How do I start to enjoy reading again?
March 26, 2009 7:29 AM   Subscribe

How do I start to enjoy reading again? Books and news just aren't fun anymore...

I've got this problem where if I feel like I have to read something, or that I should read something, it becomes completely uninteresting to me. More than that - it becomes a hated chore, something that I'll do almost anything to avoid. Even if I can get past that avoidance, I certainly won't enjoy it when I'm reading it.

It didn't always used to be this way! I used to read novels, used to read essays, anything that wasn't required reading! But now, in my semi-adulthood, where everything seems required, even novels have turned into a burden.

Has anyone else experienced this? What are some tips for getting over it? I just want to be able to read the news and op-eds and books and actually enjoy them for once. I've got friends who can just suck up news and stories and articles for the joy of it... and I'd love to learn to be like that.

Let me know!
posted by torietorie to Education (27 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely been through this. Recently.
Whereas you seem to be more inclined toward non-fiction, for me it was fiction.

What solved the problem for me was thinking about books and series that I enjoyed reading when I was younger. Thinking about books that really excited me, really knocked my socks off - be it characters, plot, style, whatever.
Picking up one of those, and reading a chapter or two before bed at night, really reignited a love for reading for me.

Right now I'm working my way through Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series - all 47 books!
It's a great journey.

Another thing to think about, especially if you're on website and RSS feed/blog overload, is to sit down and think about which ones you read out of habit, which ones you read out of a sense of duty, and which ones really, truly and honestly contribute to making your life a better one. I'd tend to think that you could actually do without 80 to 90% of those and it would probably be a big relief and weight off your psyche.

Good luck!
posted by willmize at 7:36 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Would it help to reread a book that you know you loved before? (Some people never reread a book; I love to and have several I reread once a year or so.)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:40 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

When this happens to me I take a reading vacation, where I read books that I usually reserve for vacation. For me this is mostly genre fiction (SciFi & mysteries). I love books in those genres, and they go down easy, like junk food. But, for me, like junk food, I get bored after a while of what they don't give me, and I move back to hardier fare.
posted by OmieWise at 8:00 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

After years of working as an editor, I had to relearn how to read for pleasure. The thing that worked best for me was the New Yorker. The short one-page Talk of the Town pieces, short stories, longer nonfiction pieces, and finally, when I was ready, Seymour Hersh. Thank god for Seymour Hersh.

Also, Mefite Brandon Blatcher hosts PoliticalFilter, which often leads to interesting topical news/analysis/discussions elsewhere.
posted by headnsouth at 8:08 AM on March 26, 2009

Personally, when I find myself bogged down in the heavy stuff, I'll pick up a volume of short sci-fi/fantasy's like a kickstart to the literary heart! (for me at least)
posted by Duke999R at 8:13 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think it's just patience. I have also been through this recently, and forced myself to slog through a few books. I can't put my finger on what exactly changed it, but in the past few weeks I can barely keep my nose out of a book again. Definitely what other have suggested helps: finding a topic that you love, that maybe you consider a "guilty pleasure," and having at it.

I have a list of books to read that is over 300 books right now, and that gets overwhelming. I think that if just tell my brain to stop thinking of it as a "to do" list and start thinking of it as someone else's library that I'm browsing, I have more fun picking off interesting titles and having good reads. Give yourself license to read whatever, whenever. Even if that means not reading for a bit.
posted by bibbit at 8:23 AM on March 26, 2009

Do you spend a lot of time on the Internet? That can be murder on an attention span. Lately I've found that I enjoy reading books much more if I shut off my computer and my cellphone.

Also, try reading short novels that can be finished in a single sitting--200-250 pages or so. I like to block off a Saturday or Sunday morning to do this.
posted by Prospero at 8:33 AM on March 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

I like to stay informed about national events, but I find I need news holidays once in a while. The volume, repetitiveness, and endless (often baseless) commentary just gets old. Lately, NPR once a week or so on my morning commute along with a few weekly hits of Google News is enough to get me by. Some weeks, I avoid it altogether.

There are several things you could try. Maybe you're not enjoying what you're reading and need to find some material that excites you. Maybe you need to vary the length of the works or the genre. Maybe audio books or podcasts with a literary bent would spice things up.

But maybe you need a reading holiday? A few weeks of guiltless non-reading?
posted by wheat at 8:36 AM on March 26, 2009

I think the suggestion to read more genre work is great.

