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?)
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
Subscribe to the monthly version of my blog and you’ll get all the gory details of my querying journey. And, you know, book stuff.