Most readers have experienced temporary reading slumps. It happens—life gets in the way, priorities change, endless summers spent reading turn into indistinct blurs of frenzied activity involving hosting family, counseling friends, and fixing leaky plumbing.
But imagine settling down with something exciting you’ve (pretended to) make the time for. It could be a galley of your favorite author’s latest novel, or a great New Yorker essay your Twitter friends recommended. You’ve got a snack of questionable nutritional value and a cozy blanket, and you’re ready to be transported.
Except you can’t focus. Your brain scrambles the words. You begin to hear a slight ringing in your ears. Your head starts throbbing. You feel faint. And then, when it becomes abundantly clear that you aren’t processing anything, you stop reading.
This happened to me recently, for medical reasons. Over the course of about five months, I found it very difficult to read anything at all (which, in my line of work, is somewhat problematic). Even audiobooks didn’t work. I couldn’t follow narratives, let alone analyze them. It took a toll on me professionally, but I think I had a much harder time dealing with it for personal reasons.
Not being able to enjoy reading was a little short of devastating. Especially when I was used to getting through multiple books a week. I lost a major source of solace during a period of my life when I needed it the most. It made everything else I was dealing with infinitely harder, and because it lasted for so long, I feared never being able to enjoy reading again.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. I still can’t read as much as I used to, but I’m getting there. And I’m incredibly grateful. Because now, more than ever, I’m acutely aware of the existence of readers and writers who suffer from chronic medical issues that render them completely unable to read or write for long periods of time. And it’s something they often can’t help, or treat.
I now understand that “Just Make Time To Read, It’s Not That Hard!” isn’t as easy as breezing through a chapter in the train, or finishing a manuscript that’s on deadline before bed. Advice such as “Write Every Day!” isn’t feasible for people who are physically and mentally incapable of doing so. We all have different circumstances that dictate our reading and writing conditions. So sometimes, it’s not just about task prioritization and time management—it’s about being in the right state of mind.
I got lucky, because I know I’ll be fine eventually. But we, as a community, need to do what we can to support those who aren’t and won’t be fine anytime soon.
MORE POWER TO YOU!
So remember, bookish folk: the ability to read is a gift. A true privilege. Try not to take it for granted, and be kind to those who struggle with it.
Saba Sulaiman is a literary agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services, a boutique agency located in Milford, CT. She's looking to build her client list in a variety of genres (because that's the beauty of agenting - see website for details.) Captivating storytelling with characters who are smart and weird and wonderful engage in meaningful relationships that evolve over time is what makes her world spin. She's an unapologetic advocate for all things Bollywood and she really, really just loves soup.