Book clinic: how can I restore my love of literature?

Great stories, beautifully told, are the best way to reconnect with the pleasure of reading

Q: I’m an English lit postgraduate who’s slipped into a reading rut since my final exams – what are some good books to get me back into loving literature?
Anonymous, 24, PR and communications

A: Author and critic Hannah Beckerman answers:
Ah, the perennial book slump. We all have them from time to time. When I’m experiencing a reading rut, what I most want is a great story, beautifully told, and to be reminded of the transformative power of language. For this, I always turn to The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell, My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout or Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

Another good tactic is to immerse yourself in epic, multi-generational tales: try Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years Trilogy, which follows the trials and tribulations of five generations of a family from 1920s Iowa to present-day New York. Or for single-volume stories of epic lives, take a look at William Boyd’s Any Human Heart or John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies: both modern classics.

If you’re looking for similarly exquisite storytelling but in bite-size chunks, try The Collected Stories of Grace Paley: quietly devastating tales of postwar American life.

Adam Kay’s This Is Going to Hurt is ‘both hilarious and moving’
Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt is ‘both hilarious and moving’. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

For many people, a love of reading was ignited in childhood, so returning to childhood favourites can be an excellent route out of reading ruts. In her recent book, Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise (itself a great read), Katherine Rundell convincingly argues that children’s books can speak to us throughout our lives. There are few reading slumps that won’t be cured by Roald Dahl’s Matilda, AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

Finally, since reading provokes empathy, narrative nonfiction and memoir can help nourish the soul. Adam Kay’s This Is Going to Hurt is both hilarious and moving and will remind you that books, at their best, can run the gamut of emotion from one page to the next. Meanwhile, the case studies of psychotherapist Irvin D Yalom, in books such as Love’s Executioner, Momma and the Meaning of Life or Creatures of a Day, will, I guarantee, make you fall back in love not only with reading but with humanity too.

If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman is out now in paperback (Orion, £7.99).

Submit your question to book clinic below or email


Hannah Beckerman

The GuardianTramp

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