A trick for when you’re stuck in a reading rut.

A trick for when you’re stuck in a reading rut.

I’d like to think it happens to all readers, because it certainly happens to me: the dreaded reading rut, where I find myself reading the same kind of book over and over again—and not in a good way. I get bored with my reading and bored with myself. I’m in a rut, and I need help getting myself out of it.

On last week’s episode of What Should I Read Next, Osheta Moore shared a trick she uses to get herself out of a reading slump. A heavy library user, she uses a little checklist for her checkouts to push herself to read a variety of books, including books she might not have picked up without her guidelines in place.

The list is short and sweet, and looks like this:

• One nonfiction book
• One novel
• One book of poems (ideally) OR an essay collection
• One magazine

In a full-circle moment, Osheta said she first got this idea from What Should I Read Next. Well, I was quoting Susan Wise Bauer, who’s spoken at length about her childhood library visits. Her family borrowed so many books from the library each week that they employed not the usual tote bag but a laundry hamper to carry all the books home.

The Wise family guidelines looked like this:

• One nonfiction book
• One novel
• One book of poetry
• One play

Four genres were required; the rest of the books could be anything the kids wanted. (And they had to read those books.)

Why do these checklists work? When you’re not sure what to read, these guidelines help you choose by narrowing your options. They push you to read books you might not pick up otherwise. (I mean, when is the last time you read a play?) And I don’t think it’s coincidence that half of these items, by their nature, are short. They let you finish a book quickly, and you carry that momentum into your next read.

Next time your reading life feels a little tired, try this broad-strokes, systematic approach to find a new groove:

• Read something different
• Read something short
• Re-read one of your favorites
• Try something new—new genre, new format, new location

Are you too well-acquainted with the phenomenon of the reading rut? What do you do to get yourself out of it? I’d love to hear your rut-busting tips, suggestions, and books in comments. (If we make a good list in the comments section I’ll round them up and share in a future post.)

P.S. 15 titles that will help you branch out from your usual genre, 20 life-changing nonfiction books you can finish in a day, and a few of my favorite poetry collections.

a trick to get you out of a reading rut

43 comments | Comment

43 comments

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  1. Beth Ann Swinson says:

    Great ideas! I would add:
    1. Read something recommended to you
    2. Read a new author
    3. Read more about a topic by choosing 3 books, rather than just reading one
    4. Choose 2 or 3 books with the same setting (period/place)

  2. Stacey says:

    I always use the next installment in a series I know I like to get me out of a reading rut or as a palate cleanser between heavier reads. Right now that’s the Mary Russell series by Laurie R King – I always enjoy them, but I’m not dying to read the next one immediately after finishing one, so I save the next one until I need a gimme 🙂 (The #1 Ladies Detective Agency books have previously played this role in my reading life.)

  3. Brandyn says:

    I get stuck because I have too many choices so when I can’t decide I reread or grab a romance. I have a different strategy that has been working pretty well for me this year. I have a “Priority TBR” on Goodreads that I maintain with 10-15 books on it. I update it every Saturday after I go to the library, but throughout the week I can only choose from that list of books. I put some thought into keeping the list diverse so throughout the week I have options for any possible reading mood, but bringing my list of options down from hundreds to tens makes it so much easier to pick.

  4. Laura says:

    I typically will switch the genre (as you mentioned) to poetry or something totally different than what I’ve been reading. I’ll also sometimes just take a break if I’ve been reading too much and go for a hike or do something fun with my kids, which usually snaps me out of it.

  5. Nanette Stearns says:

    I make a list each month of general categories (a series book, a memoir, a book of essays, etc.) and then fill in with titles from my TBR or bookshelves. Once when I was in a rut, I posted a question on Facebook asking friends to recommend a book. Many of these were books outside my usual genres and/or from people I didn’t think of as readers. I added a lot to my TBR and founds some winners that way.

  6. Dee says:

    I don’t use a list per se, but for my *next* book I tend to look for something different. So if a novel was really intense with lots of dark, heavy issues (admittedly, my favorite genre), I might go for something lighter and “easier” like a straight-forward mystery. After that I might choose a memoir or know myself better book (thinking of something like a Gretchen Rubin book). And then maybe a classic. That’s all until I’m hankering for something meatier and heavier again.

  7. I went to extreme measures to get out of my reading rut: for all of 2018, I’m reading as if it were 100 years ago–books, magazines, and even news. For those who are looking for a less drastic rut-buster, I’d suggest this addition to the list: “read a book published more than (choose your own number) years ago.” Failing the “read a book written before you were born” item in last year’s MMD reading challenge–by a LARGE margin–was a wake-up call!

