Giving Myself Permission

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!


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carolyn Jewel
    Apr 26, 2011 @ 08:13:54

    I definitely go through phases of reading and the more stressed I am, the more I turn to books that I know won’t depress me. I’ve also found that I have an easier time with those Very Large Books if I read them on my eReader. Much, much easier.

    Your VLB mojo will return, and Rothfuss will be waiting for you.


  2. Jessica
    Apr 26, 2011 @ 10:51:00

    I have such a hard time with this. Right now I am struggling to get through a short erotic romance that everybody else loved. And instead of picking up something else, I am watching TV, blogging, etc, because I can’t give myself permission to put it aside and start a different book. I can’t seem to give myself permission, but I would definitely give it to you!


  3. Barb in Maryland
    Apr 26, 2011 @ 12:25:44

    Oh yes, I’ve been right where you are, any number of times. As a matter of fact, my small TBR stack is mostly books that I highly anticipated, bought immediately they came out and then haven’t quite been in the ‘right’ mood to read. I just picked up one that has been sitting there for several months and it looks like the book and I are finally going to interact.
    But I have returned to the library several Very Large Books, because I knew that I was never going to finish them and the next person on the reserve list deserved their chance at it.
    @Jessica–life is too short to torture yourself over a book. Here–you have my permission to quit. So read something else already!


  4. Liz Mc
    Apr 26, 2011 @ 17:03:58

    I wonder why it is that I turn something I’m doing for pleasure into an “assignment” I’ve given myself. Why should I feel guilty about not finishing a book I’m not enjoying or am not in the mood/frame of mind for, when I don’t have to read it? But I do. Too many years as a student, I think.

    I go through phases, too. I read more serious books when I’m not teaching and have mental energy to redirect, and definitely turn to comfort reading when I’m under stress of one kind or another.


  5. sonomalass
    Apr 26, 2011 @ 17:39:07

    What does it say that in this small sample, the ones who have real trouble with this are all academics? Oh, we are so well trained on the matter of required reading. I always have multiple books in progress, so I can spend quite a while in denial, saying that I’m reading a book because I’ve read the opening pages and left a bookmark in it. It takes a lot for me to admit that I’m really not going to read something.

    It helps to know that others have these same issues. I love the ladies I know on the internet! Thanks.


  6. Renee
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 21:02:19

    I SO hear you about struggling with the longer reads. I think this is why I now do them on audiobook. This way, I can enjoy them while in the car, or doing chores, which would otherwise be “dead time”.


    • sonomalass
      Apr 28, 2011 @ 21:44:57

      Renee, I wish I could listen to audiobooks. Alas, as a former actress and acting teacher, I am way too picky about performance to enjoy most of them. I also rarely have long drives any more (yay for the short commute); when I do, Eob drives and I crochet.


  7. L. Blanchard
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 11:16:18

    First of all, I am so sorry for your loss. As a caregiver to two adorable out of control teenagers inhabiting my parents 88 year old bodies, I know that the day is round the corner when I’ll be where you are now. So I try to savor the time I have with them.
    When my mom had her heart attack and my pastor died the same week, I literally dove into fantasy. I couldn’t read anything of any deep meaning, so I understand totally.

    For what it is worth, WHEN the time comes, Wise Man’s Fear however, will rock your world. One of the best books I’ve ever read.

    However, it is to be savored and until you are in that headspace, might I recommend my latest obsession, and probably the most perfect Paranormal Romance of all time, Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison? My girlfriends and I are all addicted to the point of if we are having a bad week, we re-read it. It makes you feel that good.


    • sonomalass
      Jul 18, 2011 @ 08:41:13

      Thanks for sharing that. I know everyone copes in different ways, and it helps to hear others’ views. Several people have mentioned Dragon Bound; I will definitely put it on my list.


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