palette cleanser

I’ve been in a rut regarding my reading lately. 

It happens every so often and I don’t think it’s uncommon. But I always find it hard to break a rut. Most of the time, I really love the books that I’m reading. I’m also pretty set on finished a book once I start it. I used to be a non-finisher. I try not to abandon books anymore. 

Sometimes, though, there’s a rut. 

A book won’t appeal to me. Or it will appeal, but it feels like a slog to finish it. 

That’s been the case most recently. I was reading books that I knew were good, but didn’t seem to click with me while I was actually reading them. I don’t want to name them here. They are good books and I don’t want to give them a bad shake because I was in a rut. They weren’t right for me at this time. No big deal.

I am, however, of the mind that a rut can be broken by a palette cleanser. Essentially, this is a book or an author that you can read at any time to break the monotony. It’s like your favorite movie or your favorite tv show. When you start it, it’s like going home. 

It used to be that Stephen King was my palette cleanser. 

If I was down on reading or not finding books to me taste, I would open a King novel and be recharged and refreshed. I still love Stephen King. I still find him to be a palette cleanser for me (insofar as opening his books feel like coming home). But I’m trying to branch out into different authors and genres. I need those diverse voices and stories. Based on the amount of time I’ve spent reading, watching, researching, and writing about Stephen King, I would say that I’m an expert.

I want to learn about someone else. There are other writers out there and they need my attention. King has all the attention in the world. He doesn’t need me and that’s okay.

So, I’ve migrated in fantasy/sci-fi (believe it or not). There’s a few reasons for this switch in genre.

First, I am always absorbing horror. Horror books and films are constantly in my rotation. There’s no getting around that. But I can’t always read horror. It gets old. It’s my favorite genre. It’s the world I work in and I don’t want to burn out on it.

Second, I really love the escape offered through books. Many horror novels (and detective novels) are very grounded in the real world. Yes, horror books are about spooky happenings in the real world and that could mean that they are “grounded.” But I would argue that the best horror stories are very personal and real. Fantasy and sci-fi stories, while still usually personal, are world builders. They take time and attention to craft universes full of different people and religions, orders and kingdoms. As a reader, I feel like I am really escaping. I’m entering an entirely new world.

All this to tell you that my palette cleansers are two series. One sci-fi and one fantasy. The first is James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse. The second is Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. 

I find these two series really help to carry me when I’m not ready for something new. They’re both longer series, which is great that I can always come back to another entry. And they don’t demand much from the reader. I think The Expanse is far more demanding than The Dresden Files, but they are both written to be easily read. They’re masterful in their readability.

But they are also series. I’m often daunted by a series of novels. It took me a number of years before I figured out that reading a series didn’t mean reading it all together, one after the other. I finally gave myself permission to space out the time between reading connected works and it has paid dividends.

I’ve got at least four series that I am working through now and it’s surprising how you can easily pick up where you left off once you choose to return to a particular set of novels.

The point, I suppose, is that any reader/writer should find their palette cleanser. You need something to set you back on the path and a good familiar series can do that for you. It’s where I am now and it’s good to be back.


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