How to enjoy reading again?
February 19, 2021 9:21 PM   Subscribe

I haven't enjoyed reading in a long, long, long time. How can I enjoy it again? Or, alternatively, how can I be "okay" with just not being a big reader anymore.

I work in a literary/education-adjacent field and not being a big reader has been something I feel a lot of shame about.

I don't have any particular issues preventing me from reading. I *can* read just fine and I read a fair bit for work.

I'm in my early 30s and I think the last time I *truly* enjoyed reading a book was in high school. I used to read on the bus to and from school, I still have fond memories of reading Naked by David Sedaris and laughing so hard. However, since then... I don't think I've enjoyed a fiction book.

I've picked up books since then and haven't finished them. I have a better track record finishing non-fiction books, but only if the topic interests me (of course), but it's not that much better. I've probably read 10 books for pleasure since my early 20s. Something about reading during undergrad then my master's almost 5 years later just destroyed reading for me. I've been out of grad school for almost 2 years.

I feel a lot of shame surrounding this. Especially because my field is so tied to literacy. People harshly judge non-readers, so no one I work with knows that I don't read for fun. I buy books that sound interesting to me sometimes, so I have a good "library" but the thought of reading for pleasure just... fills me with dread. I'm not sure why! It's an odd feeling. I just feel "overwhelmed" by it. Reading feels so HEAVY compared to other hobbies. I've tried listening to audiobooks but I just cannot pay attention to them, whereas I can pay attention to a conversational podcast. Not sure why.

I love music and films, which I also feel embarrassed by for some reason. I'd definitely rather watch a movie or listen to an album than read a book for pleasure.

Perhaps it's because of the field I'm in, I feel like I SHOULD be a reader. I also feel like I'm a bit of an idiot for not enjoying reading. Like my artistic interests are frivilous (films, music) because I don't like reading. I know I am missing out on literature and stories I'd enjoy because I feel so overwhelmed by reading, but I WANT to be able to read a book without feeling this sense of judgly overwhelming dread because I'm not a reader.

How can I come back around to reading? I also wonder if it's okay to embrace just not being a big reader?
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I have found comfort in letting myself be not-a-book-finisher. Let’s me read, but let’s me toss books aside without judging myself. As a result, I read more because it helps nip the undergrad HAVE TO FINISH THIS BOOK THIS IS MISERABLE feeling in the bud.
posted by Grandysaur at 9:28 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]

I read a fair bit for work.

I think this makes it hard to recover from the feeling that reading was coöpted by graduate school.

I also wonder if it's okay to embrace just not being a big reader?

Of course, and I think most people do just that from time to time. I don't think it lasts in the best majority of cases. Consider it a sensory reset, like when you listen to an album so many times it loses its joy and one day, without realizing it, you listen to it for the last time. Maybe for a month. Or a year. Or a decade. And then one day you're at the park dozing off in the sun and someone nearby has a little boom box playing and, surprise, a song from that album comes on and you think, WOW I haven't heard this in AGES! I forgot how good it is! And then on your walk home you stop at the record store because you're suddenly very hungry again.

How can I come back around to reading?

These pieces of advice might be so personal or impractical as to be useless, but things that have jogged me back into reading fitness: a painful divorce that spurred a hint for information, a movie that surprised me and I later found out was based on a Swedish epic poem from the 1950s, a happenstance encounter with an excerpted paragraph of a trilogy by an author I'd never heard of, a recommendation from my stepson's girlfriend, a surgery that left me laid up and semi-immobioe.for a couple weeks... basically these things are all serendipity. And for every book I get interested in enough to finish, I start and abandon probably ten others. Approaching my neighborhood library like a waste-less buffet has been a great shift in my frame of mind about the value of only investing in reading books that catch you in those ways you want to be caught.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:37 PM on February 19 [8 favorites]

Well from what you wrote it sounds like your brain has psychologically tied "reading a book" to "fulfilling burdensome social obligations" so you would want to do anything that helps to break that connection. I've been thinking about this a bit myself lately as I suffer from this somewhat and here are some ideas that might help:

Try reading in a very different context than you did during school or for work. IE if you used to always read in an armchair, try reading in your bed or at the beach. Or do it at a different time of day, or use an e reader instead of hard books (or the opposite). Changing patterns can help break some of those mental associations

Make a point of splitting your reading into "work" and "fun". For work reading you should stick to books that might help you move forward in your career or accomplish your goal of feeling more artistic. But for your fun reading do the exact opposite and read something trashy and useless. Both types of reading are valuable, and it might help to explicitly think about how they're different
posted by JZig at 9:44 PM on February 19 [11 favorites]

