4 Strategies for the Dreaded Reading Slump

Do you ever get that feeling that you just can’t read another word?

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Do you ever get that feeling that you just can’t read another word? That you can’t stand a book you loved just a few days ago? A reading slump, for the avid reader, is painful. It’s like having a fight with a best friend.

I recently went through a slump from a variety of reasons: too ill to think, starting a new office job, and being in the midst of some very heavy books (The Meaning of Freedom, Tainted WitnessIf This Is A Woman: Inside Ravensbruck). Even articles and magazines lost their allure – and I’m one of those people who will read the oven manual if there’s nothing else around!

I managed to overcome the slump with a few tactics:

1. Take a break from reading

When you don’t feel like reading, don’t force yourself. Instead of picking up a book to read on the train or in the evening, I looked at dream interiors on Pintrest, watched How to Get Away With Murder, and listened to podcasts. Working on non-bookish projects and getting outdoors are other options.

2. Go book shopping – at the library

I love the library for many, many reasons, but one of the best is that an unread book can be returned, rather than sitting on the bookshelf making you feel guilty for not reading it. I browsed the shelves for a while, picking up interesting titles and covers. One book had a recommendation from Diana Gabadon on it – one of my favourite pleasure-read authors. It was much shorter than her books, so I figured I’d try it.

3. Read something light in a favourite genre

The book was Shadow on the Crown, about Queen Emma of Normandy, who was queen of England from 1002-1035 and mother to two subsequent kings. Her remarkable life, about which not much is known beyond a book she commissioned in 1040, is brought to life by Patricia Bracewell in a scheming court with a side romance for good measure. Unfortunately, the third book is still in progress, but reading the first two in the trilogy was enough to jump-start my reading habits.

4. Ask a friend for a recommendation

I was talking to my friend about the Queen Emma trilogy. She recommended another historical quasi-romance series, the Maggie Hope mysteries.  I still felt the need for something less involved than social justice non-fiction, so I found the books at the library and devoured the first two (the third is sitting in my pile of Bailey’s Prize longlisters waiting patiently). I can’t recommend bookish friends enough – we’ve all been there! No IRL bookish friends? The Books and Feminism community is here for you.

What are your best strategies for overcoming a reading slump?

Review: The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

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Read: The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

Stars: Five

Drinking: Lavazza Prontissimo! Intenso

The Improbability of Love is a sprawling novel full of intrigue featuring the seedy underbelly of London’s high art world.  At first glance, it seems like the usual contemporary fiction, but Rothschild has crafted the story so well that the reader is immersed. I only put it down with regret for work and sleep. This book has everything: Nazis, dysfunctional parent-child relationships, a sweet love story, and MI5.

What made the novel so unique from others in its class was the characters, particularly the titular painting. Found – rescued – from a junk shop by Annie, a broken-hearted chef, the painting tells us its story interwoven with Annie’s and that of Rebecca, Annie’s boss and heir to an art auction house. From the painter’s short and tragic life to Nazi looters, and royal hijinks all over Europe in between, the painting represented love to all who owned it.

She has the eye. The heart. She may be bog poor but she knows, doesn’t she? She can feel and sense my greatness. Like anyone, I need to be loved and admired.

Jesse was another character that I loved. He knew that Annie was struggling with both herself, her past relationship, and her mother. Instead of pushing her into a relationship or whining about being “friendzoned,” he accepted that Annie did not want a romantic relationship and instead was actually a friend. As an artist, he was fascinated by the painting and its mystery. He was able to put aside his unrequited romance to support Annie in solving the puzzle, even when it

The mystery part of the book was gripping as well, especially in the last twists and turns of the painting’s history. I honestly did not see the twists and turns of the last quarter of the book coming.

The Improbability of Love is a fun, lighthearted mystery. I highly recommend it.

 

Review: The Cauliflower® by Nicola Barker

A slightly irreverent biography of a Hindu saint.

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Read: The Cauliflower® by Nicola Barker

Stars: Four

Drinking: Raspberry Leaf Tea, Clipper

I love the cover of this book so much. It’s really evocative of the novel’s humorous tone and yet representative of the story of a man (a saint? a reincarnation of God?) worshiping Kali.

