reading slump

Getting Out of a Reading Slump.

This year started off hot in the book category (I absolutely loved Hamnet and Shuggie Bain proved well worth the effort), and I was finding myself handily able to hit my 2021 goal of reading three books a month. In fact, I read six books in the first six weeks of the year. But I’ve since fallen into a slump and am finding it difficult to motivate myself to read in the evenings. I’m sure this is partly owing to plans for a major life change, which have been consuming a lot of energy, thought, and conversation in the evenings, but I’m also coming off of reading a couple of slow-moving books that left me unfulfilled. I had high hopes for Matt Haig’s Midnight Library, which so many of you loved, and I did very much enjoy listening to it in Carey Mulligan’s lilting, soothing British accent on audiobook. But though the message was reassuring and uplifting (very Magpie-esque, I have to say), it also felt a bit heavy-handed and, by the end, overly didactic? (Trigger warning: the book deals with suicide.) I finished it in neutral, coasting to its end and then gliding back into my real life without looking back. I can’t parse why. I normally eat the glass-half-full type missives with a spoon, and I found some of the fiction in it exceptionally creative (the polar bear scene!) and the premise wildly, winningly novel. But. It left me lukewarm.

Then I started Anna North’s Outlawed (a feminist Western) in search of quick distraction. The plot is fast-moving but I cannot stand the narrator in the audiobook. Her performative accents are highly distracting. I’ve thought about toggling over to the Kindle version, but can’t say I’m so dialed in on the narrative that I’m willing to make the shift? I’ll finish it, as I’m about halfway through and it is easy listening, but — I can’t say I greet my evening dishwashing chore with as much alacrity as I normally do when I’m knee-deep in a good book.

I’ve simultaneously been making my way through Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is interesting, but laborious, and Lisa Unger’s Confessions on the 7:45, a thriller with decent reviews that I simply cannot clip into. It’s got all the markings of a Magpie thriller favorite — questions about how well you know your loved ones! mysterious happenstances and path-crossings! narrative techniques that deliberately obscure and mislead! — but I am finding it slow and at the same time confusing.

What is going on with me?! Am I too clouded with other thoughts to make space to read at the moment? Has this happened to you? Magpies, lead me home!

In the past, the only way I have made my way out of the dreaded reading rut is to find something new that grabs me and snaps me back into voracious reading mode. I need a Dutch House or a Ruth Ware, please and thank you. Any suggestions on titles?! How do you get out of a reading slump?

Post-Scripts.

+Pam Munson is now offering to-die-for monogramming on her gorgeous Gardner Totes. Mais je l’adore!

+This $68 dress in the khaki or black – wow wow wow. So The Row chic!

+These folding chairs are so chic! (File under: things I have not thought I would ever need while living in Manhattan.)

+Your baby girl needs these denim shortalls. Too sweet.

+Seriously fun lampshade.

+Added these to my cart for my next Michael’s haul. I’m sure I’ll think of something to use them for as we lead up to Easter!

+My kind of cover-up.

+These neutral, patterned towels are SO chic, especially if you are into a Scandi-cool vibe. They look like Missoni or something! I’m obsessed!

+Some other books on my radar.

+My favorite audiobooks.

+Get the D. Porthault coeurs look for less with this absolutely precious heart dress.

+Just ordered one of these name puzzles for a little girl’s second birthday. More sweet personalized gifts here.

+This white dining table is seriously glam for a feminine dining space.

+Chic woven catchalls and bins — great for a nursery.

+Almost all of the shades I featured in this roundup are under $150, but if you’re gonna splurge, WOW. I’m so loving the pairs from La Pima, especially these pink ones!

+This two-piece is fun. I have to say I have been seeing a lot of this brand over the last few months and…I’m very intrigued to jump on the bandwagon.

+Such a pretty eye palette.

+My favorite everyday cosmetics.

+These velcro sneaks for littles in the red and white polka dot are so cute for summer – and get great reviews (under $20!). Would go well with my summer wardrobe for boys.

