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the reading rainbow
September 28, 2012 1:19 PM   Subscribe

I used to like reading until about fourth grade. That's when books started getting more intricate with more characters and multiple plotlines etc. I'm pretty sure I have ADD and/or a terrible capacity for that kind of thing. What books might I enjoy now? (I'm 21/F)

When I was a kid, I never stopped reading. Some of my favorites were A Wrinkle in Time, Bridge to Terabithia, Tuck Everlasting, and (OK, primarily) the Babysitter's Little Sister series. But then when I started getting older, things got weird. The font got smaller. About ten extra characters got dumped in. I had to remember names, places, descriptions! I stopped reading for a long time.

In middle school, I started reading again, and I mostly liked coming-of-age novels like Catcher in the Rye and Perks of Being a Wallflower. The last book I read during this time was Oliver Twist. I got to the middle and couldn't finish it. I felt like things were happening in the book that went over my head; I remember thinking that I was only getting the basic storyline of the book and missing a LOT. I almost failed English class in high school because of this; I never got the metaphors and let's not even mention Shakespeare. (In 11th grade, the teacher let me use SparkNotes instead of the real text just so I could follow along!)

But now I'm in college and I'd like to start reading fiction again. The trouble is, although I would probably theoretically prefer serious, dense, reflective, substantial books, I just can't read them. I don't like light, fluffy, cute, or "chick lit"...I get annoyed that it's too easy. (I'm so used to academic non-fiction now, one thing that troubles me with fiction is that it's hard to find a book that makes you think but one that I can still actually focus on for long periods.)

I like a strong main character with a focus on the character's personal struggles over environmental or even interpersonal detail. I like "slice of life" books but start to tune out if there's not a very noticeable plotline to follow. I prefer realistic and stark over poetic, literary, or "beautiful." I like books that stay with you after you've read them. One thing I liked about Perks of Being a Wallflower was that it got stuck in my mind for weeks (granted, I was 13 at the time, but I really felt like I could relate to the main character).

I like books that are unusual and/or controversial, perhaps even niche. Bonus for gay and/or college-aged characters. Setting (rural/urban) doesn't matter, but I'd prefer contemporary. I have a really hard time with wartime books or "marriage against all odds" or "Siberia in the 1500's." It's just that if I can't relate to it on some level, experience tells me I will most certainly drift off after page 5. I'd consider a non-contemporary book though, if you have a good suggestion.

Recently, I liked:
Milk Sulphate and Alby Starvation by Martin Millar (kind of a dystopian novel with a strong main character)
Clockwork Orange (another strong main character)
Average American Male by Chad Kultgen (crude, with lines like "and then I went into my son's room to find some porn during my lunch break," and doesn't try to be poetic or literary)
The Subject Steve by Sam Lipsyte (amazon calls it 'satirical' and its humor 'deadpan;' it's about a guy who's dying of boredom, and after he gets diagnosed as having a fatal made-up disease, he joins a cult for Non-Denominational Recovery...I liked the non-self-conscious humor and societal/medical/religious themes...pretty cool book...it's really easy to ruin a book with a plot like this but it was written well.)

1a.) Am I dim? Is this what ADD looks like or should I just try harder?
1b.) Are there techniques to reading more difficult or dense books?
2.) Can you recommend some books I might like?
posted by lhude sing cuccu to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (34 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are narrative jumps back and forth in time a problem if the other characteristics you like are all there? If not, you might like Oryx and Crake or other books by Margaret Atwood.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:24 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


For books that are funny and easy to read (without being insipid), Christopher Moore is a good place to start.

Lamb and Practical Demonkeeping are both great.
posted by phunniemee at 1:24 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I liked Jonathan Franzen's 'Freedom,' which could be an example of a contemporary book, strongly focused on character development, which got a lot of love/hate reaction.