I used to be a huge reader and lost my joy in reading for a while (combo of work stress and obligation associated with reading, plus some hideously stressful life events that destroyed all enjoyment of anything for me for a while). I'm still not 100% of the way back but a thing that has helped has been reading young adult or tween-level books. They are easy, which is one thing, and not at all like the kind of books I have to read for work. But also, they're written to be engaging and fun, and they're relatively quick reads. And there's a lot of really good young adult stuff out there nowadays. Might be worth giving a try.
posted by forza at 9:53 PM on February 19 [9 favorites]

First, I think it's totally fine not to be a big reader. Movies and music are also super-sophisticated art forms that are not frivolous at all! But it's also okay just to prefer light entertainment over "serious" artistic work, in any genre; the world is hard, and you like what you like. I read a lot more "trash" than serious books, because they're FUN and everyone's TIRED and telling a fun story in an amusing way is a notable skill!

Second, I know a lot of adults who were big readers as kids and teens who stopped reading for pleasure in college or grad school because they were reading so much for school-school, like you, and a lot more adults who work in reading-intensive jobs and are so WORN OUT from reading at the end of the day that they don't read for pleasure, or only do so on vacations.

If you'd really like to give reading another go, I'd suggest trying young-adult fiction, short stories, or a low-key book club, because maybe reading and talking about it would be more fun than just reading alone. Just things that are bite-sized and don't feel like such a big commitment, or things that are social.

I will also say anyone who's giving you a hard time about NOT reading is probably pretty insecure and think the way to pump up their "cultural cred" is to put down others, because they don't feel confident in their own tastes or their own cultured-ness (there must be a word for that, the pandemic has eaten my brain). Most people I know who are really huge readers and really huge literature people will enthusiastically tell you what they love, but they're not going to put you down for being more interested in movies and music. I mean, sure, you're going to miss out on some things, but the world is a vast cornucopia of more amazing cultural objects than one person could engage with in a thousand lifetimes; we're all missing out on a ton of amazing things. That's okay!

But if nobody's actually said that and it's just the voice in your own head, tell that voice to pipe down because passionate people's passions are interesting, and you should be passionate about what you're passionate about. Even if it's Gossip Girl, which, not gonna lie, saw every episode and loved and can cite obscure cameos off the top of my head, because that show was unadulterated, candy-coated AWESOME wearing a Blair Waldorf headband. And the only people who have ever given me a hard time about it have been people very invested trying to only like the "right" things and associated gatekeeping.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:59 PM on February 19 [13 favorites]

Maybe it's time to let go of all the weird and self-aggrandizing nonsense that people say about books and reading? I think sometimes people are too suspicious of pleasure and reading has acquired a moral aura that makes it a virtuous way of spending time. Honestly, it might be good to start with giving away the SHOULD books in your "library". You don't want to read them, there's no reason to read them, and unread books always look so sad. What would you read if no one knew what you were reading? Only non-fiction? Vampire porn? Nothing? One of the best parts of adult life is saying I don't want to do this and then not doing it.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:15 PM on February 19 [12 favorites]

It is interesting how much baggage comes with books and reading, when, really, they are just one way of experiencing stories. And stories are where it's at, for me, anyway. I try to reframe this as "stories are important" and not "reading is important". So it really doesn't matter what format, reading, watching, listening. But to answer your question, do you tell yourself that you should only be reading "good" books? And maybe books that you really feel like reading don't fall into that category? What if you gave yourself permission to read for pleasure alone, for the thrill of the story. Genre fiction, a favourite comfort read from childhood?
posted by Zumbador at 11:32 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]

Are you reading blogs, articles, Metafilter discussions? Reading fiction is a lot of emotional work. I stopped reading fiction completely the year my dad died and I still just don't want to even though it's now been a few years and reading had been central to my life.
What I'm saying is that you need a lot of bandwidth for fiction. It's easier in childhood and young adulthood becsuse you don't have a lot of experiences / life story yet so when you read you have less to process. Fiction brings up stuff in us from our own life and can be a lot to process the more of our own stuff our brain is holding onto.
posted by M. at 11:37 PM on February 19 [14 favorites]

There is no moral or spiritual credit tied to reading. Really isn't. What makes you happy makes you wise.