    • Jennifer Moss says:

      Love this! I have done something similar. I am reading the (weekly) newspaper from exactly 100 years ago from a town in Massachusetts where my mother’s family lived for several generations. It has been fascinating! It has created some very interesting dinner conversations. My boys (17 and 12) are intrigued by articles about boys shooting rats at the dump, school closures (for weeks at a time) due to a harsh winter and a fuel shortage. I am motivated to take this to the next level like you have!

      • Another 1918 time traveler! I love the idea of your project, and of sharing it with your family. I’m blogging about my project–my name on the comment is linked to my website–if you’re looking for more back-to-1918 ideas.

  8. Kacy Burns says:

    Like any good accountant, I have a spreadsheet for that! I have over 3000 books in my TBR list on Goodreads, which can be more than a little overwhelming. At the end of each year, I go through that list and pick ones that I want to read the next year. This helps me make sure I pick from a variety of genres, time periods, etc. Of course, I don’t completely stick to the list, but it gives me a shortlist of things to choose from when I want to read and don’t know what to start with. Plus, it gives me a list of books to request from the library, so I always have something to pick up when I drop off finished books.

  9. Monica says:

    I have found that using a few different reading challenges since th new year began has really stretched my reading life. I finished the Reading Challenge for this blog and then found a few more online. I keep a notebook of these lists and pick and choose. It has been a great way to read widely.

  10. Kathleen Gaughran says:

    I walk those stacks in the library that are outside my usual areas of interest. Then I choose something that somehow appeals to me by virtue of the topic. It’s interesting how something always pops up and good reads follow. (Outside my “J” approach!)

  11. Allison says:

    Whenever I find myself in a reading rut, I tend to look for a “palate cleanser”, like others have commented. Most often, I’ll re-read a childhood favourite – recently, I reread Island of the Blue Dolphins when I was feeling uninspired and bogged-down, reading-wise, and it did the trick of keeping my reading momentum going. Some favourites I’ll re-read when I’m feeling like I’m in a rut are:
    – All of Kit Pearson’s middle-grade novels. Favourites: Awake and Dreaming and A Handful of Time
    – Harry Potter, obviously.
    – Tuck Everlasting
    Other times I will pick up a new (or new-to-me) contemporary YA novel to shift gears when I’m feeling uninspired. Or, if I’m really not feeling it, I listen to audiobooks (often books I’ve read and loved, like Harry Potter) because I really can’t survive the feeling of not reading ANYTHING at all – even when I really don’t feel like reading ANYTHING at all.

  12. Lori East says:

    I, too, used Susan Wise Bauer’s method when I was homeschooling my son, and HAVE continued it in my own reading life. I’ve asked for recommendations on Facebook, and talk to the librarians a LOT. In a pinch, I dig in my husband’s library…our tastes are different. We both love history but his focus tends more toward, “I want to know something about” an event or timeframe. Mine is more “I know this era, what else can I learn about it?” He also reads WAY more theology than I.
    Once in a great while, I’ll wander the stacks and wait for something to shout. It happens!

  13. Courtney says:

    Best advice I ever got: let yourself get into a reading rut!
    I know it sound ridiculous, right? A reading rut is your brain’s way of telling you to slow down. I embrace a rut when I get into one (in fact I just got out of a 2 week long one the other day) because I know if I push myself then I may not enjoy what I’m reading. I catch up on my shows, tackle long overdue home improvement projects, anything to refresh my mind and start anew.
    Think of it this way: would you finish a marathon with a broken leg?

    • Amanda S. says:

      Yes! I was thinking, “just let yourself be in a reading rut.” I was in one recently, so I just took it easy and watched movies, etc.

  14. Jennifer Nash says:

    I use the palate cleanser technique: typical palate cleansers for me include fluffy YA, fantasy, some kind of domestic intrigue (a la Liane Moriarty), or a thriller/horror novel. Really, it doesn’t matter what the genre is, it just has to be very immersive and fast. Sometimes, I have to read several to really get through it!

  15. Courtney says:

    Oh reading ruts! They’re the worst. I was experiencing one this past week after I finished The Goldfinch. I loved it SO much – and it’s such an epic read (for those of us who love it) – that it was hard to know what to pick up next. I went with a cookbook (Ruth Reichl) and 84, Charing Cross Road, a charming, un-intimidating, short little read that’s been just right for me. I also like to mix it up with reading a lighter beach read like Elin Hilderbrand or a poetry collection like Mary Oliver. Thanks for sharing these tips, Anne!

