February 19, 2013It’s been about three weeks since I finished up my work as chair of Amazing Audiobooks and, for the first time in two years, could read what I wanted and at my own pace. But once our list was finished and the press release written, instead of feeling relief and release, I felt anxiety and distraction. I’ve been stuck in a post-selection committee reading slump, and I’ve been worried I might not escape.
For the first few days of my newfound freedom, I read a lot of articles that I’d saved to Instapaper. Most of them were library-related, but a good number of them weren’t. It felt good to have the freedom to read as I pleased and to be able to read print rather than listen to audiobooks and to catch up on things I’d missed, but I was still mostly knocking out the shorter articles in my queue, feeling antsy and impatient with longer ones.
And as soon as I tried to start reading a novel (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), I found that I couldn’t get very far. I’d have to re-read paragraphs to remember what had just happened, and I couldn’t concentrate for more than a few pages at a time before getting distracted by something else. And it wasn’t that I didn’t find the book engaging — I was really enjoying the writing style and the footnotes and the combination of sci-fi fandom and historical fiction — it was that I somehow couldn’t make myself read anything longer than a page or two.
So I stuck with shortish articles for a while, thinking maybe I just needed some time to readjust. But as the days passed, I was still having trouble focusing. I also felt paralyzed when it came to choosing what to read: should I work on the books I’d been given over a year ago for Christmas but hadn’t had the time to touch? Read some ARCs for upcoming books and review them? Catch up on the latest installment of series that I liked? Read books recommended to me by friends? Without the list of assigned committee titles I’d gotten used to over the last two years, I was full of indecision, which further contributed to my commitment problems. I’d start reading one book and then notice another and pick it up and start it, but then put it down in favor of a third title. If I could read anything, how could I possibly choose a single something to start with?
Luckily for me, a review deadline loomed. Double luckily for me, the book assigned to me was a collection of short stories. This was exactly what I needed: structure and something that worked with my shortened attention span. I read the collection (and really loved it) story by story with breaks in between, submitted my review, and then vowed I’d keep the momentum going.
Since I’d been doing well with nonfiction, I picked up Rapture Practice, a YA memoir about growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist family. This was another good fit: for whatever reason, the true story kept my attention, and the not-too-long chapters gave me good goals and stopping points. I finished the book in a few days (longer than it’d normally take me, but I finished a full-length book), and now I’m starting to feel like I’ve finally gotten my ability to read back.
I’m still not really sure where to go from here: I’ve had so much structure in my reading life for the last two years that it honestly feels like I’m going to have to re-learn how to find new books and pick what to read next. A few friends have suggested graphic novels or comics to combat a reading slump, so I think I might head that direction next. But I’m still kind of struggling when it comes to novels: there’s a lot out there that I want to read, but what if I choose something that’s not very good? How do I choose between two books I really want to read? Should I be catching up on things I missed or keeping up with new things as they’re published? How much adult vs YA reading should I be doing? Should I be reading to be better at my job, or am I allowed to read for fun?
And more than that: what do I actually like anymore? After two years of reading across genres and topics and age ranges, I’m not even sure what I like best. I mean, I guess it’s good to like a lot of things, but I feel like I’ve lost that sense for what books are really going to resonate with me. Pre-committee, I was a fantasy and sci-fi reader, but there’s a lot of really crappy sci-fi out there right now trying to cash in on the popularity of dystopias, and I’ve discovered the joys of nonfiction since then. And is it okay to read mostly in genres that I like, or should I continue to try new things?
I guess after three weeks, I’m doing a decent job of recapturing the technical skills of reading a book again, but I think I have a long way to go in redefining who I am and what I read. Being on a selection committee has absolutely opened me up to new things, and I’m proud of how much I’ve read and experienced over the last two years (and of the list we’ve put together, of course), but I’m looking forward to finding myself again.
What do you read when you’re in a slump or nothing seems to hit the spot? I’m definitely open to suggestions!
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