But if you want to try some reading to enjoy, I have two contradictory ideas. First, you could lean on what you've liked more -- non-fiction that interests you. What if you pick an area (n.b. totally unrelated to your academic work plz) and explore it? Second, you could try reading some random new and weird things and stop as soon as you want to. You could pick up some flash fiction (= super-short), or a genre you know nothing about, or stories from a culture you don't understand. Letting go of the expectation of being a competent reader.
posted by away for regrooving at 11:39 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]

Things that have worked for me when stress got too much to concentrate on the written word:
- rereading old favourites (to the point my Pratchett paperbacks are in dire condition...)
- going for genres designed for easy reading: romance, fluff fanfiction, adventure-type SFF (Murderbot reads like a dream, for example)
- in a complete reverse: going through the short stories and novellas of awards lists, to reacquaint myself with how innovative writing can be
posted by I claim sanctuary at 11:47 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]

I also used to read voraciously as a child and teenager and now don't. I don't work in a field where reading literary novels is as closely tied to moral superiority as yours. I almost never read literary novels and only occasionally read non-fiction books or genre fiction. I vote for embracing not being a big reader, as I think trying to force it is counter-productive. If it helps, remember that a couple of hundred years ago novels were dismissed as lightweight and inconsequential. Film is sometimes treated that way nowadays, but film is as valuable an art medium as the novel and I'm confident will eventually be seen in the same light as the novel.
posted by plonkee at 1:29 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]

I am a librarian and a writer and I also think it is totally fine if someone isn’t a big reader. It is something that a lot of people enjoy, sure, but not everyone and it sounds like you just don’t get pleasure out of it. Your free time is your free time—watch movies, listen to music, do anything you want that doesn’t harm another living creature and you are golden.
posted by pie_seven at 4:05 AM on February 20

I maxed out the library's limit every time; I'd read 1-3 books a week. Now I can't remember the last book I read. I think it was a murder mystery. ?

But I listen to audiobooks a lot, and also interesting podcasts. Podcasts have replaced reading for me In These Times. I see that as a perfectly viable alternative, and may lead to you looking for books that you heard discussed in the podcast.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:36 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]

Adding that as I write this, I am realizing that why audiobooks and podcasts seem to work for me now in a way that physical books won't is that now, I need to the story to truly fill my head. To sit and read a book in the traditional manner simply leaves too much room for distraction, if that makes any sense. And I learn so much from good podcasts, in ways I never considered.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:41 AM on February 20

It sounds like for you (and many others), reading is tied into complicated feelings of self worth. Everything you do in terms of reading, not reading, starting a book but not finishing it, finally finishing a book after a long slog, buying but not reading etc. - all of those things cause immediate, often negative, feedback into your level of self worth.

That doesn't sound fun at all. And this is why we loved to read when we were young, no? Because reading was fun. Because reading was the escape from all the demands of life that told us we weren't good enough, that we had to do whether we enjoyed them or not. Reading was where we were allowed to vanish into pure pleasure, that nobody else credited or understood but that was there for our pleasure alone. Reading was the escape from all the shit and now it's become one more thing to escape from.

Could you perhaps try to untie reading from self worth and social standing? Some stupid ideas to try out!
- give up reading for a set time, like three months. And tell your coworkers you're giving up reading for Lent. Watch their delicious confusion.
- read only shlock! Read guilty pleasure stuff that you would normally absolutely sneer at, like titillating dinosaur romance. Read at least three books that are objectively ridiculous (but in a fun way).
- read stuff that is so heavy you wouldn't normally touch it with a pole. Think "Ulysses". But only read one or two chapters. Or flip it open in the middle and start reading in the middle of a sentence. Enjoy the way the sentences are strung together and images are evoked. Then put it away again forever. I read bits of Dostoevski's Crime and Punishment that way. It was marvellous. (Cheerfully lie to everyone that you read it.)
- read something you've never read before, that sounds exciting, with whole new vocabulary (for me, it was neuroscience). It's hard but in a way separate from how reading is hard. Fun!

Finally, Doris Lessing said that if you're not enjoying a book, you might not be at the right stage of life to appreciate it. And you would be robbing yourself of future delight if you were to force yourself to continue anyway. So stop reading! I found this quote in the flap of one of her books...and promptly put it down again and stopped reading it.
posted by Omnomnom at 5:14 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]

I far prefer a hard copy, but it’s pretty magical how the library can make any book you want show up on your phone for free. Maybe look around on askme’s books tag and send a few ideas to your phone?
posted by 8603 at 5:45 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]

This has happened to me several times in life, including now. Like you my love of reading led me to a vocation that has me reading-writing-wording all day long, and at the end of the day, that part of my brain is spent. I felt guilty for a long time - and felt robbed too, that was my outlet! Even the New Yorkers piled up until I started looking at pinterest for ways to make art out of them (I do not make art). But I've come to realize that what transported me wasn't the act of reading, but the story itself, and so I found new ways to get lost in stories. Good stories are everywhere, and sitting on the couch hunched over a paper book is just one way of immersing yourself in them. Bingeing a well-made tv series and listening to podcasts that dive deep into a subject both replenish me the way reading books oldschool-style used to, while giving my eyes a break and letting me move around after/instead of sitting all day.

