You may have seen the terms online in bookish communities: slump, fatigue, and burnout. Each represents a time in a reader’s life when reading is no longer pleasurable. Why does this happen? How are these reading moods different? And how can you combat the problem?
Psychology Today describes burnout as “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” Perhaps a person who had spent a lot time reading for pleasure is now dealing with a lifestyle change that diminishes her energy and attention span. She may have considered reading as a form of relaxation but these days she can’t even think about picking up a book. This is burnout.
I dealt with burnout years ago when recovering from a series of health setbacks. What once brought me joy was suddenly a struggle. Taking a prolonged break from reading was the only thing I could do. The interest to read came back gradually along with the longer attention span. My biggest take away from the experience is to be patient and don’t force it. When the urge to read becomes so uncomfortable that you need to do something about it, give yourself some grace and start small. Flip through a magazine or try a non-fiction book that is broken down into short chapters.
Don’t make any grand reading goals or arbitrary deadlines. Eventually, you might return to your reading speed and routines. Just remember that it’s not guaranteed, it’s not necessary, and everything has a season. Being a reader isn’t determined by how many books you can read or how many hours you devote to the activity. If you enjoy reading, you’re a reader.
While reading fatigue seems to be a term used for students who won’t look at another book after completing an ambitious workload, I think it can happen to anyone who’s required to process an enormous amount of information for an intense time period. I also would include people who work in the publishing industry, readers who participate in competitive reading challenges, and anyone who deals with assigned reading as prime candidates for this form of fatigue.
Again, there should be no guilt or shame in taking a break from reading. Reading—or not reading—is a choice. And if reading had been mandatory, stepping away from books is probably going to be the healthiest option. Since overwhelm is part of reading fatigue, consider a detox from the bookish parts of your life. Unsubscribe to the blogs, Booktubers and Bookstagrammers you follow. Does the sight of your TBR pile make you unhappy? Donate it.
Unfortunately, if reading fatigue was from work or study, chances are you need to recover quickly for the next round. How do you prepare? Slowly reintroduce books and storytelling into your day. Read your favorite author or a favorite book in small chunks. Establish time to read in your schedule and build it up in increments. Most importantly, create a reading environment in your living space that is both welcoming and designed to help you achieve your next big project.
Most readers have experienced a reading slump. I think it’s not only natural but it also should be expected. A slump is when you have books you want to read, the time and energy to read them, but you consistently choose other leisure activities. Sometimes there’s a straightforward explanation for this, such as you’re binge-watching a cultural phenomenon or you’re exploring a different interest during the time you usually spend reading.
But if there aren’t any new pursuits or schedules in your life, why would you have a reading slump? I believe reading slumps come in cycles and that this particular mood indicates that you’re changing as a reader. Just because you’ve been a reader all your life doesn’t mean the routines and rituals that have guided you should remain static. Also, you may have a deep and abiding love for a subgenre, but a slump can suggest that your reading tastes are evolving.
So if you’ve always read before bed but lately haven’t been reaching for that book on your bedside table, what can you do? Modify your routine and look at the results. Or, if the last few books of your favorite author have been unsatisfactory experiences, either her storytelling is going in a different direction or your reading tastes have changed.
If you need to try new authors to lift a reading slump, see who your favorite writers recommend or look at the readalike suggestions on online booksellers. Want to try a different subgenre? Find your next favorite book by listening to podcasts, watching reviewers on videos, reading book blogs, and following people in the know on Instagram.
Finally, here’s a bonus mood to round out the list: the book hangover. It’s when you finish a book that is close to perfect that you suffer from the absence of it. Instead of not finding pleasure in reading, this is a mood when the pleasure was so good you ache from it. Of all the moods listed, every reader is willing to risk getting this one.
And there’s an easy and immediate way to handle it: Open the book that gave you the hangover. Go to page one and read it from start to finish again.