When reading books is a vital part of your job, it’s easy to love what you do. Of course, I don’t get to read books at work (unless it’s out loud at story time), but I still consider it a perk. As someone who works in a school, I might not get to leave the building to have lunch or run errands, but I can go home at night, ignore my chores, read a book instead, and still manage to feel virtuous—because it’s for work!
Moving to Chicago to work at a K–8 school opened up a whole new world of literature: suddenly, YA books were a part of my required reading list. And yet, as much as I really do love to read all these children’s and YA books, I occasionally find myself struggling to finish them, even if I’m reading one chapter at a time. At worst, I don’t want to pick up a book at night. At worst, reading starts to feel like work.
I hit an intense stretch of these feelings earlier this year while I was reading books for our Battle of the Books program. For a while, everything was great. I read several books that I loved, starting with Gary Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter, one of the most powerful books I’ve read this year. A group of my seventh graders loved it, but it’s not just a book for kids—I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to most adult readers I know. I’ve given this book to a couple of students to whom I often recommend books and said, “I’m not going to tell you what it’s about. Just read it. It’s short; you’ll be done in no time.”
Then there was The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse. Historical fiction is a tough sell for a lot of my students, but The Girl in the Blue Coat will make a historical fiction lover out of even the most reluctant kid. Hesse’s tale of Hanneke, a girl from Amsterdam who supports her family by selling items on the black market during World War II, is a beautifully written page-turner.
Jason Reynold’s Ghost—the story of a middle school boy named Ghost who, although he aspires to be a basketball player, discovers he’s a runner—is a powerful novel about family and figuring out who you are. Finally, I adored Kristen Lippert-Martin’s Tabula Rasa–once I started talking about it, I couldn’t keep it on the shelf. Weeks later, I still have kids asking me for “that book with the eye on it.”
Anyway, I was reading through this fabulous-so-far Battle of the Books list when I got to some that were, well, not so fabulous. In fact, they were real clunkers. And after a few of those books that felt like work to read, I didn’t want to read anything. None of the children or YA books I’d brought home looked interesting.
I needed a reboot if I was ever going to look forward to reading again. So I put all the clunkers back on the shelf and pulled out some of the adult books I’d been neglecting, books I wanted to read but hadn’t had the chance to.
The books I picked varied; some were relaxing, easy to read, and from authors whose work I know and love. Others were intense and plot-driven, and a couple were books recommended with conviction by readers I trust. All of them helped me to get out of my reading rut.
In the first camp: Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm, which was right up my alley story-wise (though the gore’s a bit much for me). I got lost in the mystery. The Incarnations by Susan Barker was a gift, so I knew absolutely nothing about it going in. Although excellent, it was oh-so-intense.
After those books, I needed my equivalent of literary comfort food: memoirs like Anne Lamott’s Some Assembly Required and light (although not necessarily happy) fiction like The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. Angela Flourney’s The Turner House is the story of the grown Turner children dealing with family relationships and decisions about what to do with their family home. Erika Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling was pure fantasy fun; I read it in a weekend and went right out to buy the sequel. (When I did, the bookstore clerk said, “Wait, are you reading these? Because everyone here is obsessed.”) I would highly recommend any and all of these titles.
When all was said and done, I wanted to read again. It turns out all I needed was a palate cleanser. This can be necessary for other reasons, too: too many memoirs, too much fantasy, too many female narrators, too many male-centric stories—it can get to be too much. Sometimes it’s best to start over.