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On Requiring Certain Moods, Seasons, And States In Order To Read Books

A screenshot from the game, The Sims 3, of a woman lying on a deck chair on a beach

Jennifer, from Books Personally, made a statement in her comment on my post about reading a book in a day; it got me thinking. She said:

Some books need more time or more particular moods…

I have realised that on occasion there have been books that I’ve not enjoyed and not understood why that was so until I factored in how I was feeling at the time. An example of this, though extreme, is Austen’s Persuasion. I admit – I dislike the book and find nothing interesting in its contents – but is this a true reflection of how I feel or is it just simply a reflection of the fact that I was ill when I read it? Indeed since reading it I have been conscious to put off reading books when ill, and this was a decision I made long before I realised the possible truth of my feelings towards Persuasion.

I love Pride And Prejudice, but then I read it during a beautiful summer, and as I’m a summer person I was inevitably happy anyway. It would’ve taken a really wretched book to knock me down.

My thinking continued. There will always be a personal bias in our feelings towards a book, that’s unavoidable, we’re all individuals with different backgrounds, education, interests, and values – but how often do we acknowledge that part of our bias is due to the mood we were in when we read it? As much as we might say, “oh but I was having a bad day when I read it” do we truly realise the effect mood has on us? Just like age, “I would’ve liked this book more as a teenager”, our mood charges us as readers. It makes coming to an objective conclusion nigh on impossible.

And we can’t do anything about it, we are always going to have changing moods and we can’t really leave all our reading until we are in one particular mood. That mood would have to conform to so many restrictions in order to be viable that we’d have no time given to reading at all because of the short time available.

Some books absolutely require certain moods or situations, such as books that are set during the winter – it’s rather hard sometimes to fully appreciate a book about snow when you’re sitting in the sunshine. This is a factor that makes publication timing important, for example how many of us in Britain would have liked The Snow Child so much if it hadn’t been released while we were in the midst of a grotty late winter and longing for sheet of snow? The book was everything we want for winter but rarely get – apart from the fantasy, the book was a dream in itself.

Perhaps it depends on whether you’re a winter or summer person, but I’d say it’s easier and more likely for a book to find success if it preaches sunshine whilst you’re huddled in blankets.

And if we read books that are set in the same mood and season we’re currently living, we’re going to find it easier to relate to the story and what the characters are going through. Would I have appreciated Skipping A Beat as much as I did if I hadn’t just had a life-changing experience, as had Michael? And would I have been less impressed by the way E L James finally took a short detour into emotional depth in Fifty Shades Of Grey if I myself hadn’t once been an inexperienced girl dealing with an experienced boy? I didn’t die and come back to life as Michael did, and my boyfriend isn’t a troubled sexual dominant like Christian, but nevertheless there was enough there to make each book strike a chord in some way, for me to “get it”, even if those feelings did not last very long.

This leads on to another point – some books, particularly sad ones, aren’t a good choice of reading material if you’re unhappy, or if you’re happy but susceptible at the time to influence. Reading a sad book when you’re happy can make your day bad, and a sad book will make a bad day worse. Maybe reading a happy book when you are sad can help you feel better, but depending on the reason you are sad, it might just make you angry, jealous, or simply more upset – for example you don’t really want to be reading a book about a person who is having a successful academic career when you’ve just been rejected from your first choice of university.

And in the way explained above, a book can make you go back on yourself in terms of emotional development. If, for example, you’ve been happy with your partner this week but they’ve cheated on you in the past, reading a book that includes an affair will likely put you on your guard and make you less open to loving them. In this particular case you could argue for both cases – the book reminding you that they could hurt you again, and the book being an unnecessary reminder, but the fact would remain that if it weren’t for the book you would have continued feeling happy. A book can change your mood and feelings in such a way that it affects your life. And while books are noted for affecting lives, this sort of affect isn’t what tends to be promoted.

You should never read a sad book when the theme mirrors something you’re going through unless it’s clear that the story will be an aid, like a genuinely positive self-help book. This doesn’t really need an explanation, as it’s something everyone knows, but sometimes we don’t act on it. Unfortunately, of course, there are books where everything seems to be going in one direction before swiftly changing course, so it’s inevitable that sometimes we will have to put a book aside for later. You don’t want to make yourself feel worse or to give you more ideas to worry about.

It may not be a constant issue but we surely do need to watch what we are reading when the world isn’t going our way – more than we need to be careful in the reverse. Reading has the ability to affect us in ways that may not be apparent from the start and we must adapt our routine and choices accordingly. It’s not a particularly awful thing to read a book that isn’t suited to our current mood, when our mood is less extreme, but it certainly helps our comprehension and appreciation to keep a book back for the right time.

Do you put restrictions on what and when you read?



August 23, 2012, 3:31 pm

I can’t seem to get myself excited about any book these days and I know it’s because of my mood.


August 23, 2012, 4:56 pm

very thoughtful post (and thanks so much for the mention!) have found it definitely doesn’t behoove me (or the book review) to read something I’m not in the right mood for.


August 25, 2012, 12:44 pm

I’ve found the more I have changed from making sure I read to being unable to stop reading, that I have become more aware of the mood or situation I am in and how this will influence what I will sit through and what I wont. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for example, I tried to read that a few years ago and hated it, it wasn’t the right time, I picked it up a few months ago and loved it.

It is the same with the Song of Ice and Fire novels, I knew I had to wait a few months to read A Dance with Dragons after devouring the rest of the series because my mood wasn’t good and I needed to read something that wasn’t fantasy.

Or, more recently, I had great difficulty finding something to read after Cloud Atlas, which left me depressed because I was on a come down from the high it gave me. So I read Peter Pan because I knew where my head was at, a short children’s story would fill the gap before I was reading for a bigger challenge (Some Do Not… by Ford Maddox Ford)

I find when I blog about books I try to mention, when I remember, why personally I found a book or a character or a plot point frustrating, and that my opinion is just one, limited to my background and personal tastes.

I love a sad book when I am feeling sad, in fact I love any book that can get any emotion out of me. It stays in my mind for longer. A sad book won’t make me feel worse, if anything having a good cry at a book can make me feel better – it releases some emotion.


August 27, 2012, 2:10 pm

Chris: Sounds like it’s time for a book break, best way to get the excitement back :)

Jennifer: Yes, while it might not make a difference, it definitely seems (and feels) better to watch for the right mood if you can.

Alice: That’s interesting you’ve come to do it naturally, still now I have to make a conscious effort to remember to factor it in! It’s good you found Peter Pan an appropriate way to continue from Cloud Atlas, I know the feeling you mean, you’ve finished a book and are upset because there *needed* to be more.

I see now where all those #paradesend tweets are coming from :) I think when we remember that our opinion is one of many it makes that opinion all the more compelling. Interesting that a sad book doesn’t make you feel worse, as I find the opposite (I suppose that’s obvious given what I wrote), though I can completely relate to crying being a good thing. Emotions in books do help you remember them, it’s an element that is perhaps longer lasting than a written opinion.



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