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Five books for reading slumps
From an addictive whodunnit to a short, sharp, immersive read
Since making book recommendations approximately 50% of my personality, one of the most common things people ask me for is a book to get them out of a reading rut. They’ll tell me that they’re finding everything hard to get into at the moment, or that they don’t seem to be in the mood for anything. So, they ask, what can I read to fix this?
It is a really difficult question to answer. The magic of reading is that there are all sorts of intangible things going on between book and reader - an alchemy that is not only personal, but can be fickle. The first time I picked up Sorrow and Bliss, for example, I read a few chapters before putting it down because I wasn’t feeling it. I came back to it a couple of months later and tore through; it became one of my top books of the year.
The thing is, the ingredients that I think you should look for to pull you out of a rut - a gripping opening, a compelling storyline, a character you want to spend all your time with, and an ease to the writing - are simply the ingredients of a great book, right?
So all I can tell you is what has personally pulled me out of my own reading slumps over the years. I can’t promise they’ll do the same for you, but as they each have all of the above, they’ll be a great place to start.
The Appeal by Janice Hallett
The reason I’ve been thinking a lot about reading slumps was because I’ve very recently been deep into one - until I picked up this whodunnit. Told through a series of documents, messages and emails, The Appeal is an ingenious and addictive read in which a small town’s amateur dramatics production leads to a murder.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo
At just 160 pages, this is a firecracker of a novel - one which sparked an entire movement in South Korea where it was first published, due its portrayal of sexism and inequality in the country. It uses the life story of our eponymous everywoman to explore these themes and is a deceptively simple read. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is short, sharp, and immersive.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
At the other end of the scale is City of Girls which is nearly 500 pages - and yet! It is the kind of novel where you get utterly, and happily, lost in its storytelling. It follows 19-year-old Vivian Morris, who moves to New York during the 1940s in order to join her bohemian aunt’s theatre - and tumbles headfirst into a life of high definition colour. It’s a world you step into and don’t want to come out of.
The Push by Ashley Audrain
The Push is one of those books which reels you in from the outset, and then won’t let you go. With shades of We Need to Talk About Kevin, it’s a psychological drama about the deep-set anxieties and complications of a mother who isn’t able to bond with her daughter - and an event that shatters their family life irrevocably.
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
Two authors find themselves in neighbouring beach houses. He writes Great American Novels; she writes bestselling romances. The only thing they have in common is that they are both bogged down with writers’ block, so they strike a deal to swap projects. Book Lovers is an irresistible novel and everything I ever craved in a romcom.
This week I was reminded of the poem Love After Love by Derek Walcott. I wanted to share it because I think it is one we should all read and re-read, whatever our relationship status: