How to climb out of a reading rut

Recently I’ve had trouble getting absorbed in the books I’m reading. I asked Twitter for advice, and compiled the suggestions here.

A person climbing a mountain

Recently I’ve been experiencing a reading rut. I used to find it easy to get absorbed in a book and forget the world around me, but lately I’ve been struggling to stay engaged when I read.

I tweeted about this a few days ago and discovered I wasn’t the only one. A lot of people chimed in with their troubles concentrating long enough to read and their inability to get sucked into books. (And who said Twitter was dead?)

A tweet by A.S. Akkalon that reads:

Recently I've been having trouble getting into the books I read. I can enjoy them, but they never transport me. I don't know if it's them or me. Has this happened to anyone else? Any ideas?

#WritingCommunity #books
The tweet that started it all.

I also got a lot of useful suggestions.

Here I compile the main theories for why reading ruts occur and a collection of suggestions on how to deal with a rut. If you’re struggling with your reading, I hope some of the advice helps.

Why reading ruts happen, and why they’re happening now

Modern life and social media

Modern life comes with a bunch of scourges, and many of them could be to blame for reading ruts. High stress, being busy, and being tired might make it hard to get absorbed in a book.

Then there’s phone use and social media potentially shortening our attention spans. As HJ Furl live stories (@FurlHj) puts it, “I think social media has made many of us really impatient as readers and given us a short attention span and expectation of instant gratification (which is what social media’s about, isn’t it?) As a result we bore easily of long descriptive reads.”

There’s also the problem of having too many options always at our fingertips. If a book doesn’t hold your attention you can jump to Netflix, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, or any of dozens of other options. A lot of these offer screen-based media, which, it is hypothesised, ruin us for reading. (How depressing is that?)

The pandemic and lockdowns

The Covid19 pandemic upturned lots of people’s worlds. The earth stopped turning and we went into lockdown. There was the stress, the fear of infection, the uncertainty about whether the world would ever return to normal.

A lot of people on Twitter commented their ability to read for pleasure died when Covid struck–either in general or struck them personally.

World events

There are too many distractions and stresses in the world right now. As Elaine McKeith (@mckeith_elaine) puts it, “I suspect the reason I can’t concentrate is the deep down insecurities of wars in Ukraine and Israel, the huge increase in the cost of living and the cold, dark, wet and miserable winter days.”

I think that pretty much sums it up. Except it’s summer here.

Recent publishing trends

Publishing trends and writing styles come and go, and at any point in time the current trend and style won’t suit all readers. I heard from a lot of people that recently published books aren’t doing it for them, but older books can still steal their hearts.

According to Jeanne Roland (@booksbyJeanneR), “… I think it’s … the books. The mantra is “books must grab you in the first paragraph & propel you straight into action”… but books w/ that formula tend not to hold attention b/c the action has no tether & the characters no substance”

This idea sits close to my heart, and I’ve commented on it before. I’ve read books that grab me, sometimes violently, from the first sentence, but they’re not books I want a long term relationship with. They usually offer cheap thrills and emotional manipulation, not a respectful partnership that nourishes and uplifts. After reading them I feel used.

Then there’s the theory that media more broadly is currently in a slump, with a lot of copying and remaking. According to Haven Family (@ArawnFoxclaw), “In general, movies, books, music, games, and writing started being less passionate, less thought out, and more political.”

It might not just be trends. The squeeze from all directions in the publishing industry (or so I hear) mean good books get pushed through to market without as much editing as they would have received a decade or two ago. For readers who are sensitive to the quality of the writing, this can put a serious crimp on enjoyment.

Being a writer

Being a writer also gets the blame for some reading funks. Maybe because reading critically interferes with enjoyment. For some people, it’s only when they’re editing (and, presumably, analysing every sentence) that they find it hard to enjoy reading. Some find writing more broadly kills their enjoyment of reading.

If you plan to always be writing, this is a problem.

Age

More than one person suggested that by a certain age you feel like you’ve read it all before. Perhaps when you feel you’ve hit this stage you should write your own.

Climb, good kitty! Climb!

How to end a reading rut

Take a break

The first thing to try if you’re in a reading rut is taking a break. If you don’t force it, it may well come back. A few days might be enough.

Remember there’s more to life than reading. While you’re taking that break, feed your brain with all the other stuff.

Optimise reading conditions

Find quiet time for reading when you’re not going to be disturbed and when you have a good chunk of time to relax. Make a cup of coffee or whatever drink is cosy for you, and snuggle up and enjoy.

To get your brain in the right place, you might want to spend less time on social media (but don’t forget us entirely!). Some people find taking just 20 minutes off phones and computers before reading helps.