+If you are new here, hello! Welcome! And come say hi! Here is a digest of my best finds so far this year.

44 Comments

  1. Although I’m commenting a month late and hopefully you’re out of your slump, I have to say that I agree with everyone who says that a palate cleanser might do the trick! That’s my time-worn trick when I need to get back into the habit of daily reading. 🙂

    I’m currently reading Elin Hilderbrand’s Summer of ’69, which I’m rather enjoying as a lighter read (but still interesting as I think it was her first historical novel!) I’m also slowly making my way through Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste — I tend to read 2 books at once: one fiction and one nonfiction.

    Another favorite book I completed recently: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. Oh my, I LOVED IT. So, so, so well-done. I also really enjoyed Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener.

    xx

    1. So funny, MK – I just finished a Hilderbrand and it was a delightful distraction! Very much enjoyed the palate cleanser. I’ve heard good things about the Evaristo, too! What did you like about it?

      xx

    2. That’s so funny! OK, so the Evaristo — her prose feels akin to poetry in some respects, as there’s very little punctuation throughout the book (the only time you really see a period is at the end of a chapter!) She is very skilled at drawing multifaceted characters who really stay with you (at least they did for me!) and I started the book knowing little about the African diaspora communities within the UK, so I found it very interesting to learn a bit about that. I also loved how she wove storylines together — sometimes this technique can feel trite, but it wasn’t overdone, in my opinion. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it!

      xx

      P.S. I forgot to say this in my original comment — that Esther dress from Petal & Pup is WOWZA. I’m seriously considering it … have you ever ordered anything from them? I have never heard of P&P and am curious to know if you have any notes on quality, customer service, etc!

    3. Hi! I have never ordered from P&P either, so let me know if you take the plunge. The prices suggest the quality may not be all the way there, but worth a try?

      Thanks for the feedback on Evaristo! Sounds intriguing.

      xx

    4. Hi! I did take the plunge on that P&P dress (in black) and will report back once it arrives. It’s SO chic and I have high hopes!

      xx

  2. I did not love The Midnight Library. I kept wondering if it would get better. I enjoyed Outlawed but I toggled off the audiobook to Kindle because I didn’t love the narration. I highly recommend Deacon King Kong by James McBride. The audiobook narrator is fantastic at bringing borough accents to life, and it has one of the most satisfying endings I’ve ever encountered.

    1. Ooh, thanks for the rec, Jessica! So interesting that you had the same reaction to the narration of “Outlawed.” Since writing this post I actually turned a corner in that book and have been gliding through it. I had to sort of steel myself against the narrator’s voice — the story moves so quickly and cinematically, though. There is actually a lot to unpack on the gender front in that book that I think I’ll be noodling over for awhile.

      xoxo

  3. Just wanted to say how much I appreciate your honest review of The Midnight Library. I was feeling like I was the only one! It just felt so….forced? Predictable? Like a self-help read? Of course she has to discover all the other lives aren’t satisfying but I found the life quotes to read like a bad Pinterest board. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was exactly, but not for me. I just finished Anxious People and didn’t care for that one either, so I’m feeling a reading slump too. I’ll have to try some of these other recommendations though!

    1. We are in the same boat, my friend! It was kind of a relief hearing other people had similar reactions to that book and have been in a similar slump recently!

      xx

  4. A friend just today asked me for book recs…
    The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach was excellent,
    and I EVER miss a chance to recommend
    Lush Life by Richard Price…. it’s older but in my top 5…the way he writes dialogue is just astounding. I think your Mr. Magpie would love both of these too!

    And the old Ruth Rendell mysteries are cozy and escapist, so fun.
    xo

    1. Thank you so much for these recs! I’ve heard good things about Harbach but had never even heard of the Price book! Merci merci!

      xx

  5. Happens to the best of us! I’d turn to Patchett herself to deliver a Dutch House like read — Commonwealth or State of Wonder! I like both of those even more than Dutch House!