I don't know if this would help you, because it sort of functionally turns reading into a work-like task, but I recently started posting a GoodReads review of every book I read as soon as I finish it. Initially, this was just to keep track of what I was reading, but I get a real sense of satisfaction out of keeping track of my opinions about books, too--it offers a more concrete reward than the pleasure of reading alone. I'm pretty sure I finish more books these days--even if I don't love a novel, I know I'll get the satisfaction of talking about it (even if it's mostly talking to myself!) when I'm all done.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:48 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

But now, in my semi-adulthood, where everything seems required, even novels have turned into a burden.

Who or what is requiring you to read novels in semi-adulthood?
posted by General Tonic at 9:05 AM on March 26, 2009

I first went through this just after college, where so much required reading really dampened my enthusiasm. I was an avid reader since childhood, so that sucked for me. To be honest, I don't remember doing anything in particular to kickstart my reading back then, but since then I have gone through less severe dry periods.

I just came off of one. This one I blame on my husband. I enjoy historical fiction and had read maybe 2 or 3 books in a row of that genre, and while they are not books of the bodice-ripper variety, my husband seems to equate all historical fiction as such and was pushing me to read weightier stuff (which I enjoy, I just wan't in the mood for that at the time). To appease him I read a couple of books he wanted me to read, but I just could not get into them because I felt forced. It was killing my enjoyment and I stopped reading for a while. Eventually I said, screw this, and thought about what might sound good to me. For some reason I decided it was Jane Austen - I actually had never read any of her books. I started one and really got into it, so now I am working my way through her books. I just finished my 3rd one, and found myself ready for something different and more along the lines of what my husband wanted me to read. I picked up Manhattan Transfer and am loving it.

So maybe you just need to indulge yourself without thinking that you have to read an op-ed, or a "book of substance" or whatnot. You could try throwing yourself into something that just plain sounds good and you might find yourself not only reading for pleasure again, but ready for different styles/genres/etc.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:25 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Try deliberately reading stuff that will uninform you and amuse you in the process. I suggest John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise and More Information Than You Require and the other books by the Daily Show/ Colbert Report folks.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:27 AM on March 26, 2009

I don't know if you need to be getting over it or forcing yourself into it. My feeling on this is that it's a very good thing to take a break and go on a literary/media diet every so often. It clears the brain palate. There is something called over stimulation and too much input - this could be your unconscious way of letting yourself know that you're ready for something new. Maybe taking what you've gleaned so far from books and putting them into action - for example.
posted by watercarrier at 9:48 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Stop pressuring yourself.

Allow yourself to read something that you regard as "fluff" - whether that be going out and reading Twilight or Harry Potter or picking up a harlequin romance or two. Read something that you have absolutely no expectations in, other than taking up an hour or two of your time. Once you start getting in the habit of "Oh hey! Reading is a nice way to take up time!" it will be easier to add some "serious" works into your reading diet. I would personally recommend the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett for this - they're really light reading, but insanely smart and funny. He's not going to make you work too hard and you can put the books down and pick them up quite easily, but they do make you think.

As for articles: start with blogs that discuss things that you're interested in. A short synopsis/opinion will allow you to skim the article and still get most of the relevant information from it. Again, after doing this for a while, you'll probably be interested enough to read the full articles on their own and perhaps skip the blogs entirely.

I find that carrying some light reading everywhere actually helps keep me from taking reading *too* seriously. Like, it's something I can do to kill five minutes of time. I don't have to sit down and devote my full mental energy to it if I don't want to. It can just be a pleasant distraction in a waiting room, if I want.

Also, the suggestion to re-read things you've liked in the past is a good one, but don't pick anything *too* heavy.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:52 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I tend to get bogged down in long (1000+ page) novels and it takes me a long time to get through a book since I only have my train ride during commutes to read. After a while it was becoming a chore to get through a book and I stopped enjoying it.

I switched gears and went for a few "quick wins" I read shorter books that I knew I plow through and enjoy.. for me it would be Ed McBains 87th Precinct books for some Asimov or my latest guilty pleasure of Matthew Reilly (lots of non-stop action, high body count, crazy scenarios.. good stuff!)

After a few of these quick wins I am ready for something that requires a bigger commitment.
posted by MattScully at 10:09 AM on March 26, 2009

Comic Books!

Or if you want to be all hoighty toighty, Graphic Novels. They're fun and the art gives an extra dimension of enjoyment. You don't have to be into superheroes either, as they're written in all genres. And the best part, there's plenty of suggestions right here on the green.
posted by Pangloss at 10:14 AM on March 26, 2009

Yes. The internet killed my attention span for a long time. Last December, I looked at my reading list for the year and was absolutely shocked by how few books I'd gotten through. I vowed to change that for 2009.