As for your colleagues, I feel sorry for readers who are snobs about reading and look down on new media; they are limiting their own imaginations. Paper books were new once too.
posted by headnsouth at 5:54 AM on February 20

Really just want to say that I'm exactly the same, and it saddens me and makes me feel shame, too - you're not alone. I own so many books and people think of me as well-read, but the thought of reading a book generally gives me a sense of dread and strain and antsiness and impending failure.

The only thing I've found that did get me past it for a while was saying I'd only read for eg. 10 minutes at a time, setting a timer, and doing it. Putting the book down after my time was up, even if I'd mostly just stared at the same paragraph the whole time. That was kind of like putting the whole escapade into first gear, making the first step easy and stress free, and also helped me read enough of a book to get interested in it and more likely to pick it up. Eventually I stopped setting the timer and had become a reader again.

It didn't last - I should probably start setting a timer again and see if I can get back into it. But I feel even less inclination to do it in lockdown. Life is hard enough already without forcing myself to do 'improving' things that my brain's reluctant to do. Strangely, I do read on holiday, which somehow feels easier - it's a time when normal rules don't apply, I have lots of time to fill. Which are both true of lockdown. But somehow it's different.

Mostly I just shrug and do other things. I do feel a sense of loss that I haven't experienced so much great writing as other people, and feel a flash of envy when people post photos of the pile of books they've read this month. But in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't seem to have left me a dunce. I go to the theatre, watch good TV, read a lot on the internet.
posted by penguin pie at 6:07 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]

I am a librarian and sometimes struggle with the why behind encouraging people to read. I like this quote to articulate some reasons why we engage with literature (focuses on youth, though I think it applies to everyone!): “we should help young people to discover the power of literature to enable us to experiment imaginatively with life, to get the feel and emotional cost of different adult roles, to organize and reflect on a confused and unruly reality, and to give us pleasure through the very lan­guage that accomplishes these things.” From The Acid Test for Literature Teaching Louise M. Rosenblatt The English Journal, Vol. 45, No. 2. (Feb., 1956).
posted by wsquared at 7:21 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]

I love this question. I read a lot, and for one or more of the following reasons:
1. Comfort and escapism
2. The exhilaration of the creative process & different ways of storytelling
3. For a challenge in confronting a new perspective or philosophy

I'm in firm agreement with others upthread that any artistic medium can provide all of these (including video games). There is no particular merit in reading specifically. Consider someone who only reads a narrow type of comfort read by white male authors vs someone who explores a wide range of music and film outside their own experience.

For me, the uniqueness of reading is tied up in a specific kind of slowing down as self care. I love the ritualistic abandon in lounging about in a hammock or bath with a book, or curling up in an armchair with one under a big blanket. It's such a break from the rapid busyness of the rest of my life, especially for the focus on the full present moment that it brings me.

In short, I don't think you should feel obligated to read. Art is accessible in so many different ways. However, if you want to try, I definitely think the answer is in starting with something purely joyful and fun and there are a number of archived threads with recommendations.

And this might sound odd, but another way to get yourself excited about reading might be starting out with the craft of storytelling itself. Pixar made a course on this that is really low-effort and fun.
posted by veery at 7:49 AM on February 20 [5 favorites]

I am extremely hostile to the idea that you’re somehow inferior if you don’t enjoy a particular art form. I acquired my hostility via my ex-husband and his parents, who were all a bunch of symphony snobs. There’s nothing that makes the symphony inherently superior to jazz or any other genre. There are so many wonderful artistic creations in this world that you can’t hope to enjoy more than a tiny fraction of them, and every minute you spend doing one thing is a minute you spend not doing something else. I work in higher ed so I fully appreciate the pressure you feel but please don’t let it keep you from spending your time doing something you truly enjoy.
posted by HotToddy at 7:56 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]

I’m a reader but have stopped when depressed, and experienced the shame cycle. I’ve also occasionally felt pressured/put off/overwhelmed by reading big or good (or “good”) books and was shocked to discover that what I really wanted to be reading at that point in my life was sex n violence murder books I’d not necessarily be proud to announce to my peers.

So maybe if you still have a desire to get back into books—and totally okay if you don’t, music and film are indeed intellectual pursuits—surprise yourself with the content! Doesn’t need to be anything daunting. When was the last time you read a Judy Blume book?

Also, even though I enjoy it, I do need to establish a routine like with anything else. My subway commute used to be reading time but I’m working from home now, so I’ve started getting to bed earlier so I can read before sleeping. Before I figured that out I wasn’t really reading.
posted by kapers at 8:28 AM on February 20

I give you permission to consider it a phase if that feels like less of a loss. It happens to me for some of the reasons people have mentioned, including scholarship and reading for work. In those phases, when it's time to unwind I really just want to listen to music, watch a movie or watch videos/play video games. Sometimes shorter reading will appeal, like poetry, fairy tales or short pieces in magazines. I sell children's books now, and I can always read the hell out of some Dog Man or CatStronauts. Sometimes it takes just the right novel-- or the right jacket copy-- to make me feel able to take on something longer and more involved. Novels that I 've loved, that were really life experiences? I'm not always interested in doing that.

But I also agree that reading or not is not a moral thing. If you don't read you are not less of a human being.
posted by BibiRose at 8:54 AM on February 20

I can relate to this question. I was an incredibly bookworm as a kid, and now I have a really, really hard time being able to stick with a book all the way through. Like maybe I read a book or two a year and I feel kind of abashed about that.

I guess the way I make sense of it to myself is, in my everyday life and professional life, I have to learn and synthesize new information all the time, and it uses up a lot of the bandwidth that I would need to really sink into a novel or nonfiction book. It's not often that I find a book that really grabs me in that way.

Instead I get pleasure-from-fiction by listening to the Selected Shorts podcast. Hearing talented actors reading interesting fiction is a real pleasure--even hearing authors read stories out loud isn't nearly as pleasurable because they're often not superlative readers.

Also, sometimes I'll go on a poetry bender. Much less commitment to read but a whole lot of rich satisfaction from the written word.
posted by Sublimity at 9:00 AM on February 20

I encourage you to embrace being a non-reader for a time as an experiment to see if it will make you grow in your job. Seriously. Lots of people have full vibrant lives without reading, and by living and understanding that, you'll have a more nuanced view of how reading can expand peoples' lives. Embrace other forms of art, but even more so, there's a lot of Interaction and Activity which you're not getting when you spend your time as a passive consumer. Dive into it! I hope my post doesn't sound judgmental - I've had periods of time as a voracious reader and as a non-reader, and I think both have value.
posted by sdrawkcaSSAb at 9:51 AM on February 20

I used to read on the bus to and from school, I still have fond memories of reading Naked by David Sedaris and laughing so hard.

I'd make an effort to keep reminding yourself that you do get pleasure from reading, even if it now appears like a chore. I'm in a similar position - work/grad school turned something I used to love into work. I do find that reminding myself how much I have enjoyed the process of reading in the past helps motivate me.

Second, I've had better luck when I check out a book from the library v. buying it. If I buy a book, there is no time limit, and no wait time (beyond shipping). Whereas a popular library book always feels like a prize once it's "my turn" and then I've got a limited time to read it - for me, it's finding the motivation to start a book that's hard - once I'm hooked, it's easy.

Finally, given that screens before bed are not great for your sleep, try incorporating reading into a new bedtime routine. When I did this I started small - 20min before bed - which before long grew into an hour or so before bed. I also started with books that were very plot driven - this got me excited to find out "what happens next" every night.

(I agree with everyone saying there is no need to feel shame at all, and offer the above advice only if you want to read in part because you know it will make you happy - I know I'm happier when I'm reading, but also sometimes struggle to maintain the habit)
posted by coffeecat at 10:06 AM on February 20

Try audiobooks.

I am an avid reader, but my spouse is not -- that is, until he tried audiobooks. That format works so much better for him. He reads much more and many more genres than he did previously. Some people judge others for "reading" this way (I used to be among them), but watching him enjoy and get so much from the content that in this format has really changed my tune on that.

-- On edit: please ignore! I missed that you've tried audiobooks in your question! --
posted by chiefthe at 10:22 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]

I sympathize! There's definitely a lot of cultural capital tied up in being A Reader, and even if people aren't specifically saying things to make you feel bad you can still have the feeling that it's something that you should be doing. At the same time, reading for pleasure should be a thing that brings pleasure.