    And have you read Ferrante? I can’t remember! But if not dive into “My Brilliant Friend” and come out four books later. However, I don’t recommend the audio because there are so many characters with multiple names (nicknames) and there’s a handy chart at the beginning of the book I used for reference when getting used to the Naples’ families’ dynamics.

    For nonfiction, I just started Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass” and I am hooked!

    1. Hi Joyce – These are great! I’ve actually never read Patchett’s other work so that resonated strongly! Merci!!!

      xxx

  6. Reading slumps are the WORST! Hope you get back on a roll soon. I just read The All of It and thought you’d like it (is that weird to hear from a stranger on the internet??? I feel like we’re in virtual book club so hopefully not too weird!). It is short which I feel like helps in a rut situation, and it incorporates both fly fishing and Catholicism so it could either be right up your alley or a complete miss! Apparently Ann Patchett strongly endorsed this book, so while it’s not another Dutch House, it’s adjacent??

    Also, Kendra (of the Lazy Genius podcast) just answered “best book to get out of a reading slump” with The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Thought I’d throw that out there even though this book doesn’t appeal to me personally.

    One more thing…I just started reading the Little House books to my daughter who’s a bit younger than your mini. I was surprised that she was willing to sit and listen without many pictures! But maybe a read aloud could help with your slump? I forgot how much I loved these books! I read ahead one day during “rest time” so I could finish Little House on the Prarie 🙂

    1. Oo thank you! My mom loved “The All of It” and I’d forgotten that rec! Thank you!!

      These are fantastic recs — grazie!

      xx

  7. Jen,

    What a coincidence. I am also moving to a new home later this spring and the last few months of process have left me totally uninterested in reading. The mental gymnastics of it all can certainly take up a lot of space!

    I find we have very similar taste in books (i.e. Circe, the deepest love!) and am validated to know that you also were unimpressed with Midnight Library. It seems like everyone else out there is obsessed! I agree with your assessment on the heavy-handedness. I also found it totally predictable – who could possibly have guessed that ending? 😉

    For books, I agree with others who have recommended Book of Longings. It’s beautifully written. It’s a serious read though, so perhaps not ideal for breaking out of a slump. Did you ever read Madeline Miller’s other book, Song of Achilles? I really enjoyed it and it gets a bit steamy! Also, if you’re open to lighter fare (i think a great suggestion to try something totally new), Jasmine Guillory’s books are terrific. Romance, light, but smart. Look forward to hearing your recommendations when you pick back up!

    1. Hi Kelly! Thank you so much for sharing that you’ve been in a similar headspace. Maybe it is all of the “but what abouts…” that are skittering through my mind, disrupting my reading and subtly deflecting my interest. Thanks for validating that.

      And glad I am not alone in the feeling of dissatisfaction with Midnight Library. I wanted to like it so much.

      Thanks for the suggestions — have not read Song of Achilles or Guillory! The latter might be just the ticket. Merci merci merci.

      xx

  8. Mating Rituals of the North American Wasp, Laura Lipton (current read)
    Evvie Drake Starts Over, Linda Holmes (just finished, well done)
    Who is Maud Dixon, Alexandra Andrews (this sounds really good)
    Fleishman is in Trouble, Taffy Brodesser-Akner (my next book club selection)
    Agatha Arch is Afraid of Everything,Kristin Bair O’Keeffe (quirky)

    1. Thank you so much for these suggestions, Michelle! I hadn’t heard of any of these?!

      xx

  9. This post resonated with me. If you’d told me that I’d be basically locked in my house for a year, I would have guessed that I’d have read 200 books by this point. Instead, I went nearly 4 months without reading one – very odd for me. I think the complete drain of homeschooling, pandemic worry, work, too many Zooms, managing a household etc. just left me empty and unable to focus. I also found that I was consuming far more long form journalism than usual, which also cannibalized my book time. Recently, though, I’ve felt re-energized and have been reading far more and have found it to be such a nice return. I’ve particularly enjoyed A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. A short, but searing, read I also enjoyed was A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself by Peter Ho Davies – rare to read about parenting from the male perspective.

