It seems like sacrilege to breathe even the barest insinuation that you might be sick of reading, but just because no one wants to admit it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. Blame it on workdays that leave the prose swimming on the pages, courseloads that permit little time in the way of leisure reading, or maybe it’s that you’re coming off a book that’s been hard to get over. Whatever the reason, feel free to go ahead and admit that you’re burnt out on reading — you’re among friends.
However, if reading fatigue is a sickness, it’s one that can be cured — in fact, that cure is spiritually imperative. Shouldn’t we all have those restorative books to which we return faithfully in times of hardship, a sort of literary equivalent to the bad television shows we watch in bed when we’re sick? (I’m a fan of 30 Rock, personally.) Or perhaps instead we’re the weary sailors struggling to make it back to shore after blundering off course and these books are the lighthouses whose familiar brilliance welcomes us home. It’s heavy work to do, but these illuminating books are up to the challenge — after all, some of them are quite heavy, themselves.
Doubtless you’ve previously spent time with at least one of the gems from the the Paris Review interview series, but if you’re looking to belly up to the fountain of inspiration for the long haul, dig into the anthologized compendium for master classes from the likes of such luminaries as Gabriel García Márquez, Joan Didion, Toni Morrison, and more. Keep the series well within reach, and you’ll never feel disillusioned about reading again.
If you’re a disenchanted reader suffering from existential angst, chances are you’ve already made the rounds with Camus and Sartre, so turn instead to David Shields, their despairing postmodern lovechild. In this gritty, gutsy work of confessional memoir meets literary criticism, Shields lays out an unflinching manifesto: Life is hard, but literature is the best remedy we have. For those whose understanding of life and literature isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, let Shields shepherd you through a soul-search about how literature makes life bearable.
If you’ve fallen out of love with reading, perhaps it’s because you’re reading through a stale intellectual lens — at least, that’s what Francine Prose would have you believe. Take a master class with Prose in her much-beloved Reading Like a Writer, an earnest education in what the best writers do best, and find yourself returning to literature better equipped to grapple with it anew.
How should one classify A Reader’s Book of Days? At once desk reference, niche encyclopedia, and coffee table knockout, this book eschews any sense of traditional categorization — but whatever it is, it’s a hell of a good time. Read it cover to cover if you like instant gratification, but for the more rewarding road, pace this exhaustive compendium of behind-the-scenes literary history over the year as eight-time Jeopardy! champion Tom Nissely intended.
Pick your literary poison — go ahead, be as meticulous as you please — and Wendy Lesser will have you covered. Be it fiction, memoir, drama, mystery, poetry, or even science fiction, renowned cultural critic Lesser tackles all that and more in Why I Read, a comprehensive tour through the canon dovetailed with a heartfelt perspective on how literature can bend time and space. If you’re looking to be uplifted, turn to Lesser for a look at how literature adopts us all into the human fold.
Who better to offer solace to readers gone astray than Harold Bloom, a super-distinguished and literary-minded public intellectual. Bloom strikes at the bedrock of the big questions (one would expect no less of him) in addressing information overload, the struggle to read meaningfully in the digital age (we're familiar with this one), and the absolute spiritual necessity of doing so. If you’re looking for someone to remind you of how reading nourishes and enriches the soul — in luminous prose, no less — Bloom’s your best candidate.
Conventional wisdom suggests that bibliophiles aren’t too fond of numbers, but hear me out. One prestigious stint as an editor at Granta and more than 200 worldwide newspaper bylines later, veteran critic Freeman has compiled 50 landmark literary profiles from his archives into How to Read a Novelist, with selections ranging from such disparate bastions of contemporary fiction as Haruki Murakami to Don Delilo. If you think your reading woes would be solved by a life-and-literature-affirming fireside chat with a novelist, pick up Freeman’s book for 50 of 'em — okay, fireside not included.
A New Literary History of America refuses to be put in anyone’s boxes, and perhaps it’s best not to try — readers of all stripes can find entries to celebrate in this cultural compilation of essays on subjects ranging from Tennessee Williams to Ronald Reagan. However long you spend with it — weeks or months might be best — doubtless these charismatic, sure-footed writers will send you scrambling back to your bookshelf revitalized.
There’s no writer in American letters who can beat Annie Dillard at her own game — that is, the game of electrifying readers’ heads such that they feel unscrewed from their shoulders. In a slim volume of characteristically breathtaking prose, Dillard promises “to do unlicensed metaphysics in a teacup,” and so she does in her lively analysis of how fiction reveals the world and the mind. If you’re looking to be invigorated, or perhaps just reminded of what good all this reading does, Dillard is always your girl.