What I Do When I Can’t Find a Book to Read

So I’m stuck in a bit of a slump right now. I recently finished the book I was reading, but I don’t have another one to start. I mentioned in an earlier post that I tend to listen to audiobooks, and my library is pretty full. At my last count I have about 350 books in my library, and I’ve read about 170 of them. This should mean that I have plenty of options, but I still feel like there’s nothing to read. This doesn’t happen too often, but now is one of those times. Here’s my process for overcoming this situation.

Figure Out My Mood

I tend to stay in the realm of speculative fiction (sci-fi & fantasy), but within that genre I look for different things at different times. My most recent book was the final book of The Unicorn Chronicles by Bruce Coville. It started as a children’s fantasy then progressed to a youth fantasy. It was quick, easy, and got a little darker throughout the series while still being geared toward younger readers. I liked it okay, but now I’m looking for something different. The problem I’m running into now is what that ‘different’ is.

Usually I start with light or dark, then easy or dense. If I want something light and easy, I go toward youth series. Light and dense is a bit more difficult, but I’ve found it, at times, with John Scalzi, Lois McMaster Bujold, or Jim Butcher. Dark and dense are often epic fantasies like those by Brandon Sanderson and George R.R. Martin. Dark and easy are pretty hard to find, but I think Peter V. Brett could fall into that category, as do some of the dystopian youth novels that have become popular recently (I’m thinking Cassandra Clare and Veronica Roth).

What makes this approach difficult is that mood isn’t the same as quality. I can find a book that perfectly fits my mood, but the writing isn’t very good and I struggle to stay interested. That’s where my next step comes in.

Continue a Series

I usually have three or four book series going at once. I learned many years ago that going straight through a series in one go is a bad idea. I get sick of the characters and stop caring about what happens to them. This first happened to me when I was reading the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card. I started reading the series not long after book 5, Heartfire, was released, and read the first 3 books back to back. I then immediately picked up book 4, and about a third of the way through the book I stopped caring about the characters and story. I didn’t care how the series ended. I had the distinct thought “A meteor could strike the world and wipe out everyone in it… and I would be okay with that ending.” I didn’t like feeling that way. (I did finish the books later, but it took about a year before I was willing to get to them.)

It took me a while to figure out what the problem was. I solved it a few years later when I read the first 3 Wheel of Time books in a row and had the same reaction. I immediately stopped reading the 4th book and picked up something else. After I had read another book or two I went back to the series and it kept my interest. From that point on, I have rarely read more than two books of a series without reading something else in between.

Going back to a series helps me determine quality. I already know the author and their style. I’m also familiar with the world and the characters. I can judge the mood of the book based on the previous entries, but the story is still new.

Start Books until One Keeps My Interest

This is where I am right now. None of the series I’ve started reading quite match my mood (either that or I’m still not sure what mood I’m in). So I’m stuck. Right now I’m just starting a bunch of different books. I went through the first bit of The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett, but that didn’t match my mood. I then started re-reading Gateway by Frederik Pohl. That was a little closer, but I remember the ending well enough that I don’t feel the suspense I need to get sucked back in to the world. Today I started Winterfair Gifts by Lois McMaster Bujold. I might stick with it because it’s so short, even if I don’t think it’s what I’m looking for.

I’ve done this before. It came in really handy as I was starting my Hugo list. I had 40-ish books to get through, so I could just pick one up at random and see if it caught my attention. Now, I still have a long list of books (the 180 or so left unread in my library), but it’s a little harder to pick them out since my goal is more nebulous.

Pick Something and Gut Through It

I had to do this a lot while reading the Hugos. I discovered very quickly that there are some authors I just didn’t like. If that author had multiple books on my list, I would just have to suck it up and plow my way through. This often got me through a reading funk. Once I read a book, any book, even if I didn’t like it, then I had a clear idea of what I wanted to read next. I have the feeling that this may happen this week.

So that’s what I do. Sometimes it takes longer than I would like, but eventually it works. If anyone has suggestions on other strategies I can try, I’d be happy to hear them. If not, then I’ll keep plugging along until I get myself unstuck.


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