Book fatigue?

A certain burning question has been eating away at my conscience ever since the previous academic year began. It resurfaces every time I give yet another novel the two-star treatment, or close a book only to say, “meh”. Though I don’t expect to reach an answer by writing this post, I hope that by thinking out loud I can take a few steps closer.

Is there such a thing as book fatigue?

(Note: this book fatigue actually has little to do with Russia books. Well, I’m growing weary of them too, but for completely different reasons.)

Let me back up a bit and give the situation some context.

First, I’m an intrinsic learner – I learn for the sake of learning. The quest for knowledge is rewarding in itself. The knowledge is even better. You don’t get to where you can identify bug species on sight without first poring over dozens of field guides.

Second, I love books, and my hunger for them has proven insatiable in the past. As a young child, I read constantly. In middle school, when other students gravitated to Twilight and Percy Jackson, I was reading Shakespeare. In high school, we all read Shakespeare for class, but I read outside of class for leisure too: Pelevin; Vidal; King; Chekhov; Hurston. Books are double-stacked and weighing down my shelves. I have a Goodreads account with over 700 added books. And of course there’s this blog, which I initially created as a home for book reviews.

So why then does reading so often feel like a chore nowadays?

For me, reading leisure books is akin to eating snack cakes without frosting – they soon blend together and become indistinguishable. Character archetypes stand out in clear relief. I cease to be surprised by writing style and plot. I find myself thinking “I could’ve written that just as well, if not better!” and I am usually underwhelmed or highly critical of new books.

Of course there are exceptions, but they come only once in a blue moon.

So what’s going on? Am I searching for my books in the wrong places?

Am I not able to turn off my “critic mentality”?

Are books becoming more contrived and derivative?

Am I just jaded?

Or is there really such a thing as book fatigue?

The truth is out there.

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2 comments

  1. Hey J.T.!
    It’s surprising, but recently I experienced a lot of what you described. Seeing plot outlines and characters’ development done by the author, and overall not enjoying books as much as I did before. Honestly, the last book that made a big impression on me was “Jane Eyre”, which I read last summer (!!!), for the first time. Reading non-fiction is a whole other matter, it’s learning new things, as you said, and it’s an intellectual exercise in itself. But you can’t read JUST non-fiction, right?
    My only version is that a break from reading, all reading, could help. But I’m not sure. And besides my reading challenge on Goodreads makes me anxious. I’m not sure I could just drop reading books for, say, a week and not feel worried that I won’t meet my yearly quota 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes and no, J.T. I’d call it “coming of understanding”. Even “wisdom”. And, as you know, “there is only woe from too much wit”.

    There had been written numerous books on the art of scenario and plot building. All existing tropes in their variations are already defined and codified years ago. Even without reading such “specialized” literature one can still learn the secret of the trick just by watching enough “performances”.

    This happened to me also, years ago. It all began with “now I can predict in what order these stupid kids will die in this horror-movie” and then progressed to other genres, and then spread to books. I caught myself thinking from time to time “It makes sense foe the author to kill off this character right now – he was featured prominently in earlier volumes of the saga, but by now became half-forgotten”. “Plot twists” stopped looking sudden to me.

    The secret here is that the book (and everything else, while we are at it) is much more than just a sum of its components – plot, character, style. What binds them together is Talent of the author, who can mix and match pre-fabricated materials to produce a true masterpiece. I.e. an author must now how to rick the audience into not seeing behind the curtain and understanding what’s the trick.

    Unfortunately, literature (and cinema) are no longer Art – they are Industry. Industry (in capitalism) requires mass production of everything for the minimal cost with the maximum income and faster, faster, faster! I think, that we live in the time (2000s – 2010s) when this transition had become completed.

    You are no longer required to be Talented to be successful, because the number of literate consumers is at all time high in our world. In ages past, a would be author/director/creator would have to first undergo a rite of Initiation into the Art, to create a true Master-piece to be recognized, and, after creating it, required to hold the standard of one’s works really high. Naturally, said standards became slipping and lowering almost immediately. In the end, everyone “agreed” that one master-piece per author is enough, and that the fact of its creation gives said Master the right to (mass) produce lower-quality pieces for entire life – and the good name of our Author won’t suffer. And now, in our time, even that is not required.

    The potential audience degraded the same way – thank you, mass “education”. The potential audience/readership wants to follow the road of the minimal resistance and, preferably, not use this grey mass placed between their ears within their skulls. They read sparingly and things that are not too complex – because that’s what they want. And the constructor set of the beginning author used with minimum talent and imagination is enough for that. No one cares about the opinion of the few people still utilizing their brainpower/educated enough to notice all possible clichés and overused plots. It’s the masses which buy that matter.

    So, the simple truth is the following – most of the modern books are crap because that’s what the demand for the books is. Unfortunately, to determine whether some books are still good in this ocean of new releases you have to read them first and review, so that others could make decisions whether to read them or not.

    P.S. Currently I’m reading diaries of Patrick Gordon – XVII c. Scottish officer in Russian service. At least here, life and history wrote the plot 🙂

    Like

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