    1. Thank you, Liz, for the book recommendations and also for the observation that perhaps it’s just a tough time in general to clip into things. News whiplash, a lot of extra THINGS to process. Sometimes it’s nice to just lay alone in quiet, unprovoked by anything!

      xx

  10. I just finished The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt which, though a middle grade novel, I found incredibly moving. Cannot recommend it enough as it’s an easy read (the perfect reading slump kind of book) but also a charming story I won’t soon forget.

    Also recommending The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. The first in a series about a female private detective in Botswana and it’s just wonderful!

  11. Have you read Save Me the Plums? I positively devoured it a couple years ago, and it seems straight up your alley.

    More recently, I just finished The Book of Longings, which imagines the life of the fictional wife of Jesus, and WOW. I will be thinking of this book for many years and have encouraged many people in my life to read it just so I can discuss it with them! As a fellow Catholic, I found the portrayals of Jesus and Mary in particular to be so deeply moving, and it has made me reconsider so many elements of the story I’ve heard so many times. It’s also beautifully written.

    1. Hi Megan! I love Ruth Reichl – yes, maybe some of her work is just what the doctor ordered. So easy to read, so delicious in every sense of the word!

      I hadn’t heard about The Book of Longings but am very intrigued! Thanks for these thoughtful recs.

      Have a great weekend, Megan!

      xx

    2. +1 for The Book of Longings! Read it last year and could not stop thinking about it for several days — which for me is an indicator of a really good book!

      When I’m in a reading slump, I just re-read something I enjoyed before. I also don’t force myself to finish books I’m not enjoying. I used to, because I felt like I had to justify the cost? Or if I’m really not into reading at the moment I get into podcasts. They’re brief, engaging, and I feel like I’m often both being informed and entertained at the same time.

    3. Oo you guys are really selling that book!

      Good point on just not finishing if I’m not into it. Need to give myself more grace – I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to put things down!

      xx

  12. I’m also in a bit of a slump myself after a great start to the year! I’ve been reading Joan Didion’s My Year of Magical Thinking but the central theme – grief – is just a bit too much a year into this pandemic? So I’m trudging through bit by bit, although enjoying it when I can.

    I just read Lock Every Door by Riley Sager. Not the best thriller I’ve ever read though and so I don’t even want to recommend it if you’re looking to get out of a slump! But it was a sort of bizarre delight.

    Maybe the general reading malaise is just the dreary time of year?

    1. Hi Molly – Oh God, I wept (audibly) on a plane reading that Didion book. That is tough emotional going!!

      Maybe you’re right that it’s the time of year (post-holiday, still-winter blahs) and how much else is going on in my personal life. I’m intrigued by the words “bizarre delight” w/r/t the Sager book! Added to my list.

      xx

  13. If you’re reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula you should definitely read Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor. It is based on Stoker’s life and his relationship with Ellen Terry & John Irving, among others. It is constructed like Dracula with newspaper accounts, diary entries, etc. The first couple chapters are a little hard to get into but after that it is smooth sailing and a great diversion.

    1. Oh thank you so much! This sounds right up my alley. Just added to my list!

      xx

  14. I highly recommend a “palate cleanser” book…or 8…I’m finishing the Bridgerton series right now and feel very ready to move on to more substantive books after nothing else was quite hitting the spot. It’s so fun to “binge” a book series….feels like middle school reading all the Princess Diaries or Babysitters Club or something! But with some steamy love scenes! Highly recommend !

    1. Ooo! OK, I like this prompt!! I can see how something steamy/mindless/easy-going might be what the doctor ordered. Thank you!

      xx

  15. This is only one area of your life where you have total control of what you read or IF you read. Reading is a pleasure, a joy, a relaxing time you control. Please don’t burden yourself with “goals”. So many other aspects of our lives are out of our control, so lean into it as an activity with no demands, except what you want and when. No pressure!
    Take a break. Your mind may need it. You’ve got a lot going on right now. Stop and enjoy life with your gorgeous growing family.

