How to get out of a reading slump

Much has already been said about our waning attention spans. I won’t get into that here. Instead, I simply offer some tips, tricks and thoughts about being the reader you want to be: Someone who wants to read long things like books, but struggles with it.

Although I’ve been writing this book blog for more than a decade, I am someone who struggles with this. I don’t actually read that much. I am more of a deep reader than a wide reader. My special interest is short stories, but that doesn’t mean I’ve ditched long books. I find that if I’ve gone a while without reading a big, chunky book, I can have trouble getting back into the required mental mode.


Getting back into reading isn’t a one-time thing. It’s like exercise and healthy eating. It’s a constant and lifelong set of strategies. Individuals must each find our own particular set of strategies.


Unless you’re really fortunate, there will simply be times in your life when you have no brain space to read. You might be studying and working at the same time. You might be a new parent, caring for a loved one… At these times, feel free to derive comfort from watching TV cooking shows or whatever floats your boat. If you can’t read and want to, take this as a sign that something is out of balance. Sometimes we know this full well, and must wait until circumstances change before Getting Back Into Books.


  1. If you want to read fiction but find yourself preferring non-fiction (or vice versa) ask: Why must you read something other than what you’re pulled towards? Where do these ideas come from?
  2. Think of your current To-Read list. Which of those books would you like To Have Read, and which would you pick up right now if you were required to read an entire book or else pay a hundred bucks to your least favourite cause?
  3. Each of us has a set point for how much fiction (or non-fiction) we can absorb. Both forms take effort, though reading non-fiction is a slightly different kind of effort from reading fiction. What is your particular quota or set-point for each type?
  4. And are you already filling it by accident? If you find yourself wanting to read more fiction but nothing in book form captures your interest, are you getting your full quota of fiction elsewhere: from TV shows? From podcasts? From meeting up with friends and talking about your lives? (The lives of friends aren’t ‘fiction’ per se, but stories about other people seem to fill the same need.) Ditto for keeping up with the news, which entertains as much as it informs. Do you really have extra mental space for fiction right now? (I’m not saying ditch your friends.)
  5. Is there a type of story you really enjoy but for some reason you don’t think you should be indulging in it? Perhaps you really enjoy paranormal YA but feel you’re too old for it. Perhaps you can inhale three thrillers per week but feel you should be reading The Canon instead because life is short and you should really read Dickens before you kick the bucket. Interrogate your reasons for wanting to read what’s on your actual or mental To-Read list.
  6. Are there books on your To-Read list which should no longer be there even though you thought you’d like to read them at some time in the past?
  7. Have you tried all the main forms of reading: Not just paper books, but eBooks and audiobooks? Do you have thoughts about audiobooks being ‘not real reading’? Or about eBooks being ‘not real books’?
  8. What are your personal philosophies regarding finishing books you don’t like? Do you tend to make up your mind early on and are never proven wrong, or is your history filled with experiences of not liking a book at first but being glad once you completed it because it turned out to be really good, actually? How might this affect your decision to persevere with difficult works?
  9. How does a book’s size affect your motivation? Are you intimidated by an 800pp book, or invigorated by it, perhaps because getting into stories is difficult and this one will last you an entire two months?
  10. For how long can you read at any one time? When that time is up, what do you find yourself doing? (Reaching for your phone? Grabbing a snack?) Is that what you want to be doing, or are you acting on impulse, reflex and habit?
  11. When people say they ‘don’t have time to read’ sometimes they literally mean ‘don’t have time’. And sometimes they mean ‘I don’t have the mental energy left after getting through everything else.’ Which of those two statements better describe you at this point in your life?
  12. How much of your mental energy is being spent on social media? Do you enjoy social media? Would you like to reduce the amount of time you spend on it, or do you get out as much as you put in?


When asked about her own reading habits, author of Detransition, Baby, Torrey Peters, had this to say:

I read moving, actually. I found out that oftentimes the space that I’m in determines the length which I can read. So I had a tiny studio for a while. One room, you know, the bed was next to the refrigerator, which is nice actually because you can just lay in bed and grab a drink or something. But I found I could only read for 20 minutes at a time because I ran out of positions and spots to read. Whereas when I was at my grandparents’ house when I was young, for instance, there were different rooms to read in. I could read for hours and hours. And once I figured out I can move when I read, I can oftentimes read in parks. I can read in places where I can go from place to place to place to place. It’s like the setting changes and the book renews itself for me, and concentration stays there.

There’s a poet, Leah Purperon (?), the United States, and she who emphasised for me how much reading is a physical act. I scoffed at it. It seems very hippie, you know? But then when I started actually started feeling what she was saying, that’s true. Then I had to regret my cynicism.