The way you describe your reading experience as "ADD" reminds me of what I'd describe as just having low stamina for reading. The approach to this is really straightforward: read for X many minutes at a time on day one, then gradually increase that reading time each day, making an effort to set aside some time for reading every day. Just set a timer. Don't look at your phone or the computer or TV during this reading time. Just read until the timer goes off. It's like exercising--after the first few weeks you'll likely see your concentration improve greatly (granted, my experience with this is seeing it work with second graders, but it did work and is easy to try).
posted by MoonOrb at 1:32 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Try The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis. Hell, you can even watch the movie first to see if you'll enjoy the general premise. That was probably one of my single favorite books at age 21, and it's not at all a "difficult" book.
posted by griphus at 1:32 PM on September 28, 2012


Carol Shields and Louise Erdrich are both favorites of mine that came to mind, although Erdrich does tend to use more narrators, so it's possible that may be confusing. They both tend to have strong characters, though.
posted by ldthomps at 1:34 PM on September 28, 2012


I should probably provide a link.
posted by griphus at 1:36 PM on September 28, 2012


I prefer character-driven novels, too. That's why I read mostly YA.

So why not stick with YA and coming of age novels? I think you'd like Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, Like Mandarin and Wanderlove by metafilter's own Kirsten Hubburd. There are probably a ton of YA SF novels I could recommend, since you don't rule out dystopian--books like Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Across the Universe and its sequel by Beth Revis. Maybe Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi. Adaptation by Malinda Lo is a recent YA sci-fi novel with gay themes.

As for adult writers, you should try Vonnegut, and you'd probably like Chuck Palahniuk, too. Also Dave Eggers, maybe. Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood and Stephen King are all prolific, accessible, relatively unpretentious writers. Michael Chabon is worth a try, too, I think. I like the suggestion of Bret Easton Ellis.

I think there are many writers who don't try to create reader accessible works and I don't think it's at all your fault if these don't appeal to you. Many authors who write character and story driven prose are just writing YA now. Most of these books aren't particularly fluffy, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:36 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


For the straightforward feel a la Chad Kultgen I recommend the neonoir author Jason Starr. Try "Lights Out" or "The Follower."
posted by Clustercuss at 1:38 PM on September 28, 2012


I might suggest trying autobiographies, since they tend to start with childhood experiences, they're introspective, and the author isn't just throwing in a bunch of literary devices. I've found that there usually aren't a whole lot of people introduced at once unless the author grew up in a chaotic household or a large family. This might warm you up for the more complicated books. Road from Coorain was pretty good as it started on a simple sheep station in Australia.
posted by crapmatic at 1:39 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm an adult but I really liked the Hunger Games. A real ripping yarn, but the language isn't tough and the plot moves at a good clip.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:43 PM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and give Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin a shot. It's not exactly a coming-of-age novel, but it works along the same lines.
posted by griphus at 1:49 PM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think you'd like John Green. Seconding Michael Chabon, too -- especially The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys. You may like Vonnegut too -- his writing style is deceptively simple and elegant, though I'm not sure if his usual subject matter is up your alley.

I also agree that YA fiction is generally easier to follow and might be a good place to start browsing at your local library or bookstore.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:53 PM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Modern "literary fiction" is its own "genre" of sorts with large casts of characters with overlapping stories that are interweaved into a larger narrative. If you don't like that, then it's not a sign that you're not a good reader or don't like fiction, it's that this particular modern genre is unappealing to you.

Have you considered other Victorian fiction like Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, or Oscar Wilde?
posted by deanc at 1:53 PM on September 28, 2012


I just realized I only answered your third question. 1) Yes, might be ADD, I get this way sometimes with books and I also have ADD. 2) I don't really have a technique, other than finding things I'm really interested in. Reading should be fun, as well as interesting!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:55 PM on September 28, 2012


I'm not an expert or anything, but it seems to me like if you can roll with all of the vernacular in the Burgess you can read whatever you want.

It may be that you prefer pretty limited narratives, though, and there are plenty of excellent books that are simple in that sense. Moby Dick pretty much follows Ishmael in a chronological sequence, with some obvious tangents thrown in about all kinds of... tangential stuff. I don't think that you even need to worry about the YA section, unless that's the kind of place you'd be drawing from anyway.

