After a number of weeks on the waiting list at my local library, I received notice that a book was awaiting me. It is an epic fantasy novel, almost 900 pages, 13th in a series that will conclude with book 14 later this year. For most of my reading life, that description would have implied, “Yes! I’ll be spending every free minute with this book, gobbling it down as fast as I can.” But not these days.
I’ve discovered that I don’t enjoy all long epics as much as I used to, and those that I do enjoy require a certain amount of time and space (literal and figurative). I’ve read only one book more than 500 pages long since my father died 14 months ago. I’ve read some intense fantasy works, but I need to break them up by reading something lighter at the same time, alternating in my evening reading times. Gone, for now, are the days when I just plop myself down with a huge fantasy tome and lose myself in the world.
I can’t put my finger on why this is. I say, “I’m too busy,” and then I remember reading GRRM’s A Game of Thrones in 1996, when my kids were 14, 11, 5 and 3, and I was working full-time and doing two plays a year, at least. I have a lot more free time now, and I spend a lot of it reading, but not epic fantasy. Even books I’ve been dying to read and know I’ll love, like Wise Man’s Fear, languish unread while I reader shorter, lighter books.
In trying to figure this out, the best conclusion I’ve reached is that my mind is scattered these days. I still haven’t adjusted to the fundamental shift required to live in a world without Dad in it. I have to force myself to focus on work sometimes, to make lists in order to remember things I need to get done, and to write down appointments that before I would have stored in my head. I have forgotten birthdays and other milestones, including my own anniversary. (Lucky for me he remembered and mentioned it!) The attention and mental energy required to follow detailed fantasy world-building and complex epic plots seem mostly beyond me right now.
That’s not to say that the books I am reading and enjoying, mostly the various romance genres, are easy or fluffy reads. But the mental and emotional energy to follow a romance plot through to completion uplifts me; it makes me feel optimistic. Which I’m sure the eventual end of an epic fantasy would, too — but I don’t have the energy these days to get there.
I promised certain people (you know who you are) that I’d give myself permission to grieve my father however I needed to, even if it made me unproductive, inattentive or self-centered. So today I made the decision to take Towers of Midnight back to the library with fewer than 100 pages read, and the sense of relief and liberation was almost ridiculous.
As readers, we find different books that fit our moods and mindsets at different times; our tastes fluctuate, our needs change, and sometimes a book you expect to approach eagerly just isn’t the right book right now. My advice? If you possibly can, give yourself permission to skip that book for now. It will still be there when you are ready for it, and who wants to ruin a potentially good reading experience by forcing the timing? Certainly not romance readers, who know how important timing can be!