Summertime Slump

Into every reading life, a slump will come. Maybe you’re just not in the mood for what’s in the stack. Maybe the line-up of blockbuster movies and bingeable shows is too much to resist. Maybe there’s simply a lot going on. Regardless of the reasons, dry spells are inevitable.

My recent slump seemed like it made sense. The last few things I’ve read have been decent, pretty good, but nothing I was thrilled about. And then I wrapped up one book and tried to start something new with houseguests in town. This will prove a tough hurdle to overcome for almost any text since it’s challenging to find time to really immerse yourself in it.

But then I realized the other issue at the heart of my current attempts: all the books I was picking up and trying on are bummers. One I attempted novelizes a compelling historical figure. But it was touted as an exploration of grief and loss. Now, weird as it may be to say, grief is kind of my jam, or at least representations of it are. I wrote a whole dissertation on the subject. Nevertheless, I set that book aside.

The next one I tried was Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Talents. And here’s the thing: Butler is a genius. But the first book in this incomplete series, The Parable of the Sower, deeply disturbed me. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in the past couple years. Part of what makes it so good is how close it hits to potential reality for a book written in the 1990s. Butler’s near-future seemed far too plausible to dismiss and so I wrestled my way through it, exhausted and absorbed in equal measure.

Talents looks to be more of the same. I also have some literary nits to pick what I’ve read so far, which might not matter if I’d been able to dive in but Butler’s perspective is not conducive to fits-and-starts engagement.

It’s one thing to avoid being bummed out on any given day. But bigger picture, I believe in reading books for a host of reasons, fun or escapism being only two of them. Reading brings new information, brain-expanding ideas, intellectual stimulation, and creative inspiration. I also truly believe that reading fiction specifically has the potential to build empathy and make us better creatures by forcing us to experience the perspective of people other than ourselves. (Science backs this idea up.)

But sometimes? Sometimes life and the world offer enough bummerness without any help from books. Sometimes the sunshine suggests that it is here to stay so why not play? Sometimes a reader needs a break from bleakness. Or perhaps to engage bleakness in oblique ways. Which is why I went to the bookstore yesterday and got a used copy of a YA fantasy series. My hope is that I will lift myself out this slump on the rising tides of the Sea of Ink and Gold.