Reading Rituals: Books for When You’re Brain-Dead

When you feel like this, only one kind of book will do.

When you feel like this, only one kind of book will do.

As much as I love to read, there are a few weekends each year when I hit a wall. Predictably, these are post-filming weekends, when I’ve just come off of shooting a dozen or so Picks of the Week–a major push, even when I’m reading steadily all the time.

Such was the case last weekend, after I spent Friday filming Picks for the entirety of the summer. Come Saturday afternoon, I was in the mood to read again–but only a very specific kind of book. A book that required little to no intellectual engagement, little to no emotional investment. A book with a decent plot and decent characters, but not the kind I’ll necessarily remember in great detail several years from now. Yes, I needed a brain-dead book–something I could read while lying in bed, glassy-eyed and mostly immobile.

To be clear, brain-dead books are not the same as “fluff.” I may have resorted to Archie and Veronica comic books during my childhood when I wanted a brief vacation from my regular diet of Jean Craighead George and Elizabeth Enright. But today, even when I’m in the mood for something lighter, it still has to have meaning–a message. The brain-dead book still has to give me a reason for spending time with it.

I found my brain-dead book last weekend: a humorous (but mildly thought-provoking) quick read, 45 Pounds (More or Less). In it, 16-year-old Ann struggles to lose, yes, 45 pounds before her aunt’s wedding, while simultaneously navigating friendship and family problems, and learning a little bit more about herself in the process. It was everything I wanted in a book last weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and the related rituals.

Reading Rituals, Part 4: Brain-Dead Books

Ritual #1: Assume the position. Brain-dead books are not for coffee shops or park benches. They are not even necessarily for your favorite reading chair. They are for prostrate positions almost exclusively. Definitely your bed. Possibly a lounge chair on the beach, or a floating raft in the pool. But really, bed is best. That way, if you pass out while reading, no one gets hurt.

Ritual #2: Skim. I am not a skimmer by nature. I’m a savor-every-sentence kind of girl. But brain-dead books are different. Once you get the idea of the role each supporting character plays in the main character’s emotional trajectory, you can skim whole chunks of dialogue. Once you know that Grandma always gives the pep talks, you can allow your eyes to glaze over and to skitter over the surface of her time onstage while mentally you repeat, “Pep talk. Pep talk. Pep talk.” Same goes for the BFF and potential BF. The point, with brain-dead books, is to get the gist: That’s all you really need for a satisfying reading experience.

Ritual #3: Tune back in for the last few chapters. And this is an important nuance with brain-dead books. You can’t read them, in their entirety, while you’re mentally checked out. You have to save the last few chapters for when your eyes can register all the words on the page. You have to re-engage for the final emotional wallop.

I finished the final 30 pages of 45 Pounds on Sunday afternoon–just in time to savor the heaping helping of self-knowledge, crowned with a dollop of romance. Not bad for a brain-dead book. But this weekend, I’m ready for something that requires more of my IQ.

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