A couple things that worked for me:

Audiobooks. I listen to one almost every day on my commute home from work, since I'm just sitting there anyway, and the chapters seriously whiz by in ways that they never do when I'm reading a physical book. In some ways, they're even more enjoyable because having the book read to you frees the mind to process visuals and imagery from teh book. My previously novel-averse husband dubiously chose one the last time we were at the library and now, every night, he excitedly tells me about the chapter he listened to on his way home.

Shorter books. The satisfaction of finishing a book tends to build on itself, and the more (short) books I got through, the more I wanted to consume. Before I knew it, I was back to my previously voracious reading schedule.
posted by anderjen at 10:24 AM on March 26, 2009

Perhaps try reading as a social phenomena instead. For example, look at harry potter readers:

There is a lull between book releases. A quiet spell.

Then in the weeks leading up to a new book, social activity starts to rise. In the days before launch, speculation as to what will happen is wild. People are really excited. The excitement and joy can be contagious.

The day it comes out, people are camping/queuing to buy it, and bookshops become spontaneous fan conventions, hundreds of people brought together by a common passion.

(The next day, half the people call in sick to work. Yeah, but you know what's really going on :-)

Then perhaps you ignore the internet for a while so as to avoid breathless spoilers from those who race through reading it.
Or perhaps sharing the shared experience is part of it for you.

Then over the next few weeks, you discuss it. Digest it. Review things people noticed that you missed.
People turn their artistic bent towards things like figuring out and making pretty maps of a complex area, or updating story summaries, online character bios, etc. Perhaps you are on the forefront of whichever part of this appeals. Perhaps people seek you as an authority on this side-element of the subculture. And/or perhaps you enjoy the additional material that the community makes available.

Basically, reading becomes a social activity instead of a private one. Personally, I've always ended up reading books where the entire series is in paperback before I start reading the first one, but I've seen people get a lot of joy out of the rollercoaster of reading a popular series as it is being written.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:11 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

My wife bought me a Kindle for my birthday, and I've read more in the past month than I have in the past year! I am so happy to have re-discovered the joy of reading.
posted by newfers at 2:04 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Kid's books, Newberry winners for ideas.
posted by notned at 2:12 PM on March 26, 2009

I recommend starting with young adult books. Specifically, the Hunger Games, Feed or Little Brother.
posted by changeling at 2:52 PM on March 26, 2009

I would try changing the environment that you read in. Find a nice comfy armchair in a sunny spot, and make yourself a cup of hot chocolate or something. If your surroundings feel more like a treat than usual, maybe you will be able to think of reading as a relaxing passtime rather than a chore. But make it easy on yourself and start with a fun book. I don't think a cup of Earl Gray will get you through Proust right now if that's where you're at. Just read until you start getting bored and then stop and do something else. Then try again another time when you've got a little spare time.
posted by Emilyisnow at 3:51 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Interestingly, I did not have the reaction that DrGirlfriend had after college, but I did - in spades - after finishing law school. I could not read anything for pleasure for about a year.

I let it flow. The instinct naturally returned.
posted by megatherium at 5:22 PM on March 26, 2009

I stopped reading for a while, especially the newspaper. Turned out it was time to get reading glasses.
posted by theora55 at 6:14 PM on March 26, 2009

Read a story out loud! Read a chapter book to a young friend, or a novel to someone else. Perhaps read for the blind? Put some effort into the voices and flow of words. I'm doing Georgette Heyer novels with my mom and she loves it.
posted by Tufa at 9:07 PM on March 26, 2009

I've had a similiar reaction to feeling like I am "required" or "should" do something. Why feel guilty about your personal hobbies?

So, I gave myself permission not to finish things.

1. I start a book or knitting project
2. It becomes uninteresting/burdensome/whatever
3. I stop reading and take it back to the library/unravel it
4. I say to myself "I am in charge of my own free time, and I will do whatever the hell I want!"

After a year of that, I find it more enjoyable and easier to start (and finish) any number of things.

About the news though, I find that every few months I just need to take a few weeks off from the onslaught.
posted by MissSquare at 10:52 AM on March 27, 2009

Do you just have so little free time that any time you start to read, you just want to lay around and stare into space? I'd let that happen. Maybe eventually you get bored. Maybe you get so bored you go find a book. Just have reading be your escape from boredom (vs. the internet).

Or is it that you're making reading into a work-like chore by attaching a lot of judgment and pressure to what and when you read? If so, read things that are guilty pleasures and read at weird times, like take a long lunch or something. Let reading be your rebellion. People Magazine, perhaps? Again, eventually you'll get bored or annoyed ("these characters suck") and naturally turn to something more officially sanctioned.
posted by salvia at 11:26 AM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

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