Books for adults with learning difficulties.
August 6, 2010 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Interesting, intelligent, but easy-to-read and understand books for an adult with stroke-related brain damage?

Looking for books for a 52 year old woman in rehabilitation after a series of debilitating strokes. Previously, she was a voracious reader - she especially seemed to enjoy hard science fiction, Stephen King-type horror, and complex, well-written fantasy. She treasured her old issues of Omni magazine and kept subscriptions to National Geographic, so natural history and future technology are interests, as well.

I would say, as a guess based on a letter she recently wrote, that her verbal skills are around a third grade level at the moment. I was told that she is finding herself extremely frustrated by her inability to read and understand the kinds of books she used to enjoy. So I am trying to find books that she can handle that are not in any way childish or patronising, which will hold her interest and challenge her still-sharp intellect, and which she will not be embarrassed to be seen reading (this is a particular issue - her shame at her condition is a stumbling block to her recovery). I know lots of people enjoy and cherish well written children's books, but that's not what I'm looking for here. Books for adults only please.
posted by cilantro to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Check the ESL and adult literacy section of your library.
posted by availablelight at 2:49 PM on August 6, 2010

What about listening to audiobooks? I know you estimate her expressive communication abilities at about third grade - might she have stronger aural comprehension skills?

I am going to ponder your question further, but I have had one idea - certainly they are different than the types of books you mention her enjoying previously, but what about the "Jeeves and Wooster" stories by P.G. Wodehouse? Adult literature, entertaining stories, and I don't recall the writing style being overly complex...
posted by purlgurly at 2:52 PM on August 6, 2010

Any sense of whether it's the length/complexity or the words that are more troublesome at the moment? I'm wondering if good short story collections would be a better choice than simpler long works.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:56 PM on August 6, 2010

Hemingway is known for his short, clear sentences and relative lack of internal punctuation.

Edith Hamilton's Mythology is written in short, clear sentences.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime may work as well, although I think stylistically it's more complicated that those I mentioned above.

Graphic novels for adults?

Art history books with lots of pictures? (I'm not intending to be belittling by suggesting books with pictures, by the way. I practically taught myself to read poring over my mother's old art history tomes...and looking at art offers an intellectual challenge for everyone, regardless of mental ability.)
posted by frobozz at 2:58 PM on August 6, 2010

James Ellroy
posted by The Straightener at 2:58 PM on August 6, 2010

Would more sophisticated YA be ok? I am thinking The Graveyard Book, but that might be because I love it so.

This was my favorite book growing up, and I bought it again as an adult. Still enthralls me.
posted by oflinkey at 3:05 PM on August 6, 2010

Perhaps also some of the more spare 20th century poets -- Mina Loy, William Carlos Williams (more or less), some of Cummings, maybe Robert Creeley, Sara Teasedale.

Come to think of it, much of Emily Dickinson could be read with an elementary school age ability.

Where her understanding is beyond just reading ability might affect her appreciation or enjoyment of any of these, though.
posted by frobozz at 3:07 PM on August 6, 2010

Seconding availablelight's suggestion of ESL and adult literacy books. They are sometimes referred to as "graded readers" if you are trying to do a google search. The ones I'm most familiar with are Penguin Readers. I've used them to teach both adult ESL and adult literacy students (some of whom had learning difficulties). Penguin Readers are really good because many of them are adapted versions of regular novels. They are aimed at adults, so the content is suitable for your friend, but the vocab and sentence structure are simplified to minimize frustration. They also come in several levels, so your friend could try out a few from each level to see what she was most comfortable with.

They have a fair representation of genres, incuding science fiction. Some readers also come with the book on CD so she can listen while she reads (this may help with rehabilitation of reading skills).

If you have a community college nearby with an adult ESL program, their library probably has some of these. Your public library may have some too.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:35 PM on August 6, 2010

The Phantom Tollbooth is technically a children's book but I've known a lot of adults who have read and enjoyed it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime as mentioned above I think is good. It's really easy to empathize with the protagonist.
posted by radioamy at 3:44 PM on August 6, 2010

Ursula LeGuinn comes to mind. I remember the Earthsea books in particular as being quite readable — and apparently Tombs of Atuan got a Newberry Medal for young adult fiction, so I'm not alone in thinking it works at a lower reading level. But I don't know of anyone who would look down on those as "kids' books": they're well-respected classics of modern fantasy.

I'm also wondering about some of the classic "adventure" stories — H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, that sort of stuff. The catch is that these do have a reputation problem. They were written for a general (if not especially highbrow) adult audience, and my sense is that they were well-respected in older sci-fi/fantasy fandom, but nowadays I think that's changed and a lot of people would see them as kids' books after all. So you'd have to judge how your friend would feel.

If you hadn't already mentioned Steven King, I'd be recommending him for this. Dude is notorious for writing very accessibly, though third grade might be a stretch.

Depending on how flexible her genre boundaries are, you might consider Dickens. He's (IMO) less entertaining than those "adventure" writers I mentioned — and anyway he's farther from the sci-fi/fantasy canon — but unlike those others he's managed to keep a clean reputation as an author of Grown Up Fiction, and I found him perfectly accessible as a kid.

Also maybe Louis L'Amour? That one's a big stretch genre-wise, but again, he writes accessible books and doesn't have a childish reputation. (I seem to recall reading somewhere that his books are especially popular in prison libraries for related reasons — roughly, because they're good for people who might not be highly educated or accustomed to doing much reading, but without coming across as frivolous or demeaning.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:46 PM on August 6, 2010

The Straightener made a good suggestion, and I hope you don't skip it because it's a name and nothing more. Later James Ellroy, like American Tabloid, might be exactly what you're looking for. That prose is so terse it's almost telegraphic.

If she's okay with genre literature, the hard-boiled stuff might really be the way to go. Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op books, or maybe some Ross MacDonald mysteries are interesting enough to hold the reader's attention, even if the reader is more used to "literary fiction." Or, if you need some hard-boiled with some literary cred. Denis Johnson's Nobody Move was a fun homage to the genre.
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:38 PM on August 6, 2010

There is some increasingly sophisticated YA out there at the moment - many, many adults are reading it -

Black Juice by Margo Lanagan (short stories, won a tonne of awards)

Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan

Magic or Madness
Justine Larbalestier.
posted by Year of meteors at 6:31 PM on August 6, 2010

Books for teens with poor literacy, but desiring non-kiddy plots are called "high-low" for high interest, low vocabulary/literacy/ability. If you search for "high-low books" or "hi-low books", you can find many lists.

Your local library may also have access to Novelist, a tool which allows you to specify the lexile reading level (difficulty) and audience separately.
posted by clerestory at 8:51 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I said teens above, but only because I work with them more - as others have mentioned, this is an issue with adult literacy/ESL as well. I just wanted to give you another term you could potentially search on.
posted by clerestory at 9:09 PM on August 6, 2010

Alice Munro short stories are simple, clear and devastatingly good. She is the finest short story writer working in English today! Makes me proud to be half Canadian.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:44 AM on August 7, 2010

Another useful search term is emergent (or emerging) adult readers. You'll find collections like Barrington Stoke, where the plots and covers are aimed at adult readers, but the vocabulary is suitable for those with a "younger" reading age.

Third grade, is that about eight years old? In which case the Barrington Stoke collection looks just about right.
posted by penguin pie at 10:56 AM on August 7, 2010

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