A book list by Onset & Rime.
It's that awkward time of year where we're all coming out of hibernation and getting out of the house for more than a quick walk or trip to the store. A transition period between the coziness of winter and the summer days of reading outside. And as with all change, this transition period can make us feel stuck and uninspired.
If you're finding yourself in a similar position, here are 7 tips to help you get out of a reading slump and back to crushing those reading goals.
A Note: Content warnings have been provided where appropriate. Highlight the "invisible" text beside the content warning label to see. Content warnings are not value statements about the books or judgements about the inclusion of any particular content. They are there to give you a heads up on what to be prepared for so you can choose if and/or when a book is right for you.
Tip #1 - Try a Different Genre
Try something different to what you usually read. Here are a couple options that might work well for you:
TELL THE MACHINE GOODNIGHT by Katie Williams
From the publisher: “Pearl’s job is to make people happy. As a technician for the Apricity Corporation, with its patented happiness machine, she provides customers with personalized recommendations for greater contentment. She’s good at her job, her office manager tells her, successful. But how does one measure an emotion?
Meanwhile, there’s Pearl’s teenage son, Rhett. A sensitive kid who has forged an unconventional path through adolescence, Rhett seems to find greater satisfaction in being unhappy. The very rejection of joy is his own kind of “pursuit of happiness.” As his mother, Pearl wants nothing more than to help Rhett–but is it for his sake or for hers? Certainly it would make Pearl happier. Regardless, her son is one person whose emotional life does not fall under the parameters of her job–not as happiness technician, and not as mother, either.”
Genre(s): speculative fiction, sci-fi
Content Warnings: eating disorder, suicidal ideation
THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS by Pip Williams
From the publisher: “In 1901, the word ‘Bondmaid’ was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it.
Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the ‘Scriptorium’, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutters to the floor. Esme rescues the slip and stashes it in an old wooden case that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.
Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.”
Genre(s): historical fiction
Content Warnings: sexism/misogyny
Tip #2: Try Reading an Old Favourite
Sometimes it’s helpful to go back to something known and comfortable. Here are a couple of my favourite comfort reads:
GOOD OMENS by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
From the publisher: “There is a distinct hint of Armageddon in the air. According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (recorded, thankfully, in 1655, before she blew up her entire village and all its inhabitants, who had gathered to watch her burn), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse are revving up their mighty hogs and hitting the road, and the world's last two remaining witch-finders are getting ready to fight the good fight, armed with awkwardly antiquated instructions and stick pins. Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring… Right. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan.
Except that a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon – each of whom has lived among Earth's mortals for many millennia and has grown rather fond of the lifestyle – are not particularly looking forward to the coming Rapture. If Crowley and Aziraphale are going to stop it from happening, they've got to find and kill the Antichrist (which is a shame, as he's a really nice kid). There's just one glitch: someone seems to have misplaced him…”
Genre(s): fantasy, humour
Content Warnings: racism, homophobia, eating disorder, fatphobia
HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones
From the publisher: “Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl's castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there's far more to Howl – and herself – than first meets the eye.”
Genre(s): fantasy, young adult
Tip #3: Try a New (or New to You) Book by an Author You Like
If you’re not sure what to pick up next, look into the catalogues of your favourite authors. They may have something new out that you haven’t read yet, or perhaps one of their earlier or lesser known works will pique your interest.
HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES by Salman Rushdie
Rushdie is better known for his long complex novels and his use of magical realism. This is the first book he wrote with a younger audience in mind.
From the publisher: “Haroun's father is the greatest of all storyletters. His magical stories bring laughter to the sad city of Alifbay. But one day something goes wrong and his father runs out of stories to tell. Haroun is determined to return the storyteller's gift to his father. So he flies off on the back of the Hoopie bird to the Sea of Stories - and a fantastic adventure begins…”
Genre(s): fantasy, children/young adult
THE EDIBLE WOMAN by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood’s debut novel.
From the publisher: “Marian has a problem. A willing member of the consumer society in which she lives, she suddenly finds herself identifying with the things being consumed. She can cope with her tidy-minded fiancé, Peter, who likes shooting rabbits. She can cope with her job in market research, and the antics of her roommate. She can even cope with Duncan, a graduate student who seems to prefer laundromats to women. But not being able to eat is a different matter. Steak was the first to go. Then lamb, pork, and the rest. Next came her incapacity to face an egg. Vegetables were the final straw. But Marian has her reasons, and what happens next provides an unusual solution.”
