Is it Possible to Read too Much?

A great essay over at Book Riot has been making the blogosphere rounds, which asks this question: is it possible to read too much? The author, Kim Ukura, explains that she often seems to reach a point in her reading year where she simply can’t take in any more. No matter what content presents itself and how readily available it is, she can’t sustain her reading interest. “My (working, ridiculous) theory is that it must be some type of biological safety valve that keeps me from taxing my brain too much, forcing me to put books aside in favor of lesser forms of entertainment like old episodes of New Girl until my neurons have recovered enough to start reading again,” she says.

The essay came at a timely moment for me, as I had been discussing this very issue not long ago with the Beloved’s father, who is an avid reader. When I see him, it’s one of our easy conversation topics: what have you been reading lately? Last time I asked him, he told me ‘not much’ and said that every year at around this time, he gets tired of reading and all the books start looking the same. He takes a break for a few weeks, then something interesting will come his way and he’ll start reading again.

I don’t think this has happened to me with books (I read prodigiously, but even I can’t match Ukura’s 10 per month) but I do see it with other things. I spent the summer watching several seasons of a certain TV show on Netflix during my daily workout, then all of a sudden stopped—not just on that one show, but on everything in my Netflix queue! And I definitely need writing breaks from time to time. I often come back from a long weekend or holiday refreshed and ready for more!

I think that in the ‘old days,’ the media world naturally paced itself. You’d only get the one newspaper a day or the one television episode a week. Now that the entire series run of hundreds of TV shows, or the complete publishing catalogue of hundreds of authors is available, on demand, with the tap of a button, that imposed regulation is gone. As a consequence, people are needing to learn to regulate themselves…

What do you think? Does this theory have merit?

3 Comments on Is it Possible to Read too Much?

  1. Likely I read too much. The only thing that makes me take a break is to rest my eyes. But then am ready to go again, I cannot even fathom going weeks without reading, or even days. It has been this way since I was a little kid, so is it possible that those who need a vacation from it did not read a lot as children? Way back when I was in graduate school, sometimes there wasn’t a lot of time for pleasure reading but I always managed a little.

  2. I read 100 pages an hour so I can read a novel on an average evening. Make that 5-7 books a week. I read multiple genres. Everything from mysteries to fantasy.

    For the last two weeks, I’ve not wanted to pick up a book or my e-reader, but, oddly, I’ve wanted to read some of my old manuscripts. Maybe my inner writer is thinking about me writing again after a years-long hiatus, or maybe a different part of my brain is involved when I read my own works.

    Anyway, yes, it happens, and it’s happened with media at times of my life.

  3. Too much of anything is likely to result shutting off a safety valve. If, for example, I tried to eat nothing but bacon cheeseburgers for lunch everyday I’d probably hit a limit were I’d rather not eat than eat another bacon cheeseburger again. I’d probably overload in day three or four days.

    I wonder if the point of wanting not to read would be reached more quickly by reading too many books in the same genre or same author. Trying to read nothing but books in a series would be like overloading on bacon cheeseburgers. Read three books in a row and not reading begins to look pretty good.

    I don’t experience reading overload. But I do try to vary want I read. I usually attempt to cycle through literary fiction, genre fiction, and non-fictions. It’s not always three equal parts, but it’s close. And I don’t read more than one book by the same author back to back.

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