Torrey Peters, writer and prolific reader (who also has an AD/HD diagnosis)

Some readers make use of a reading chair. I’d never heard of such a thing until someone at book club recommended one. I looked them up online and realised I already had a beanbag. If I propped the beanbag up against the headboard (actually the wall) of my bed, it would function as a ‘reading chair’. This remains my preferred reading position. But during the day, I’ll also use a beanbag on the floor, lying on my stomach until my arms get tired of propping myself up.

Like Torrey Peters, I find I can’t stay in any single reading position for more than about 10-15 minutes. I felt this was a personal failing until I heard a prolific reader on a books podcast say that she can’t read for any longer than 15 minutes at a time either. (eBooks give us precise data.) I honestly don’t think anyone can read for much longer than that without attention waning. Give yourself permission to look up, get up, do something else. It’s the coming back that may be the problem.

If you like to read in ‘strange’ positions — hanging over the end of the sofa, curled up under the duvet — then eBooks are for you.


If you’re young, this isn’t so important. In fact, I remember being young, reading in very low light which was perfectly fine. Adults would constantly tell me I’d ruin my eyesight, or “How can you possibly see?”

The reality is, we lose our night-vision as we get older. So get yourself a reading lamp. Make sure you get one with adjustable brightness. Lamps with adjustable LED bulbs (cool, neutral, warm) are low-cost now. Buy one with an adjustment arm/neck so you can angle it perfectly.

Backlit paperwhite technology eBooks are great for getting the lighting perfect. Though you might prefer it to prevent eye-strain, no ambient lighting is required when you’re reading a backlit eReader at night.


Other readers also speak of moving around a space to read. Unlike Torrey Peters, who takes the same book to different parts of the house or neighbourhood, many people have a different sort of book in different zones.

Oftentimes it’s a more difficult read for the daytime and a lighter read for night-time. Readers will also frequently have one book, one eBook and one audiobook on the go at once, just as we tend to have a TV show or podcast series on the go.


If you want to get back into reading, you’ll be able to answer this question: Which books from your past did you absolutely love?

What if you get back into the swing of things by revisiting those exact books?

Sure, there are many books you would love to read yet, and the vexing thing is, no reader will ever finish everything on their To Read list. But re-reading counts as New Material for several related reasons:

  1. Guaranteed, you’ve forgotten most of the book anyway
  2. You’re a different person now so your reading experience will be different


The following tips are specifically for readers who think they probably like the book in hand, but for whatever reason, the damn thing is hard to get into.

  1. Tell yourself that you’ll be reading the first chapter twice. If that sounds like work, well, it is. The brain has been temporarily changed towards Tweet-length material and anytime we actively want to rewire the brain to do something other than what it does naturally, that’s work.
  2. While reading, keep a notepad nearby. In messy hand-writing which no one will ever read — including you, probably — make a list of: Character names, who they basically are, where the story is set, when the story is set. If you get those four things down in Chapter One, you’re set to go on. Fold the sheet of paper into a strip and use it as a bookmark. Or chuck it away, because chances are, you won’t actually need to refer to it again.
  3. If you’re better at auditory processing than at reading from the page, get your hands on the audiobook version and do what literacy teachers call ‘a read aloud’. There’s solid educational research behind read-alouds, which are really quite simple: The teacher reads, students follow along with their eyes on paper. Of course, this option tends to be expensive because you need access to both the audio version and the ‘paper’ version.
  4. If you are already listening to the audio version and find it difficult to sink into that, you can often find the opening chapter or two online. I like to use the Kobo website for its Look-inside functionality. If I can’t get into an audiobook, I’ll go back, listen again, and this time I’ll read along. I have a fairly visual memory, so reading lets me know how names are spelt and things like that. I might have missed the year it was set, but in print form it’s obvious, because the year serves as the title of the chapter. Basically, you might be missing vital things which are more easily picked up on paper. Don’t feel any shame whatsoever about this — the fact is, some stories make for better audiobooks than others.

Learn to recognise when a book has given you up. Sometimes I give up a book. But other times I get to a point where I just don’t care. My eyes are travelling over the page and I’ve read a chapter and I have no clue what’s going on. The thought of going back and re-reading is like torture. In this case, I consider the book has given me up. This is especially annoying when I’ve paid full-price for it, but them’s the blows.


You may have heard the rule of 50:

If you’re 50 years old or younger, give a book about 50 pages and if it doesn’t hook you, give it up. If you’re over 50, subtract your age from 100 and give a book that many pages before deciding whether or not to give it up.”

originally from Nancy Pearl, American librarian

I don’t always last that long because I have a list of things which function as red flags. If I get the sense an author has written something sexist, misogynistic, racist, ableist, look-ist or something like that, I know for sure the story won’t improve. It’ll only annoy me further.

So my other tip is this: Listen to your gut, ask yourself when you finish a work what it is you loved about it, and proceed with your reading life accordingly.

The Rule of 50 is great for when you know you’re holding A Good Book, but you have other things in your life competing for your attention.


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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