Something I’ve been struggling with lately has been finishing the books that I start reading. This summer, as I’ve tried to take advantage of my free time to do more “for fun” reading that I can’t do in the school year, I’ve repeatedly run into the issue of stalling out on new books on my TBR list. Whether its because I can’t get into the world-building, or the tone is too severe, or I can’t keep track of all the characters (and yes, I know what that sounds like coming from me), lately I just haven’t been able to finish any books. In one particularly dreadful case, I was reading a book that I actually was starting to feel immersed in, only to have the book throw in a graphic attempted rape as nothing more than blocking in an action sequence. (I guess some writers are still pulling that kind of shit in the year 2018, huh?) Needless to say, I didn’t bother to finish that one.
It’s been a frustrating endeavor, and one that seems to have generally reflected a phenomenon in my life this year that I like to call “The Harder I Try, the Worse the Outcome”. Obviously I’m being melodramatic, but in a number of aspects of my life these past few months (except for finances, thank goodness), I’ve felt that the more time and effort I put into anything, the more unsuccessful I end up being at the thing.
Spring term in my graduate book publishing program really stood out as an example, where I had one Problem Class that required an excessive amount of effort compared to my other two classes, even though the work was not fundamentally more difficult (there were just a lot of busywork assignments that were poorly explained). I ended up dedicating probably something like thrice as much effort to the Problem Class than my other classes, at times even severely procrastinating or just not doing assigned work in my other classes to keep up with the Problem Class. And yet, at the end of the term, my lowest grade was in the class that I had shrugged off my other classes for.
That general pattern has followed many of my endeavors this year, and it’s frustrating because when I encounter obstacles, my instinct is to try to work through them. When the obstacle itself seems to be caused by me working harder, then working harder-er isn’t going to be the solution. And while I’m not hugely inclined to abandon things I’ve committed to (especially when other people are present to witness my commitment), I am inclined to refrain entirely from committing to new things if I think I won’t be astonishingly successful in them on my first try. And this is where my reading habits come in to this pattern.
I was already annoyed with repeatedly hitting walls with every new book I tried to pick up, so much so that after that particularly bad example mentioned above, I was ready to just give up on reading for a while. However, when I was recently listening to an episode of the podcast Print Run (hosted by my agent Laura Zats and her fellow agent Erik Hane), they offered a writing tip that gave me a kick in the pants to get back into reading.
Erik’s advise: “Read way more than you write.”
This has historically been my approach (reading takes way less time than writing, after all), but hearing it said out loud gave me the push I needed to try to get back into reading. But when trying had been the very issue, I knew I had to come up with a solution that required not more effort, but a different approach.
So, instead of trying harder, I decided to try softer. I decided to reboot my reading motivation by picking up a book that I knew I could finish, because I had before. Something that wouldn’t necessarily offer new perspectives or insight into current publishing trends, but something easy and familiar. And short.
I decided to revisit a fantasy romance that I had enjoyed a few years ago, Alexey Dyed in Red by A.M. Valenza, which is a darling, delightful, magical book with an atmosphere that elegantly straddles the line between serene and sinister, and it also includes that elusive asexual representation. Incidentally, while we’re here, I highly recommend this book (there is a tad bit of cannibalism in it, though, so watch out for that).
As I had hoped, revisiting Alexey Dyed in Red (and its sequel, Breakfire’s Glass) helped refocus my approach to reading. Instead of going into the books with the pre-frustrated expectation that I would struggle to finish them, I began with an excitement to dip back in to a familiar story, and my nostalgia made it easier for me to sink into the book and just enjoy the read. Although I know it’s important as an author to keep up on newer books, taking a chance to just slow down and go back to something familiar simply for the joy of it really helped put me in the mind of reading for reading’s own sake, which got lost somewhere amid all the frustration.
(As to where that frustration started, I again blame that Problem Class, which was so profoundly bad that it kind of made me hate books a little bit? You can see how this would be a problem for me.)
Anyway, I’m feeling much more confident in my reading habits again and a little more assured about my “The Harder I Try, the Worse the Outcome” problem. I’m hoping now I’ll be able to hop back into some of those books I stalled on and give them another go. The downside to this happy ending, of course, is that summer is almost over and soon my reading list will again be beholden to my classes’ assigned reading. Regardless, revisiting a favorite was a great joy and, if nothing else, put me in a better headspace.
If you want to check out Alexey Dyed in Red and Breakfire’s Glass (again, highly recommended for anyone looking for cute, mildly creepy fantasy romance with delightful asexual and polyamorous representation), here are some links for you:
I also recommend Print Run for those interested in podcasts about the inner workings of the publishing industry. You can find their site here.