I’m sure every person who reads for leisure has some novel or series they always return to when in a reading slump. The Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series are probably the most popular (I feel like I see Harry Potter quotes and memes all over the internet), but I’m sure there are hundreds of books that are held close to the heart. With so many great stories out there to re-read, it can be hard to branch out and explore new ones. I think this is a habit that any reader—me in particular—needs to break.
My particular kryptonite is the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I think I’ve read the five books in the main storyline more than six or seven times each, and then the “spinoff” series, The Heroes of Olympus, of which there are another five books, somewhere between two to four times each. For the past two summers I’ve read the all ten books, in order, instead of actively looking for something new to read. Something about these ten books makes me keep coming back.
I’ve found I kind of have the same habit when it comes to watching movies or TV shows. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and unless it’s a new installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or another type of sequel, it’s hard to motivate myself to see something in the theaters. That new Marvel movie could be crap and extremely formulaic, and I know it already because I’ve seen EVERY other movie in the universe; yet I watch it anyway because I’m already intrigued in the world as a whole. It hooked me with those first movies. I think what goes on in my mind is: “it’s too much work to invest myself in something new because I’m already invested something else.”
So why is that? Why am I so averse to trying new things? I’m not afraid of change, and I’m not afraid of coming across something I won’t like. Maybe it’s just that familiarity. For me, it feels good to be reading something and anticipate what’s coming next, because I know for sure it’ll be good. In the case of the all the Riordan novels, sometimes I even forget what I’ve read before (because, let’s be real, that’s a lot of books) and am pleasantly surprised again.
Now that doesn’t sound so bad—but there is a downside: I’m not being exposed to new authors. I’m not reading new stories. The only deviation I’ve had in the past few years is reading short stories from literary magazines. To be fair to myself, that’s a totally different animal. I can get into a short story because it doesn’t take as much to invest in it. It’s a nice change from heavy reading. Still, I do want to get back into reading novels. The question is, how?
My instinct is to say find the first book that has an interesting cover and dive in. Or pick a classic and read that. But either case could very well lead to me having a bad experience and deciding “you know, I’m going to pick up The Last Olympian again.” There’s no foundation in this line of thinking for me, there hasn’t been many instances where I’ve picked up a book, hated it, and then gone back to what I know; but I wonder if that’s a subconscious thought that passes through my brain every time I think about reading something new. So, I think a better option would be to ask for input. I have a ton of friends who are both readers and writers, two of whom I work with, so I have access to a vast database for new things to read. I just need to take advantage of it.
I could also just use what I already like and find a new book that fits my current tastes. Riordan really got me interested in mythology, so much so that I plan to take a college-level mythology course. Perhaps I can find other novels that integrate mythology into their narratives. I also know that I like stories that have interesting, sometimes strange elements. Every Day by David Levithan, a book my aunt suggested to me, was about a soul who switched bodies every day but fell in love with one specific girl. It’s such a unique and bizarre part of the story that still plays a pretty important role, but doesn’t overtake the love story and character development. I know what I like, and I can’t imagine it being that difficult to search for novels that match my interest. It’s the act of doing so that I need to get to.
That’s step one, finding what to read. Step two is actually acquiring said thing to read. Even though novels aren’t necessarily that expensive—I’m a college kid. Saving money for food, rent, and college textbooks (which no one likes to read) has to come first. I think it can be easy to hide behind the “I can’t afford a new book” excuse. It’s possible I’ve told myself that a few times to avoid getting into a new book. Luckily, you can always borrow something from a friend of family member if possible. Or, there are these crazy things called libraries that you can borrow books from. I personally hate reading on a screen, but e-books are always an option, and are usually cheaper than reading a physical copy. In any case, there are options, and pushing yourself to explore one of these options could potentially lead to a new favorite book.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with re-reading. I love those stories and I will never get sick of them (hopefully). But I do think my re-reading gets in the way of new-reading. I have two books that I got for a dollar two years ago at a random surprise book sale that I’ve never touched. It took me probably three years to finally read the Levithan novel. Re-reading is great, but it’s kept me from new experiences. As a writer, especially, not being exposed to new work is a potential detriment. In my opinion, reading is a necessity for good writing. I’m hoping that I can break this habit in the near future. I think one of the strategies I will use will be to have my other literary friends keep me honest and feed me things to read. That way, I’ll never fall into the normal slump and either read what I’ve already read, or not read at all—which honestly, is way worse.
– Jack Slayton