    1. You are so right, Cynthia! Why am I straining to meet a goal? Ha! Rule follower in me I guess. I’m going to take a page out of your book and just ease up and let myself clip back in when ready. Or maybe I’ll jump ship on what I’m currently reading and find something frothy and diverting along the suggestions other Magpies have offered. Grazie!

      xoxo

  16. I’ve most recently enjoyed The Most Fun We Ever Had. It could’ve been edited down a bit, some parts drag on, but the dialogue is just beautiful.

    I’ve been itching to read Kristen Hannah’s new book. But I’m only 19 hours in to Obama’s 29 hour (!) audio book, so I have a ways to go.

    1. I just finished The Four Winds yesterday. Liked it alot, but it did become a very difficult story of misery and hardship.

    2. Hm – maybe I’ll leave this one for a little later. I need something bright!

      xx

    3. Hi Christina – I’ve had so many people recommend “The Most Fun We Ever Had”! Definitely on my list. Obama’s book is an undertaking for sure. It took me like two months to make it through, but I found it highly informative. Reading it I realize how distracted I was in my early 20s – I don’t remember many details of a lot of the major geo-political events he discussed! I felt like it was an important refresher in recent history for me.

      My mom is also reading the Hannah book! Curious what my Magpies think of it!

      xx

  17. Jen,

    I’ve been in a slump myself, although my numbers would suggest otherwise (I’ve read 14 books so far this year). Reading feels more like a chore: I’m wading through mud rather than gliding waters. When this happens, I do a few things: lean into it and read something HARD, like dense nonfiction – right now I’m reading “Despite the Best Intentions,” which presents research on racial inequality in “good” schools. In another vein, I also like to read a quick win (see below). This is typically something very light, heavy on the romance, and doesn’t take a lot of brain space. I can usually finish it in a few hours. Getting to check off a completed book kickstarts my momentum, much like breakfast kickstarts metabolism.

    Another thing I do: talk to other book-loving friends. My best friend and I have had a Google doc each year since 2010 (!!) where we list and review books we read each year, just for each other. Periodically we “meet on the doc” to have a written back-and-forth. We make reading plans, lists of books, review books we both have read recently, discuss genres, etc. Last year’s is 26 pages long! Hearing about her reading, making a plan, etc. also help jumpstart me again.

    Isn’t it interesting how books read so differently between audio and print sometimes? The narrator truly affects your reading. I’m listening to Elin Hilderbrand’s “28 Summers” (ear candy! It’s such a soap opera), and there is one part where the narrator lists the characters of “Arrested Development.” If you have seen “Arrested Development,” you may know where I’m going with this: she mispronounces Gob’s name! It’s pronounced like Job from the Bible, not Gob like sour cream. It took me out of the story for awhile.

    Love your thoughts about Midnight Library! I read it in January and it was a (temporary) slump buster for me, but I absolutely see how the message can be cloying or treacly. I think our mental states so often affect our enjoyment of the books we read. I had a hard time with both “Vanishing Half” and “Patsy.” They are two books that would be right up my alley in other circumstances, but I could not get into a groove, likely because of the mental load I was carrying when I read them.

    1. Annie! Oh my gosh, so much to talk through here, but thank you for taking the time to share all of these delightful and intriguing thoughts. First — “meet on the doc”?! OMG. I’m in love with you and your friend and this entire digital exchange over books! How amazing to have that intellectual companionship. I can imagine it would spirit you through some of the slumps. I am in two book clubs (digital now) and they really help me move through books when I’m stuck. If nothing else, I WILL finish those books.

      Mainly though I am distracted by the mispronunciation of Gob’s name! (?!?!?!?). I absolutely love “Arrested Development” and have watched the series start to finish many times. (“Jereth Cutestory” is probably my favorite episode.). I would be totally taken aback by the mispronunciation! So odd they wouldn’t have checked on that!

      And yes, so true how our mental states can pluck us right out of a book we might otherwise love. You’re making me realize that maybe sometimes it’s good to just put a pin (bookmark?) in it when you can’t get through something or it’s not jiving — and revisit in a future month.

      xx

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