The Cauliflower® is a non-linear, tongue-in-cheek novelization of the life of Sri Ramakrishna, a 19th-century Hindu saint. I occasionally had trouble following the story as it skipped around in time, switched narrators, and skipped from Sri Ramakrishna’s life to philosophical musings about God and Hinduism or poetry. However, this mixed-up way of telling the story highlights how we perceive spiritual people and the myths and legends that grow up around them. It also allows Barker to insert commentary that helps the reader along this journey, like explanations of Hindu beliefs or the history of Kolkata. This commentary adds to the story, rather than distracting.

Barker also highlights two women who had a profound impact on Sri Ramakrishna. The first, known as The Rani, is a wealthy widow who managed her husband’s fortune (with the help of her son-in-law) rather than burn herself on his funeral pyre. It is The Rani who builds the Dakshineswar temple that Sri Ramakrishna lives in for most of his life as a mystic/priest. Her clever leverage of her status as a woman in 19th-century Hindu culture to maintain power is repeatedly commented on by the narrator.

She will become emblematic of something intangible. Of female power, a power that may only exist – and does and will exist- if it remains charming, superficially submissive, unerringlly polite and appropriatly dressed.

The second key woman is known only as the brahmini. She is a traveling priestess who stops for several years to teach Sri Ramakrishna. She  becomes his closest companion during those years, to the point where his nephew, Hriday, one of the narrators, becomes jealous.

A passing observation

First the Rani and now the brahmini? Both negotiating paths of such extraordinary freedom and flexibility within the restricting manacles of nineteenth-century tradtion, sex and caste? How on earth did they manage it?

First answer: Feminine guile!

Second answer: Native wit!

Real answer: Ah Hinduism: This the Pair of Opposites, Binds and releases!

There are three other women in Sri Ramakrishna’s life that are important: his wife, his mother, and Kali. I say less about these three because the first two are your stereotypical “weak” women. The mother is actually referred to as “slow” or “not bright” frequently. His wife, the “Holy Mother,” is apparently quiet and withdrawn, content to live a life of prayer and worship in an unconsummated marriage. She is also at least 25 years younger than her husband and spends much of their marriage at her family’s home, growing up.

Kali dominates the story. It is her right as a goddess, after all. It is she that Sri Ramakrishna worships throughout his spiritual journey. He refers to her as his Mother. He goes to her for advice. He is driven nearly mad trying to experience her divine presence.

Were I to go into all my feelings about The Cauliflower®, this post would become as long as the book. Read it! I’m probably going to read it again because there are so many nuances and observations that I’m sure I missed the first time through.

Review copy kindly provided by Random House UK through NetGalley.

 

Review: The Book Thief

It’s an amazing book. (I did not cry. But only because I was on the metro while I read it.)

The Book Thief Cover

Read: The Book Thief by Maurice Zusack

Stars: Five

Drinking: Winter Spice, Twinings

I can’t believe it took me this long to read this book. I’ve seen it everywhere, it was made into a movie, and it’s about World War II – one of my favorite subjects. It’s been on my TBR list for years, but I never quite got to it. I’m glad I finally did. It’s an amazing book. (I did not cry. But only because I was on the metro while I read it.)

Death and Liesel Meminger meet for the first time when she is ten. Her brother dies before her as they are taken to a foster home outside Munich. Luckily, her new parents, especially her new Papa, are very understanding. She becomes a part of the vibrant community around her. But since they are in Germany in the late 1930s, Death and Liesel meet again many times. Between their meetings, Death keeps an eye on her and follows her book-stealing and reading career.

I love Death’s quirky narration. Despite the dark setting of the story and the grim nature of his work, the narration is friendly and reassuring. I was so absorbed that the ending took me by complete surprise, despite overt foreshadowing. Liesel, her Mama and Papa, her best friend Rudy, and all of the other residents of their small community are so vibrant and full of life. You feel like you are in the basement with them listening to Liesel read her stolen books during air raids.

The darker theme of the book is, as with many books about World War II, what happens when good people do nothing in the face of evil and intolerance. The town is within walking distance of Dachau, a labor concentration camp. Jews are paraded through the streets on their way to the camp. The one man who stands up to the inhumanity and offers a small gesture of kindness is punished. It’s a side story to the Book Thief’s main story, but one that Death muses on often. It felt a bit heavy-handed compared to the rest of the narrative.

I highly recommend The Book Thief. I can’t wait to see the movie. A warning, though – it is considered experimental fiction and the narration by Death is not for everyone. But if you want a great story about love, family, death, and reading, give it a try.