We always jump into the new year with a tremendous sense of hubris or resignation. By March, the true colours of our endeavours become undeniably apparent. January is the time for overambition, eagerness, and golden-hearted delusion.
By the Spring, we see clearly just how serious we were about our resolutions. How’s your sleep schedule? How’s your exercise regime going? Rest assured, I’m mostly lecturing myself here.
My Storygraph account knows better than most the vicious cycle of my overreaching in terms of reading. I idolise the idea of being well-read, knowing a little something about everything, and putting myself in the shoes of hundreds of different walks of life.
There, I consistently start the new year with the aim to read more. I’ve since come to the realisation that 100 books in a year may be a short-sighted prediction on my part. I’m an intuitive reader, I follow my mood, and my attention span works in bursts rather than a consistent flow.
However, I do try my before to read more than the year before. That means that I need to dig myself out of the reading slumps that feel like a never-ending onslaught of ennui. Sometimes the thought of reading makes my eyes roll to the back of my head, especially when I’m preoccupied with other things.
There is a myriad of articles that give tips on how to avoid a reading slump, and one day, I might throw in my two cents on the matter. But for now, I’m sharing seven books that yanked me out of my reading slumps and brought back my mojo.
1. ‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed’ by Mariana Enriquez
Short story collections are often a quick fix to a reading slump as they’re fast-paced enough to catch your attention without demanding too much commitment.
This Argentinian collection of short horror stories may be what you need to get you reading again. There really is nothing like morbid curiosity to launch you into a book.
What happens when an act of cruelty causes a curse on a town? What can become of a woman who develops an all-consuming fetish for heart conditions?
How do you explain the actions of two superfans who can’t bring themselves to part with the rockstar that they idolise? On an expectedly urban landscape, the supernatural intertwines with the natural, the political, and the human.
Enriquez makes the horror of ghosts, ghouls, and banshees inextricable from those of the body, eroticism, and human morality.
2. ‘Babette’s Feast: Anecdotes of Destiny’ by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)
Art and reality overlap with each other in beautiful and unexpected ways in Karen Blixen’s collection of short stories. Babette’s Feast: Anecdotes of Destiny tells the story of a decadent banquet brought about by Babette, the French housekeeper of a devoutly Protestant Norwegian family.
It tells the story of an English accountant whose disdain for fiction drives him to recreate an old sailor’s tale. It tells the story of an actress, Malli, who rescues her cast and crew from a shipwreck before her performance of The Tempest, in which she would play Ariel.
Blixen tends to get to her point relatively speedily in comparison to many of the big names of 20th-century literature. Regardless, each story packs a punch in its message and has its own thought-provoking message.
Sometimes you just want a story about stories, about the creative process and the surprising consequences it can cause. This book made me fall in love with literature in a brand new way by giving me a brand new approach to consuming art.
Our closeness to art can be frightening or disturbing, but Blixen demonstrates just how essential it is to the human condition. If anything will remind you why you want to read, this is the book for the job.
3. ‘Lanny’ by Max Porter
Short stories aren’t the be-all-end-all of reading slump antidotes. A fast-paced, gripping read is what plunges people back into the literature they love. Lanny is a folksy but refreshing novel on the dwindling English countryside.
When the precocious and creative Lanny moves to a twee English village with his parents, to whom the other residents suspect.
Dead Papa Toothwort is the shapeshifting entity that scours the village and influences everything that lives in it, from the animals to the people. The village belongs to him, the current residents, and the long-passed generations that lived there before.
This includes Mad Pete, the artist that teaches Lanny art twice a week upon building a friendship with his mum.
Dead Papa Toothwort has awoken from a long sleep and is listening to all the goings-on in the village, taking special notice of Lanny. Although not as short-lived as the previous short stories, Lanny is a fast-paced, otherworldly saga that pulls you into the weird and wonderful magic of the forest.
4. ‘Giovanni’s Room’ by James Baldwin
Giovanni is dying. David blames himself, but we don’t know why. James Baldwin’s novella, Giovanni’s Room, is narrated by David, an aimless American in Paris, who is awaiting the return of his possible fiancée, Hella. While he awaits her answer as she mulls the question over in Spain, his head is turned to an Italian waiter, Giovanni.
Giovanni is a young, hotheaded yet disenchanted man who left his hometown with unspoken grief under his belt. He lives in a cheap, tatty room where he and David spend most of their time together. They met each other through the dodgy older men who also have their eyes on Giovanni, Jacques and Guillaume.
Upon Hella’s loving return, David has to decide which path he’ll pursue, one of social acceptability and family, or one with which he is truly enamoured but demands social alienation?
Baldwin is a painfully expressive writer who perfectly captures the isolation of life away from home, while yearning for a life that you can never have. Baldwin crafts complex, if at times cruel, characters who reveal the tragic reality of a life forced in the shadows.
5. ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ by Otessa Moshfegh
As I say, I’m an emotionally intuitive reader. Sometimes I neglect my reading because my mood has no interest in anything at all. The thought of lifting a single finger fills me with indignation at the harshness of this world.
The only way that I was going to pick up a book was if I could live out that feeling vicariously through a character with more destructive tendencies.
Our unnamed protagonist, a wealthy, beautiful New Yorker, has decided to sleep for a year. Resting on her parents’ inheritance and the rent of some tenants somewhere, she is living on takeaway and a litany of sleeping pills with the aim of resetting her mental health, or her ‘melancholy’.
To the superficial glamour of 2000s diet culture and news of the world, we are met with complete apathy.
Our languid leading lady is too pretty to notice the constant bombardment of fad diets and sex tips which are tearing her best friend, Reva, apart. She’s also too rich and lonely to feel attached to the unfolding of world events.
Reva and her situation with her toxic Wall Street banker are the only people she has in the world. She’s sleeping until Summer 2001, but what kind of world will meet her when she finally decides to participate again?
6. ‘The Vanishing Half’ by Brit Bennett
Two sisters escaped from the small town in the American Deep South which is surrounded by hostility and racism. One has returned to her mother with a child and no husband.
The other has married into the white suburbs and is passing as a white woman. Nobody knows her secret and she has not spoken to her sister in years.
When two cousins meet by chance, the family secrets begin to unravel. Every detail is another layer in the complex dynamics of a household that has faced a myriad of traumas that only the small town understands.
As the new generation tries to reunite the fragments of estranged women, decades of unspoken struggle and resentment come to the surface.
Bennett’s style is great for those trying to get back into reading as her description is kept to the point without too many detours. You can be sure that every single page is relevant and has some heartwrenching detail lurking inside.
7. ‘Death by Scrabble’ by Charlie Fish
If you’re really not in the mood for commitment, there’s still something out there for you. Death by Scrabble, although a little self-explanatory is the shortest story that I’ve given 5 stars.
With only about 4 pages under its belt, Charlie Fish has written a masterclass in tension-building. We know only two things: a man is playing Scrabble with his wife, and he hates her. While not quite naturalistic, we see the very real undercurrents of an unhappy marriage with unpredictability in every paragraph.