Donnerstag, 8. März 2012

Revelations and Reading Slumps

In February I learned something about me which I never believed possible, and as usual, it was books which taught me. Since I am not hiding anything from you, my dear readers, here it is, the ugly and unpleasant truth:
I am impatient.
Considering that I'm often practising one bar on the piano for literally hours, that I actually enjoy waiting for the bus and, perhaps most importantly that I've been learning French for five years without giving up, this is something I really did not expect, but the last month showed me the limits of my patience: long books.

I know that this is a horrible confession for anyone who is interested in literature, but I just can't do anything about it and I've tried, believe me, I've tried. The problem with me is that I'm really bad at reading more than one book at the same time; I have to finish one book first in order to enjoy another one.
I started reading Les Misérables in February and even though I actually liked it very much I was getting more and more annoyed every time I opened it. After two weeks I had read 300 pages, which isn't bad considering my slow reading pace and family occupations, but when I realised that this was not even one-fifth of the whole book I was really irritated. I began to read even if I wasn't in the mood to and didn't really pay attention to the story, just to the page numbers. I liked the book but didn't see any progress and that is something which gets me. No matter what I'm doing, I have to see some progress of any sort, otherwise I'm losing interest, and this is exactly what happened to Les Misérables.
I hardly read anything during the last two weeks (that is the reason there haven't been any posts) and to be honest I am not in the mood to read anything now either. I guess one could say this is my first reading slump since starting this blog, and it annoys me beyond measure.
There are so many great books piling on my shelves, not to mention my poor Hugo which I have completely abandoned and yet I can't animate myself to even open them. I have no idea how to get out of this slump again.

To make it short: I am disappointed in myself, I am miserable and your advice would be greatly appreciated.


  1. I completely sympathize with your impatience! I, unlike you, am impatient in all aspects of life. Reading is just another manifestation of that. I frequently get impatient with long books, and it requires great concentration to keep at it, so I understand why you're feeling frustrated.

    When I get in reading slumps, I let myself take a break. If I get to the point where I don't enjoy reading anymore, I don't read. I do other things for several days, sometimes several weeks, until reading seems fun again.

    I think you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself to read quickly, when you're doing very well! Consider how much you've got going on in your life. Give yourself permission to take a break! If Les Mis isn't grabbing your attention right now, put it aside for a while. If you ease your expectations a bit, reading will feel less like a chore, and I think you'll find yourself wanting to get back into it naturally. At least, that's what happens to me when I'm in a reading slump.

    I hope this helps!

    1. Unfortunately pressuring myself is something I've always been very good at! I am simply frustrated because I can't recall this happening before and I actually like Les Mis, but I'll be following your advice.
      Thank you for the understanding!!!

  2. Diana is right on. My addition is really just a restatement of her words: you do need to be patient- with yourself! If you can learn to be patient with yourself, patience in other aspects of your life will follow. Be gentle. Put the books down. Books are more patient than people, they'll wait. :)

    As for people, those of us who love you will be patient and wait for you too. 'Cause you are totally worth waiting for, Cassandra. *big hug* I am so proud of you!

    1. Thank you so much! You really made my bad mood disappear right away :D
      I know I always want too much, my mum once said that Billy Joel's "Vienna" could have been written about me, but I'm trying to slow down. Again, just thank you a lot!

  3. Diana and Melanie are quite right, Cassandra. But here’s a different kind of advice that might be useful:

    Reading 19th century novelists, like Tolstoy, Dickens, Hugo, Dumas, etc. often proves very trying for 21st century readers. (This has to do partly with the way we receive information nowadays. Everything’s very quick.) I remember detesting David Copperfield the first time I read it, thinking how insufferably slow it was, thinking that it took hundreds and hundreds of pages for the smallest thing to ever happen.

    Today, David Copperfield is one of my favorite novels.
    What changed?
    My approach.

    With 19th century novelists, it’s ALL about details. They are trying to create an entire world, to register EVERY aspect of a particular kind of social/individual experience. There’s everything—money, sex, clothes, art, religion, politics, food, economic, etc., etc. These are not highly stylized, highly filtered modern novels.

    19th century novelists NEED the space to accomplish their unique novelistic objectives.

    Dickens needs the space in order to unite characters from opposite ends of the social world, and reveal secret relationships between them.

    George Eliot needs the space in order to show the minute, subtle developments that occur within her characters.

    Tolstoy needs the space in order to develop (with superb roundness) the lives of several characters, which, in some way, are all related … Anna Karenina, for instance, has seven—yes, seven—major characters which are developed remarkably well. Two main ones—Anna and Levin—but five other very, very important ones.

