5 Books to Help You Get Out of a Reading Slump


I know I’m not the first person who has had a falling out with reading. Things happen: homework piles up, priorities change. Maybe your favorite show is airing, or a global pandemic is draining you of all motivation.

And also, reading simply isn’t for everyone. Unfortunate, but true. Don’t get me wrong; I can be just as guilty of spending hours on my phone or watching Netflix as anyone else: two days of binging Gilmore Girls settles the point. However, I continue to stand by the belief that reading, whether it’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (“cowabunga,” baby) or Anna Karenina, is an essential means to ensure one’s well-being. For students especially, reading improves general knowledge and also one’s understanding of others— and by extension themselves.

My main goal here is to set things in motion by providing a short list of some good places to start. Obviously, my opinion is just that: an opinion, and not a guarantee that any of these will do the trick. What I can say is that all of these were enjoyable, and each in its own way has helped shape me as a reader. If you are reading this and feel the need, give one of these books a chance. What have you got to lose? Whether or not you end up liking the book you choose, be comforted by the fact that no book is a bad book, and reading is never a waste of time. 


  • A personal favorite…


Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger


J.D. Salinger’s penultimate novel highlights the struggle of defining one’s identity in a greedy and judgemental world. Through Franny Glass’s quest for spirituality while navigating a society filled with inauthentic and egotistical people, Salinger communicates the difficulties in finding one’s place in a world that they feel rejects them. I read Franny and Zooey when I was fourteen and didn’t think much of it at first. Upon rereading it a year later, I started to understand what Franny was so irritated by: for young people, especially students, there is a pressure to be special. No matter how many people tell you that it doesn’t matter how successful you are as long as you’re happy, there will always be some expectations for you to meet. No one, not even the most self-assured, inherently wants to be a nobody because, to Salinger’s point, modern society stresses the values of individual success and authenticity. Franny and Zooey is intense and fervent, starring a realistic family with relationships that are more natural than those in other modern literature. For instance, take an exasperated Zooey Glass, mid bath, arguing with his mother through a shower curtain about his relationship with his sister. You will find yourself drawn into the dialogue, as though you’re in the Glass family apartment waiting to interject and have your say. 


  • Historical fiction…


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


My dad recommended this book to me when I was thirteen. I had no idea what to expect, but in the end I was quite moved by Solzhenitsyn’s dark and honest narrative of a truly tortured life. Ivan “Shukhov” Denisovich, a prisoner in the Soviet Gulag, leads a life of routine deprivation, interrupted by harsh moments of uncertainty. Every day is the same as the previous, working in brutal construction sites, eating stale bread and bland porridge, and smuggling the occasional useful trinket. Shukhov lives the fungible life of a prisoner; there were others just like him before, and there will be more just like him after he’s gone. Yet, he is also faced with uncertainty, both mundane and profound: will he get that same good pair of boots from the daily pile? Will his sentence be extended such that he will die in the camp? Shukhov, however, has neither the time nor the energy to worry about Soviet-era politics. He is already facing their consequences, and to survive, he must focus solely on protecting his mind and body. Through Shukhov, Solzhenitsyn, having once been imprisoned in the Gulag himself, concludes that it is the obligation of humans to persevere in their struggles for survival. In the tradition of Russian literature, Solzhenitsyn breaks down the thoughts and feelings of Shukhov to address the issues of freedom and morality. Although fictional, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich remarks on an important period in our immediate history. Given the more recent events that have desolated Ukraine, it is a critical reminder of the depths to which humankind can descend, if unchecked.


  • A youthful classic…


The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Reading The Hobbit and any other work of J.R.R. Tolkien is a transformative experience like no other. Tolkien’s prose allows the reader to plunge into the fantastical world of Bilbo Baggins and his friends as they set out to reclaim their stolen treasures from the greedy dragon Smaug. The Hobbit is considered a children’s book for its fantastical setting and iconic hero’s journey, and it does indeed make for a good fairytale; however, it is a classic because it defies genre-typical characteristics. It sets itself apart from the standard godlike hero’s journey, instead choosing to follow a cast of more feeble but no less heroic protagonists. What I’ve always loved about The Hobbit is that it is timeless. Having first read it when I was very young and rereading it as a teenager, I can attest that the story has not diminished in value or excitement.


  • A (actually good) current hit…


The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I have learned the hard way not to trust the internet as a starting place when looking for a new book to read. Most of the books I’ve seen raved about on platforms such as the New York Times’s Best Seller list or “BookTok” have been…substandard, at least for me. Occasionally, however, there is a winner, like Donna Tartt’s modern classic The Secret History. The plot follows a group of students at a small New England college where they pursue majors in classical studies. The story follows the students as they explore an ancient world—determined to live and breathe the society by which they are so fascinated. Immersed in their quest to transcend the present world, they find themselves on a path that reaches beyond human morality: a path to murder. From the prologue, we know who will be murdered (Bunny), who killed him (his friends), and we even know why (read to find out). This leaves us a cast of morally gray (to say the least) characters as they traverse further and further along their path until eventually reaching a troubling culmination, and are forced to both internally and externally confront their actions. Daunting, covertly funny, and sinister, The Secret History is an engrossing book of murder, manipulation, guilt, beauty, and terror. 


  • Something fun and seasonally appropriate…


The October Country by Ray Bradbury


In the spirit of Halloween and autumn in general, I present The October Country. Brought to you by Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, this collection inspires nostalgia for the Halloween tales we were once told as children. With its macabre stories, The October Country transports the reader into a world of colorful foliage, strange orthopedics, secret societies, and more. What I’ve always loved about short stories is the ability to dip into them whenever I please and not worry about putting them down for a while when new priorities come up. More contemporary than O. Henry, but every bit as captivating. These stories are great to dip into without too much of an expenditure of time or the greater commitment required by novels. They will induct you into autumn and will leave you at once satisfied and hungry for more.


A final note:

Reading is a restorative power. To read is to expand knowledge, allowing us to make and share discoveries and enhanced perceptions about the world and ourselves. Through reading you’ll find something extraordinary, a treasure kept between worn covers and strung together along a cracked spine. Perhaps you’ll find yourself in a world of dragons and elves, or being insouciant in a London salon, or cooking tomato sauce with a bunch of soldati and your caporegime. To quote my favorite childhood wag, “oh the places you’ll go!” So what are you waiting for? Read!