You might look into a lot of Truman Capote's work, or James M. Caine's, or Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels. Not all of the writers I could name are from the mid-20th century, but those are the ones that are coming to mind at the moment. Georges Simenon is another favorite of mine (in his NYRB line).
posted by mr. digits at 1:56 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh yes, John Green is a wonderful suggestion. The Fault in Our Stars will tear your heart out of your chest and stomp on it over and over again.

You might like Chaim Potok's books, if you've never read them. They're coming of age stories that largely deal with issues of Jewish identity.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:01 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. There are two sequels, 'Tis and Teacher Man.
posted by luckynerd at 2:07 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am 35 and I read a ton of young adult fiction. There is a lot of really high quality stuff out there that would probably hold your attention. The blog Forever Young Adult is a great place to get ideas. John Green, Melina Marchetta, and Sarah Dessen are great. There are also a ton of dystopian series and trilogies out there - Veronica Roth (Divergent), Mike Mullen (Ashfall), and Charlie Higson (The Enemy) are some of my recent favorites.
posted by something something at 2:21 PM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:41 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, if you enjoy Burgess and the dystopian you might give Cormac McCarthy's books a try, especially Blood Meridian, The Road, No Country for Old Men. Stuff like that. Outside of Meridian he writes very clear narratives, and inside of Meridian it's operatic and apocalyptic.
posted by mr. digits at 3:03 PM on September 28, 2012


Books set on a college campus with college age main characters: The Marriage Plot, I am Charlotte Simmons, The Art of Fielding (gay characters), The Secret History. I enjoyed all these books, but I know some people are icked out by Charlotte Simmons and thought the Marriage Plot was terribly boring.

I have a gut feeling you would really like Prep (set at a boarding school). I LOVED Skippy Dies, which is also set at a boarding school.
posted by murfed13 at 3:25 PM on September 28, 2012


I had a hard time getting my kids to read in my English class, but they really enjoyed Eric Jerome Dickey books. I do too, so that should tell you something.

I find that Terry McMillan's A Day Late and a Dollar Short is also a very good book. You can move onto others if you like that.

These are much lighter than you mentioned, but I think everyone needs a read that's fun.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:27 PM on September 28, 2012


If you have a short attention span but want character depth, and enjoy diologue, try reading plays! I would suggest starting with someone easy and hilarious like Oscar Wilde, and go from there.
For novels, Douglas Adams doesn't get too caught up, he's clever and fast paced.

Some things I do: I avoid authors that I know use lots of dull descriptive passages or too many characters. This excludes most ten-book-series and 800-page-novels. I read lots of short story anthologies and novellas, plays and poetry. Poetry is arguably the most distelled form of writing and if you can find some to your taste, it's worth slogging through the garbage boring stuff you'll inevitably come across.

Don't feel bad about: skimming/ skipping paragraphs/ segments/ chapters. Don't feel bad about reading a novel and following only one of the character's storylines. The authors usually make this easy for you by switching characters from chapter to chapter. You can usually use your powers of inference to figure out anything you need to know, and missed, or go back and skim through till you find the relevant info.

The fun thing about this method is that it's like getting several books for the price of one, as you can read it again, following a different character!

You might enjoy: CS Lewis's Perelandra series, anything by Michael Ende, the Princess Bride.
posted by windykites at 3:34 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I know you don't want "poetic" . Not all poetry is "poetic". Also, have you thought of reading true crime/ biographies/ historical fiction?
posted by windykites at 3:37 PM on September 28, 2012


Regarding ADD: being bored with books is neither an argument for nor against. Some people with ADHD can't get through a single one, others can't rip themselves away from books, even when that causes problems (I have ADHD, and reading can be like that for me).

If you think you might have ADHD, get yourself evaluated by a professional, or at least do a self evaluation like the one in Edward Hallowell's Delivered From Distraction. Don't look at only one potential symptom and decide you've gut the condition. ADHD can be particularly tricky to self diagnose, since many of its hallmarks are normal behaviors, just taken to extremes.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:39 PM on September 28, 2012


at least do a self evaluation like the one in Edward Hallowell's Delivered From Distraction. Don't look at only one potential symptom and decide you've gut the condition

Since you mentioned it, I'm re-reading the "informal questionnaire" right now, and I always seem to say yes to a whole lot of the questions, even though they seem totally random to me ("Do you drive fast?" "Did you have ear infections as a child?" "Do you have a sense of humor that is out of the ordinary?" "Do you love bicycles?")...I'd like to see a professional if only to ask what these questions have to do with anything.