    Ask yourself why Hugo NEEDS the space. What are his unique novelistic objectives? Is he simply wordy? Or is there something more to it? What is he trying to do? He's up to something--but what is it?

    Hope this helps!

    1. You already had me when you mentioned Hugo and Dickens in the same sentence! :)
      No, seriously: I never looked at it that way, but now that I do it is certainly very interesting.
      Hugo truly describes every tiny detail of everyday life, but I think he does so in order to draw an accurate picture of the human soul.
      The question of right and wrong, conscience and ethics play a quite important role in Les Misérables and he also shows his reader a lot of paradox social injustices. His characters are mostly trying to find a (morally) good way of living while their fates call. Perhaps he wants to show the eternal battle between ethics and wealth, but of course at the moment this is a mere assumption.
      God, now I'm curious to find out if I'm right!

  4. Relax, you're fine. :) Honestly, my advice is to see if you can learn to read more than one book at a time. It's OK to put Hugo to the side while you read something short and fun--you'll go back refreshed and wanting to see what happens next, instead of slogging.

    When you're in a slump and nothing looks good, that's OK too. Do something else for a little while. Bake yummy treats or go on a spring hike--whatever. It will come back.

    I am pretty bad at really super-long books, but I'm getting much better. (Er, Mimesis, I promise I will get back to you soon...)

    1. Thank you Jean, I will try. It would certainly save me a lot of disappointment and provide me with the feeling of progress I need so badly. Right now I am not ready to restart reading, but I am pretty sure that this won't last too long anymore; my TBR pile looked at me quite seductively today :)

  5. I completely understand what you're going through. Unless it's really fast-paced, I tend to lose patience with books over 350 pages.

    There are some books that are just worth it, even if they take time to finish. It took me four years to finish the Lord of the Rings trilogy because I kept losing my patience with it, but, when I finished it, I would say reading the Lord of the Rings was completely worth it. I got to experience Tolkien's genius first hand, instead of just through the movies.

    I'm sure you're going to finish Les Miserables. It just might take more time than you expected. :)

    On a completely different note, I tagged you:

    1. Thank God! Now I don't have to feel like a complete Philistine anymore :)
      And The Lord of the Rings is definitely worth it! I'll just think about them everytime I'm about to give up from now on.

      Yay, thank you for tagging me! That's very exciting *starts scribbling down notes for the post feverishly*

  6. Ah yes, the dreaded reading slump. There's a lot of good advice above. To that I add, sometimes it's just about timing. At various points in my life I've had more or less patience with finishing thick, slow books. One strategy that I've used in the past is a dedicated reading time: work on the book for a little every day. It might take a good long while but eventually, it's done. On the other hand, sometimes just having a large chunk of time to sit with a book and read through it helps too--I can sometimes really get into a book when I spend a compressed amount of time with it. It's whatever you find works best for you.

    Mostly, don't stress about it. Reading slumps come and go, and we can't necessarily do anything to hasten their departure. About the only thing that's ever worked for me is picking up an old (easy) favorite.

    Best of wishes for your return to books!

    1. This is a really good idea, Amanda. Thank you! If I could work on Les Mis for a certain time every day, it would also be easier for me to read something shorter simultanously.
      I know I hardly can do anything about the reading slump, but my perfectionism unfortunately knows no boundaries.

  7. This happens to every reader I think. I remember reading Les Mis. I did love it but it was one big, stinking, huge book to get through!!! Pride yourself you are doing it. Give yourself a pat on the back for not just listening to the musical CD or watching the movie version. Just take a breath and keep on even if it's a slow pace.

    I just finished Bleak House and I did like it but there were times I almost put it down because it was so long. It is hard to read the longer books today when we spend so much time on the internet quickly perusing info.

    Hang in there, that's my advice! The book is amazing!

    1. It's true, reading such long books requires an extraordinary amount of patience, especially if you only have a little time to read each day.
      But with all the good advise here I'm rather confident I'll make it and hopefully I will like Les Mis just as much as you do.

  8. I have no advice, just have to say - yep, I get you. Completely. I could have written that. It's a real problem for me and it annoys and disappoints me. So it's not just you :)

  9. Ah, thank you nonetheless! If you say that I don't feel so bad about it anymore :)

  10. Oh, yes. I can relate. The thing is, Cassandra, every reader can, especially when it comes to the really long books. We've all been discouraged and felt like breaking up with books for a little while. And while there's no magic recipe for getting your motivation back, I find that dedicating a couple of days to other things I enjoy (writing, discovering new music, watching old movies) usually helps refresh my mind.
    Basically, I echo what everybody else said: don't be too hard on yourself and, instead of trying to force yourself to read, invest the time in other things you want to do. You'll be back to your usual reading self in no time :)