I've had some of the same having been in grad school now for *mumblemumble* years. I've found a couple of things that help:

- I prefer paper books both as aesthetic objects and because I don't trust ebooks to stick around on any given platform, however I have found that I am capable of powering through a 1000 page novel in a week if I just substitute the book app for my embarrassing twitter habit.
- As others have said, reading something less dense makes a big difference. I've been reading a light novel series from Japan, which is written at a not-graduate school level and it's great. It helps me turn off my brain go to sleep afterwards, at least when I'm not staying up too late to read one more chapter.
- And if you're just not feeling reading right now, that's not the end of the world either. Maybe the cultural capital you're feeling you want can come from engaging with other arts and media.
posted by past unusual at 11:12 AM on February 20

This was an interesting question. I was a bookworm as a child, I would read the yellow pages if there was nothing else around.

I was praised and it was part of my identity. I majored in English--that killed reading for pleasure for a while, but for years, I clung to that version of myself --- literary and well read. Professionally, I was a not in a literacy field, so I was probably a bit of a prig, it was easy to pull off with folks who were not liberal arts majors!

For years I faked it (to myself, no one really cares about how many books anyone reads a year), but spent much more time watching tv and other stuff on-line.

What got me back really enjoying and looking forward to reading was giving myself permission to drop anything that was boring or not resonating. For example, I get the New Yorker, and some months would pour over the restaurant reviews, enjoying the prose, but other times , I was just not into the wordiness, and skipped on.

As others have said, there is no reason for you to read more if you don't want to.

In my case, I got back into reading pretty voraciously by allowing myself to skim and skip, and to read about any topic that I found of interest. Celebrity and public biographies are so fun...-- Amanda Knox, Monica Lewinski......For awhile, I got into friends of JFK jr memoirs--there are quite a few. I also have enjoyed journals and letters of Simone DeBeauvoir...

I also discovered some enjoyable writers of romance and what I would respectfully call "light fiction": Susan Elizabeth Phillips was one author I discovered to be entertaining and dependable fun.

Now, I toggle back between all sorts of writing. Having a book I look forward to reading
to is a delight.

But if you never read another book again, that is fine!
posted by rhonzo at 11:33 AM on February 20

I can definitely relate! Books were my entire world until I went to college, where I studied philosophy and literature and basically ruined my ability to read for fun. One way I've gotten back into it (after ten years of almost no reading) is reading all of my childhood favorites. It's indulgent and not "serious reading" and it lets me experience that feeling of getting lost in a fantasy world again.
I also mostly check out ebooks from the library using libby, which gives me 21 days to read something before I have to return it and it disappears. The stakes are a lot lower than buying books, and I figure if I'm not into it, I'm not into it, no big deal. It'll be there if I want to check it out again.
Also, if you're online and on metafilter, you're probably doing a lot of reading! As a whole we've just shifted away from books as the format for reading. In many fields, books can't keep up with the articles and research being published. You're still probably consuming new information all the time!
posted by autolykos at 11:51 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]

Something I've really enjoyed recently, that doesn't have quite the mental burden as a full novel but I guess also comes with a bit of... cred? is reading literary magazines like the Paris Review. There's a fair amount of non-fiction in lit mags (since you have no problem with non-fiction), interviews with authors (that I personally always find interesting), poems, short stories, sometimes art and film discussion thrown in there. It's kind of a buffet - just flip one open over a cup of coffee, find something that catches your eye, and read - maybe you realize the piece doesn't interest you, and you move on. No pressure! This practice honestly helped me get back into reading novels post-grad school because it's so low stakes.

Also, and I can't emphasize this enough, there is legit nothing frivolous about movies and music.
posted by thebots at 12:43 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]

There’s a whole small genre of novels about how academia can turn readers into ashamed non-readers.

You don’t have to read those, either!

It’s often a problem of having smothered intrinsic motivation to meet extrinsic demands. But just let it slumber under the snow and the dead leaves, and maybe it will resprout in time, and if not, the nutrients will turn up in some other good thing.
posted by clew at 1:04 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]

Echoing others who have said: there is nothing wrong with you!

One thing that I sometimes enjoy when capital-B “Books” feel too big to chew on is reading plays? Since they’re mostly dialogue, they go quickly, and many can be read in one or two sittings. Feel free to DM if you’d like recommendations.
posted by Zephyrial at 1:46 PM on February 20

I struggled with this for a while but made peace with it. In my value system, there is in fact a moral obligation associated with reading: always keep learning and growing. Reading is the quintessential symbol of learning, but in reality (especially in the present day) it is only one of many, many ways of pursuing learning and growth. Furthermore, reading is time-consuming, and time spent reading is time that can't be spent on other valuable activities. I am a voracious podcast listener, and one of the reasons I love podcasts is that I can listen to them while doing something else. At the same time, there's no reason consuming information is morally superior as a leisure activity compared to going on a nature hike or learning to change your own oil or even just talking to a person you might not typically talk to.

