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Booking through Thursday

I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the centre for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Today's subject proved so tempting that I decided to hop in and join the party.

Today's prompt is this: 

Does your current mood affect your reading? Affect your choices? I know there are plenty of books I enjoy, but only if I'm in a particular kind of mood–or books that can lift me out of a bad mood without fail. Surely I’m not alone?

My moods do affect my reading choices, and, to a lesser extent, my reading speed and the number of books I read, even how well I retain what I have been reading.

I have struggled with depression for many years and even before I realised it was depression that made me tired and dispirited, one of my methods of dealing with it was to delve into books. I would choose old, familiar books that I knew would lift my spirits and make me feel better and allow me to escape into another world for a while. In-between I might go through periods of not reading anything at all for weeks on end.

These books became what I like to call 'my perennials'. For example, I probably read Anne of Green Gables, My Family and Other Animals and The Hobbit once to twice a year for over 20 years, and I estimate that half of those times I was trying to drag myself out from under one of my dark clouds. Other perennial mood-boosters that came later included Good Omens and a number of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.

About 10 years ago I finally discovered that the tiredness and low spirits were caused by depression and not by, e.g., lack of sleep, lack of exercise or chronic fatigue syndrome (suspect no. 1). Around that time I began to feel that the perennials just weren't pepping me up as much as before and as I had refused an offer of 'happy pills' to level me off I was advised to try new activities instead. The result was the first incarnation of this blog, then called 52 Books. It worked, and through the reading challenge I set myself - to read a new-to-me author or genre every week - I discovered a number of new authors and genres, including some new favourites.

That challenge led me into another challenge involving crime fiction which I quit when I realised it was not making the depression any better. Little by little, I found a genre that was guaranteed to lift my spirits: romance novels. They follow a formula that guarantees a happy ending and often involve a wide range of emotions which, if the author knows her craft, you will experience through the protagonists. So now, when depression hits, I am just as likely to reach for a romance novel as I am a perennial. Whenever you see three or more romances listed in my monthly reading report, you can bet I was having a struggle with the blues that month (that, or else I got hooked on a series). I also pick up humorous books as an antidote to the blues, but only ones I expect to be genuinely funny, because there is hardly any kind of book I find as depressing as one that is touted as funny when the humour falls flat or doesn't appeal to me. I will read almost manically (both speed- and quantity-wise) when I'm depressed, and as a result I tend to retain less of what I read than at other times. I love series when this is the case because it enables me to stay in the same universe for longer and to explore it from new angles.

Other moods also affect my choices. If I'm bored and want a change, I read travelogues, folk tales or fantasy (occasionally also literary fiction), preferably big, juicy tomes that I can get immersed in for weeks on end.

Biographies, popular science and history books (also historical fiction) help me feel like I'm learning something new when I feel stuck in a rut or burned out.

When I'm feeling happy I tend to read less than at other times and I often go for short stories or short novels, comic books, graphic novels and picture books that can be slotted in between other activities.


Good post! I also turn to books that elevate my mood, as in comfort reads, when I'm down.

Anonymous said…
I usually stick to what I'm reading at the time.
Melissa O. said…
Great post! I find that most of my reads are books that will elevate my mood. I just don't need to read a book that makes me sad. Here's my BTT response.
George said…
Your insight to decline "happy drugs" was sound. I just read THE CRAZY STATE OF PSYCHIATRY, by Marcia Angell in THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS: 2012. Angell's essay reports that most anti-depressants don't work for most people. In fact, the "medications" tend to cause more problems. My moods are fairly stable. I tend to alternate fiction with non-fiction. But I have been known to binge on a favorite writer.

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