You might also trying sitting somewhere different to read, using different lighting, or changing your body position (say, lying down to read if you usually sit up). Give it a go and see if anything helps.

Try reading something different

At it simplest, a reading rut means you’re reading the wrong book. Don’t be afraid to dnf a book that isn’t working for you. Finding the right book might get you back in the reading groove, so keep looking for the perfect thing to read.

Your tastes in literature could be changing. Why not try reading a different sort of book to your usual fare, a book with an intriguing premise that you wouldn’t normally pick up?

Changing genre could help. Try one you don’t usually read, or alternatively a comfortable, familiar genre you’ve been away from for a while.

If you usually read ebooks, trying reading a print book or listening to an audiobook. (Yes, listening to an audiobook still counts as reading, and you can do it while washing the dishes.)

Stories come in different lengths, and a shake-up in the size of the story you’re tackling could help. If you usually read novels, try a short story or a novella.

Then there are different types of books. Why not try a web manhwa, graphic novel, kids’ book with pretty pictures, or something non-fiction?

If publishing trends are getting you down, stretch beyond books published by the big five. Books from smaller publishers and self-published books might offer more variety, as might older books.

Alternatively, read some articles, essays, or poetry.

A ladder against a tree in an apple orchard.
Climb out of that reading rut, and pick up some apples on the way.

A few more suggestions

An idea that came up a lot was to re-read an old favourite book.

Or write the book you want to read (then read it).

To change the way you think about the words you see on the page (and hopefully not make your reading rut worse), try some alpha reading for a while.

Amaranth Bell (@Amaranth_Bell) suggests you read a book by Mitch Albom–“they’re different and uplifting in more sense than one”, and they have a “genuine kindness radiating from [them]”.

Finally, W R (@R858619) suggests trying something by Cormac McCarthy or Trevor Noah, especially Noah’s book of short stories “Angels at the Ritz”.

Have you experienced a reading rut? Did anything in particular help you climb out?

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Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

8 thoughts on “How to climb out of a reading rut”

  1. My excuse is I don’t have the time… although really, I do, I just spend it doing other things, only one of which is writing. Some days, resisting the lure of social media is difficult. Other days, I get absorbed playing a game. I hardly watch any TV (I have so many good shows I want to watch, but I never seem to do so).
    The end result is that I have a “pile of shame” on my bedside table, and a few other books still unread on the shelf (all interesting non-fiction). I have half a dozen unread novels on my Kobo e-reader, too.

    My solution for this is the same I use for writing: make the time for reading. Set aside a period of time where I deliberately ignore other distractions, and just read. Even if it’s only a chapter, even if only a few pages.

    1. That sounds like a very sensible approach for dealing with the problem of not getting around to reading. I’ve gone through phases of not reading much, and as you say it’s usually because I give other things higher priority. Just do it!

  2. This: “I’ve read books that grab me, sometimes violently, from the first sentence, but they’re not books I want a long term relationship with. They usually offer cheap thrills and emotional manipulation, not a respectful partnership that nourishes and uplifts. After reading them I feel used.” Explains why reading has a lot in common with dating. TLDR: don’t waste too much time and energy on selections that aren’t worth your time and attention. And yes, read different genres!

    1. It took me a long time to learn to dnf books that weren’t doing it for me–I’m stubborn like that, and once I’ve paid for a book I darn well want to get my money’s worth from it. But I’ve slowly realised how little sense that makes if I’m not enjoying the book. There are so many more books than I could ever read, so why not save my precious reading time for the ones I love?

  3. Usually if I’m in a slump with reading it’s because I’ve had a run of books I didn’t like/had to dnf, or I read something that was highly recommended but turned out to be terrible. I’ve become the sort of reader who reads reviews before I commit to books now to make sure there aren’t any nasty surprises or things I know I’ll hate, as I don’t want to invest time in something only to be disappointed or end up in another slump. To get over a slump I read a ton of fanfiction until I feel over it. It’s still reading, but often times a little bit unpolished, albeit with lots of comfort tropes and characters!

    1. Getting put off by a run of disappointing books sounds very familiar. I’ve always read at least a few reviews for books before I bought them, but sometimes they don’t help much. If you enjoy fanfiction, I can see gorging on that for while might help–like eating ice cream from the tub. 🙂

      1. Haha eating ice cream from a tub is a good analogy for reading fanfiction, it feels good at the time but sometimes I feel guilty for not reading more original stuff 🙂 It does remind me what I love most about stories though: characters, and above all the emotional experience, not technical stuff like grammar or sometimes even plot!

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