If you really do want to read more, one thing that helped me was to join a book club. However, I mostly enjoyed that as a social activity and didn't get a lot out of the books we read. I have also found graphic novels much easier to get through and, since I don't have as much experience with visual art, mentally stimulating in a novel way. Also, I previously found audiobooks sleep-inducing, but I eventually learned to pay attention to them. I have to be engaged in some activity that keeps my hands and eyes occupied but requires no thought, such as washing dishes or doing a puzzle. In terms of sitting with a physical book, I have had more success with reading weighty ol' classic novels rather than breezy contemporary works, as they more reliably reward my effort. I do bail on some of them without remorse.
posted by Comet Bug at 2:50 PM on February 20

Hi! I LOVE to read, and I think it is TOTALLY fine for you not to love reading right now, or ever, and I completely respect you regardless of how many books you do or don't read.

It is definitely, positively, absolutely okay to embrace just not being a big reader.

If you do want to try reconnecting with books, though, here are a few thoughts:

* It's been (less than!) 2 years since you finished your studies, a period of 5 years that basically destroyed reading for you. 2 years is not a long time. Your pleasure in reading may very well come back when you've had more time away from that horrifying slog. Be patient.

* Lots of people who love books also deeply appreciate music and movies. I have a friend who's a literary agent; we talk about music and movies a lot more than we talk about books. It's great to celebrate the artistry of narrative in film (and, hey, musicals!). Lots of the world's greatest creators work in film.

* If you feel any stress or unhappiness at all about reading, please take a look at this wonderful poster on The Rights of the Reader. They include

The right not to read.
The right not to finish a book.
The right to read anything.

Now then. I wonder how you might feel about re-reading a book you remember loving? Maybe "Naked," maybe something else. I have a bunch of books I like to re-read, especially when I'm feeling a little burned out on reading and just want something I know I'll enjoy - and a lot of times those are books I first read as a child, like "Harriet the Spy" (which I've read at least 11 times).

You might also see about short stories - Ann Patchett (an absolutely fantastic writer) is a big fan of short stories, and I'm pretty sure she's edited at least one or two anthologies that might be worth checking out.

And oh! that reminds me! If you have any openness toward science fiction or slightly fantastical fiction at all, I strongly, STRONGLY recommend this excellent MeFi Project collection of stories originally by the fabulous MeFite brainwane.

This is my current lunchtime reading, and my "I need a nice little comforting break" reading. I think I've enjoyed every single one of these I've tried, and they're all quite different.

A few favorites:

Tomorrow is Waiting (Muppets!)
Captain Midrise
Legal Salvage

and everything on this list of short, generally comforting and cozy stories.

MAYBE you'll enjoy a few of those, and they can be your gateway to occasionally reading for pleasure.

If not - I still think you're a smart, wonderful, valuable person, and if you never read for pleasure again, I still like you just the way you are.
posted by kristi at 5:43 PM on February 20

Reading is just a thing, You don't need it.

Quote S. Maugham:

"Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit, and I suppose that this is neither innocent nor praiseworthy. Of that lamentable company am I. Conversation after a time bores me, games tire me, and my own thoughts, which we are told are the unfailing resource of a sensible man, have a tendency to run dry. Then I fly to my book as the opium-smoker to his pipe. I would sooner read the catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores or Bradshaw's Guide than nothing at all, and indeed I have spent many delightful hours over both these works. At one time I never went out without a second-hand bookseller's list in my pocket. I know no reading more fruity. Of course to read in this way is as reprehensible as doping, and I never cease to wonder at the impertinence of great readers who, because they are such, look down on the illiterate. From the standpoint of what eternity is it better to have read a thousand books than to have ploughed a million furrows? Let us admit that reading with us is just a drug that we cannot do without--who of this band does not know the restlessness that attacks him when he has been severed from reading too long, the apprehension and irritability, and the sigh of relief which the sight of a printed page extracts from him?--and so let us be no more vainglorious than the poor slaves of the hypodermic needle or the pint-pot..."
posted by ovvl at 6:19 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]