Content Warnings: emotional abuse, sexism, eating disorder
Tip #4: Try Something in a Different Medium
Change things up by consuming a new story in a novel way (hehe, pun intended). Try an audiobook or a graphic novel. Both incorporate different elements of storytelling that might catch and hold your interest.
A great audiobook narrator will help to immerse you in a story by bringing characters to life and setting the right mood. If you’re new to consuming audiobooks, try combining this with Tip #2 and listen to the audiobook version of your favourite comfort read.
Graphic novels are great because they tend to be quicker reads (see Tip #5), and the artwork provides additional context to the story. There’s also a huge variety of genres and themes. From cute and romantic to thought-provoking and complex, there’ll be a graphic novel out there to suit your needs.
MOON OF THE CRUSTED SNOW by Waubgeshig Rice; narrated by Billy Merasty
From the publisher: “With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community loses communication. Days later, it goes dark. Cut off from the urban realm of the south, many of its people become passive and confused. They eventually descend into panic as the food supply dwindles, with few hunters left in the First Nation. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives from a city in the south to escape a crumbling society. Soon after, others follow.
The community leadership is faced with the dilemma of allowing the urban refugees to live with them on their territory. Tensions rise, and as the months pass, so does the death toll due to sickness and despair. Frustrated by the building chaos, a group of young friends and their families turn to the land and tradition in hopes of helping their community thrive again, while they grapple with a grave decision.”
Genre(s): horror, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic
Content Warnings: racism, suicide, violence
MONSTRESS by Marjorie Liu; illustrated by Sana Takeda
From the publisher: “Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900's Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.”
Genre(s): graphic novel, fantasy, horror
Content Warnings: slavery/human trafficking, violence, body horror, torture, abuse
Tip #5: Try Something Short
A quick read might be just the ticket, especially if you’ve been struggling to make time for reading. Try a novella, a short story collection, or an essay collection. Here are a couple to get you started! If you're looking for more inspiration, check out our short story collection book lists: A Short List of Short Story Collections—Single Author Edition and A Short List of Short Story Collections—Anthology Edition.
LESSER KNOWN MONSTERS OF THE 21ST CENTURY by Kim Fu
From the publisher: “In the twelve unforgettable tales of Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, the strange is made familiar and the familiar strange, such that a girl growing wings on her legs feels like an ordinary rite of passage, while a bug-infested house becomes an impossible, Kafkaesque nightmare. Each story builds a new world all its own: a group of children steal a haunted doll; a runaway bride encounters a sea monster; a vendor sells toy boxes that seemingly control the passage of time; an insomniac is seduced by the Sandman. These visions of modern life wrestle with themes of death and technological consequence, guilt and sexuality, and unmask the contradictions that exist within all of us.”
Genre(s): short stories, contemporary, magical realism
Content Warnings: domestic abuse, suicide
MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER by Oyinkan Braithwaite
From the publisher: “Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola's third boyfriend in a row is dead.
Korede's practicality is the sisters' saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body, and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her "missing" boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.
Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she's exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola's phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she's willing to go to protect her.”
Genre(s): fiction, thriller
Content Warnings: domestic abuse/violence, child abuse, misogyny
Tip #6: Join a Book Club (Or Start Your Own!)
For some people, accountability is a helpful motivator. Joining a book club or doing a buddy read with a friend can give you that. It’s also great to have a group of people to talk to about your reads with. You might discover different genres, gain a different perspective, and develop a community and friendships with other people who love reading as much as you do. Here are a couple of reads that might make a good pick for your book club:
MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION by Ottessa Moshfegh
From the publisher: “Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?”
Content Warnings: ableism, racism, eating disorder, suicidal ideation, sexual assault, emotional abuse
CULTISH: THE LANGUAGE OF FANATICISM by Amanda Montell
From the publisher: “What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we’re looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join—and more importantly, stay in—extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell’s argument is that, on some level, it already has...
Our culture tends to provide pretty flimsy answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” But the true answer has nothing to do with freaky mind-control wizardry or Kool-Aid. In Cultish, Montell argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear—and are influenced by—every single day.”
Genre(s): non-fiction, language, psychology
Content Warnings: suicide, gaslighting/emotional abuse, violence
Tip #7: Embrace the “DNF” Pile
This is one that took me a long time to learn. Anytime I started a book, I felt like I needed to finish it before I got to read something else. But there’s nothing wrong with abandoning something you aren’t into! Maybe you’re not in the mood for a particular genre right now, and you’ll try it again later; or maybe it’s just not for you. Whatever the reason, if a book isn’t working for you don’t feel obligated to continue; move on to something different!