  16. Guest says:

    I usually go to my original reading happy place – either a child/teenhood favorite such as my beloved Anne of Green Gables series or an Austen novel OR I go to a historical romance which is my favorite genre if I’m honest. 😉

  17. I often use the palate cleanser technique – I’ll try to read a heavier/lighter book that I’ve just read, but then I find that I get into a rut of fluffy books (I think my brain has been tired of thinking lately 🙂 )

    One thing that I’ve realized that I need to start doing is choosing books from different stacks and that will help me read something different – library pile, my own books, and e-books. I generally have 10-15 library books at any given time and usually focus on reading those, and forget that I actually own books and have a large list of e-books to read!

  18. Vanessa says:

    This is brilliant! Also, especially with the magazine on there, it makes me feel like I’m allowed lighter reading. I do this often by opening up an ebook that’s often very short (I get at least one Ultimate Bunlde each year so I have tons of these and sometimes end up being quite good) and then I can be off reading whatever next long or deep or dark book I have next. For some reason I had not formally figured out that I do this to keep reading consistently and out of a rut and it’s really does work!

  19. Eva says:

    Lately, I’ve been reading so intensely that I can’t even imagine being in a reading rut!! I already mix up my reading though when I take things out from the library and oscillate between fun and flirty romance novels, and serious fiction. Then I will switch out thing if my brain isn’t having any more of either, and I’ll lean into a gothic novel, a biography, or a young adult book. So many awesome books to read, I’m worried I won’t ever stop! It’s taking up too much of my time as it is! Haha!

    Eva | http://www.shessobright.com

  20. Torrie says:

    How funny! I’ve employed a similar trick for years, but I didn’t know anyone else did! My four “types” are that I’m always in the middle of an adult fiction novel, a young adult fiction novel, a memoir or biography, and a nonfiction read (other than a memoir). I’ve been doing this for years because it means I almost always want to pick up at least ONE of the books I’ve got going on, no matter what mood I’m in! (It also means I tend to finish books at a decent pace because I’m often making a little bit of headway on all four titles simultaneously.)

  21. I have a few tricks when I notice myself getting bored with reading.
    1. Humor – it feels fun with no downside (think Dave Barry)
    2. Very short. Anne’s lists of books you can read in a day are great for this (or anything sub 200 pages)
    3. Revisit something from school. A lot of classic literature is actually cool when you don’t have to write a paper on it! Think Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet, etc.

  22. Renee says:

    I experienced a reading rut lately, which is rare for me. I tried all sorts of things to get unstuck, but what finally worked was looking up which movies were going to be in theaters soon that are based on books, then read the book first. My reward will be seeing the movie in the theater when it comes out…but the REAL reward was getting out of my reading rut!

  23. Ann Perrigo says:

    My problem is not so much that I get into reading ruts as that I choose titles that end up not being very satisfying to me. Partly it’s because I grab up too much fluff, but sometimes even very well received titles don’t work for me. For example, of the 25 books I’ve read this year, there are only three I can wholeheartedly recommend. That seems like really bad odds! Wish I could up the percentage of really wonderful reads!

  24. Sandra says:

    I love reading challenges as a tool to force me out of my reading ruts. The Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at the Books and Chocolate blog has me read 12 classics every year, although you can sign up for just 6 or 9 titles. I’ve just committed to the Around the World in 80 Books challenge on Good Reads which should have me read more widely, geographically. And other challenges get me to at least sample genres that I’d never touch on my own e.g. Popsugar’s Ultimate Reading Challenge will have be read a Cyberpunk novel this year. The trick for me is to commit to some challeneges but to leave enough room to follow my own reading interests as well.

  25. Mary Ann says:

    I love to read children’s lit to get out of a reading rut. It’s definitely not my usual genre, but I’ve come to love it, especially middle grade novels.

  26. Ashley says:

    I have just come out of one wicked reading rut. These happen to me all of the time, at least once a year. After scouring the web and trying tip after tip I found myself turning to a tried and true favourite which of course is one of the most common rut busting recs. The difference for me was that the book was Daughter of the Empire by Feist and Wurts, a 500ish page book followed by two 800+ page sequels and I’m about to finish the second one. So I’d say don’t be afraid to go big, a favourite worked for me but not just because I adore the series, it worked because it was so huge it got my mind off of having to decide what to read next for weeks and it stopped me worrying about how many I had already read and still wanted to read because I was too wrapped up in the epic. Chunky books can be intimidating but sometimes they’re just what we need.

  27. Sarah Donnelly says:

    I feel like I spend more time trying to help my kids in their own reading ruts and I thought this was interesting in terms of helping them to get out. It is a thankless job helping others out of their reading ruts and I’m always looking for new inspiration! 🙂

  28. Sheree says:

    I am a *huge* fan of these types of checklists (that’s basically how my own book reviewing blog project came about). If I were crafting my own checklist, I would probably lean more towards a diversity theme: a book from a country you’ve never visited, a book from a time period you don’t know much about, a book by an author of a different gender/sexuality to you, etc. 🙂

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