when it has it's place. But if you're trying to write during this time, pulp fiction will affect your writing, and then you'll feel terrible on both fronts. Even if you're not a writer, choose short, high-quality books that aren't too hard to handle, and you'll thank yourself. Just like your body wouldn't feel good reaching for the easiest junk food, your mind doesn't feel good either. So give it every advantage you can.

Right now in our afternoon reading time, Sis is reading aloud The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff. That daily dose of Sutcliff is a well-loved tonic and feeds me some quality writing I can channel into my own book. Even if all I get during the day is a half hour with that book, that's enough for putting new fodder into my think tank.

3. Watch some good movies. 
I have a short chunk of time in the afternoons that I generally use for reading. Yesterday I used it for another episode of the 1981 Great Expectations movie. I also watched it while we were roadtripping this weekend instead of reading in the car. It's a Dickensian delight of excellent casting, using many original lines from Dickens' work, and sticking to a fairly faithful portrayal of events. Revisiting a story I love in movie form is easier. The episodes are in 1/2 hour chunks of time, and I get a good dose of drama, conversation, poignancy, and character development. Herbert Pocket alone makes me happy, he's so kind and friendly.

There's no shame in getting literary inspiration from a good movie if you need to, and I think there are some seasons when that's easiest. It's a gentler way of getting the inspiration you need. Choose really good quality movies, same as good quality books, in whatever genre strikes your fancy. Mull over them the same as you would a book: turn them inside out, think about your favorite parts, dig deep into the themes, and you'll receive a lot of benefit from them the same as from the printed page.

4. Set a timer. 
Sometime last month I told myself I really needed to get a grip and sit down and read for half an hour each day. That didn't happen, and it was slightly too ambitious for what I was able to handle. But I'd like to set a timer and try a more reachable goal, say fifteen minutes. Then I've done fifteen solid minutes of reading and can put the book away with no guilt, knowing that I've made some time for it. As things get better, I won't need a timer, or I can set it for longer. But it's a tip I think is worth trying.

5. Go back to tried and true favorites. 
If your life or your mind is overloaded, sometimes a new adventure is just the ticket. But sometimes a new adventure is overwhelming. I tried reading Eric Metaxas' Miracles last month, and while it was a deep and worthy topic, the amount of energy it took turned into stress. I had to lay it aside for a while. You know how when you are sick, or things are in upheaval you gravitate towards some tried and true, easy meals? Go to your shelf and pick out the books that mean mental comfort food to you. For me, it would be anything Robert Louis Stevenson, L.M. Montgomery, Ellis Peters, or Gene Stratton-Porter--even Jan Karon.

These are some ideas I've collected, but I'd love to hear your perspectives! What are your favorite tips when you're stuck on reading? What books and authors mean comfort food to you?


  1. I know what this is like. Last year started out that way for me. This year hasn't, thankfully, but maybe mandatory reading for school has helped with that. However the principles apply to lots more things not just reading, so they're also applicable for me. Really good post. Love the picture. :D <3

    1. Deadlines help a lot! I'm glad you're getting lots of reading done--I shall have to work hard and catch up with you. :) I love that picture too. :D <3

  2. When I don't feel like reading, it's usually because I've been cooped up inside for far too long without anything to break me out of my routine. So, it usually means that I need to go outside and/or do something active. If I can't go outside because: weather, then I might bundle up anyway, or do something aerobic and active inside.

  3. This is perfect for me right now :) I'm totally slumping. Your last tip ALWAYS is something I do, I'm not sure why I haven't tried it yet! I think I'll pick up an old trashy quick read fave :D

    1. You've had a lot of big life events, Stefanie, so I don't blame you one bit. :) An old tried-and-true might be just the jumpstart you need! You have a special little boy. :)

  4. Great tips, Schuyler. I love the teddy bear picture; I can't stop looking at it. :D This year has actually started off well with reading compared to other years; but right now I'm reading To Have And To Hold. Even though I'm enjoying it, I am at a bit of a stand-still with it, so I think I'm going to try your idea of setting a timer. I think that'll do the trick. :)
    Lizzy <3 :hugs: