I have been having a lot of trouble finding books that excite me lately. Over the past month, I read through the first Grishaverse novels trilogy (staring with Shadow and Bone) and found it only OK. (It could have been a single, much faster-moving novel, I think.) I started Leviathan Wakes, the first novel in The Expanse series, and couldn’t get into it. Most recently, I started Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse and, after reading a few chapters, concluded that it is not for me.

This blah feeling about well-regarded sci-fi and fantasy books surprises me. I used to love those genres. Now, when reading them, I find myself distracted by details that don’t make sense, like: If the planet the story takes place on is much larger than Earth, then it would have much a stronger gravity field, and all life on it would have evolved differently (i.e., be sturdier and stronger), and humans wouldn’t be able to move as easily on its surface. I can suspend my disbelief to quite a big extent to accommodate an alternate history, a magic system, or a populated exoplanet. However, for the story to be satisfying, the secondary effects of these fantastical elements have to make sense and properly serve (rather than work against) the story.

As a young adult—after earning my English degree, and until I had kids—I only read classics. Back then, I was looking for books I could get or borrow for free, and for novels that made me feel like I was continuing my studies in literature. I strayed from that path after a while, as my professional life became more technically-oriented (I read books about programming and systems design) and as I went through business school (I read about business, economics, sociology, and so on, to understand how the world worked). I started reading for escapism (mostly) and for learning (sometimes) several years back, but I am finding it hard to get interested in anything any more.

I think that means that I am now ready to go back to reading classics. To that end, I started James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man last night. I love it so far. It is formally challenging, full of ideas, and grounded in the real world. I know how to tackle difficult books, and plan, at this point, to read Dubliners after I finish Portrait. I’m looking forward to it.