Re: Books, thanks for all the suggestions so far! I had never even considered YA; that could be a good idea.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 4:03 PM on September 28, 2012


Right now I'm reading Junot Diaz's new collection of short stories, "This Is How You Lose Her" Amazon NY Times Review. It's very much an R-rated book. If you like it, try his novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:32 PM on September 28, 2012


Do you like short stories? You might find even dense or literary short stories to be self-contained and compressed enough that you can process them.

I can specifically recommend Raymond Carver's short stories, which are absolutely not dense or literary. He's the first author I thought of when you said "realistic" and "stark" and "slice of life." Your descriptions make it sound like he's exactly what you're looking for.

My favorite collection of his is Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
posted by value of information at 7:39 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


You mentioned a couple sorta dystopian things. Feed, by M.T. Anderson, is far and away the best book in that genre I've read in a long time. Very readable, fast-paced, not too hard to follow, smartly written, some nice Clockwork Orange-ish wordplay, and just devastatingly good.

(N.B. I'm not talking about the recent zombie apocalypse thriller called "Feed," though for all I know that may have been good too, but an older cyberpunk-ish novel with the same title. I think we may be reaching Peak Book Title here....)
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:09 PM on September 28, 2012


I bet you'd like the Vorkosigan books. Science fiction, but very focused plot.
posted by Lady Li at 8:14 PM on September 28, 2012


Also, if you're into gritty-and-deadpan, maybe The Fuck-Up? I'm not sure whether I'd call it well-written, but it's a blast to read, if that makes any sense. Anyway, it's definitely not the sort of "literary" that you're annoyed with.

If you don't mind something a little older, you might like The Moon and Sixpence. Really strong compellingly crass lead character, straightforwardly written (the author got mocked at the time for not making his language literary and poetic enough), uncomplicated plot, vivid settings.

And for all I'm not a fan of Chuck Palahniuk, your description of that last book makes me think you might really like Chuck Palahniuk. "Dying of boredom." "Satirical." "Societal/medical/religious themes." I find his stuff too dark and cynical to enjoy, but your mileage may vary. If you're up for some seriously vicious satire, give it a shot.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:20 PM on September 28, 2012


Have you had your eyes checked lately? You may not realize (because it is normal to you) that you are having vision issues. Having to concentrate hard (because you have to concentrate to focus or have your eyes track across the page) to be able to read takes a lot from comprehension. If you have some issue that glasses or vision therapy would fix, I would try to do those things. A developmental optometrist can do the testing for glasses and vision therapy.

I notice myself as I am getting older and my sight is changing that some books ARE harder to read, mostly due to that small print. Having a pair of reader glasses does help.

You may want to pick up some science fiction magazines. Analog, Fantasy and Science Fiction, are good ones. The stories are very good, but short. Some stories are in serials depending on the magazines. For me, with kids, it is hard to have time to read, so the magazines are a lot of my reading time because I can set them down and come back to them.

Have you tried reading on an e-reader? Push up the font size a bit, and see if that helps too.

Wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 8:36 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Absolutely "Post Office," by Charles Bukowski. Definitely fits in with your description of "Average American Male."

Also, absolutely Bret Easton Ellis. But don't read "Rules of Attraction." It actually made me feel like I had ADD. Try "American Psycho." If you're a fan of that one, try "Lunar Park" next.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 10:08 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Wrinkle in Time series were my favourite books when I was a kid! :)

I know you've asked for fiction recommendations, but I think from what you've described, you may enjoy memoirs too. One that I read recently and really enjoyed was "An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness" by Kay Redfield Jamison.
posted by snailparade at 12:33 PM on September 29, 2012


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