I am also someone who is surrounded by readers and feels a bit ashamed and inferior about my lack of a reading life these days. My situation may be different from yours but I've realised 2 things:
  1. I still really like reading, but it feels SLOW and time-consuming, and I can't multitask while reading (which I do for watching TV or movies or listening to podcasts). It's hard for me to give the time and single-minded attention to reading that I used to do.
  2. I have no self-control about reading and when I get sucked into a book, I want to read it every moment of the day until it's over. This was easier when I was younger and could better endure sleep deprivation, and also had more flexibility in my schedule to sleep in until 11 after I accidentally read my book until dawn. A few times in recent years I've burned the midnight oil reading something, and then been a ruin the next day, so it doesn't really feel like such a good idea.
I've tried to overcome #1 by deliberately giving myself permission to do just this one thing, reading, at a time - but I've had most success doing this during holiday times, and less success doing this when things are busy in my life. I have not yet found a way to overcome #2 at all, so probably my reading life will remain impoverished in the service of achieving a workable amount of sleep!
posted by Cheese Monster at 8:54 PM on February 20

I asked a similar question a few years back.
posted by mermaidcafe at 6:04 AM on February 21

I stopped reading for a few years when other things captivated me. It’s funny how even typing that feels like confessing a sin which is RIDICULOUS. My husband reads maybe two books a year (he is more an art/music guy) and he’s smart, empathetic, and connected.

Anyways, at that time I told myself I’d catch up on my reading when I am older and retired and less physically capable, and that this was my time in life to explore and love other things. It worked.

Also my love of reading came back, but I don’t think that is a requirement to either happiness or being a good person.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:21 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

Coming back with an idea. I started reading Outlander and just couldn't get into it. Then some months later I started watching it on Netflix and after an episode featuring rather a lot of sex and an astoundingly short refractory period for the gentleman involved, my eyes fell on the book and I had a notion to see how the subject was handled there. Well something about this sequence of events--being already stuck into the story? having a more definite picture in my mind of how everything looks? not having the pressure of reading the whole book?--worked to get me interested and now I'm well into it.

There are a million shows based on books. Might it work to read the book of a show you already like?
posted by HotToddy at 1:54 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]

I keep thinking about this question so decided to chime in! Nth-ing the idea that you do NOT have to enjoy reading; there are so many ways to take in information, enjoy stories, etc.

That said: I am a lifelong reader who has gone through bouts of not wanting to read. I truly value reading and books; I read voraciously as a kid, my mom worked in a public library for over 30 years, and I have an MLIS. So, for me, it's important to get back in the habit of reading when I fall out of it. If it's helpful, here are some things I've done to get back on track:

- Try to associate reading with comfort, coziness, and being soothed. I typically read in bed, lying on the couch under a blanket, or curled up in an armchair with a hot beverage and perhaps a snack. Even the act of holding a paper book in my hands and snuggling up in one of these spots makes me feel calm and centered.

- On the opposite end of the spectrum: once we're back out in the world on a regular basis, make sure you have a book on hand for when you encounter down time. I will often read when I'm in line for the car wash (only in park!), in waiting rooms, etc. Reading a book is going to be more enjoyable (presumably) than staring into space and makes the time go by faster. (This is assuming you can stop yourself from playing on your phone instead!)

- Try to get in the habit of reading every day, or at least 4-5 days a week, even for 10 minutes. If you're not currently into reading, you might have to treat this like another unpleasant task like flossing or going to the gym. If you do it over and over, it becomes part of your routine and it gets easier and easier to maintain it.

- When you're not reading for work, choose things that are entirely pleasurable. Don't judge yourself on what you find pleasurable. YA graphic novels? Great. Self-published werewolf porn on Amazon? Totally fine. A cheesy thriller that you've already read 3 times? Go with it.

- I love the website Goodreads. I can see you not liking the idea of a book social media site because it makes your reading habits (or lack thereof) public. That said, you don't have to share your profile with your friends! Goodreads regularly reminds me how much I love books, how much my friends love books, and generally gets me excited about reading. I love adding things to my "to read" shelf, even though I'll never get to all of them. It makes me feel like I'm part of a community of readers, which keeps me motivated to be one too!
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 2:34 PM on February 21

You used to read on the bus to school. Does public transport still (pre-pandemic) feature in your life? If not, perhaps part of the issue is that you've simply lost the context in which you used to enjoy reading, whilst retaining the context in which it became a chore. Perhaps try taking a bus or a train somewhere after the world opens up again, just to see if you feel like reading along the way.

(Bonus, while you're on the way to somewhere, there's nothing else you should be doing or even could be doing until you reach the end of the journey, so you don't have the nagging "I should be getting out for a walk / doing the laundry / tidying up / doing something more productive" thing adding barriers to settling into the book.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:39 AM on February 22

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