Reading suggestions for a friend who has never read a book
October 27, 2013 7:20 AM   Subscribe

I have a friend who wants to read something. He is a 40 year old black male who grew up on the streets of south central. He has a high school education, but has never read a book in his life (his words). He is very open minded and interested in a lot of different things and he sees me and his girlfriend reading all the time and wants to join in on the fun. He says he is mainly interested in nonfiction but open to reading fiction also.

I'm looking for something that he would enjoy (obviously) but that will also spark some interest in reading other things. Also, I have no idea what his reading level is. He graduated high school but has never read for fun in all his 40 years. I want something that won't insult his intelligence, but that will be on his level (the only reason I point this out is because I know you guys are quite the literate bunch and I don't need recommendations like Henry Adams or DFW)

Also, his cultural upbringing (poor, 80's gangland black culture) is relevant because I don't know if he would be interested in something that involves black history/culture or if he would be more comfortable stepping out of his comfort zone.
posted by R.F.Simpson to Media & Arts (78 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Into Thin Air by Krakauer is a gripping nonfiction book with a relatively easy reading level. It should be way outside your friend's experience, but the human drama is obvious. Also, Krakauer has several books and lots of other writing to follow up with.
posted by Thing at 7:29 AM on October 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

First suggestion: find out, specifically, what he's interested in. e.g., The Rolling Stones? Get him Life by Keith Richards. Basketball?
posted by hapax_legomenon at 7:32 AM on October 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Most recently, I've read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, and really enjoyed it both for its easy style and its willingness to tackle serious themes. The teacher who recommended it to me said that she's succesfully read it with poor black students, who really resonated with its themes (even though it's about Native American culture.)
posted by Wulfhere at 7:34 AM on October 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

Oops, hit post too early - basically, my point is to find out the kinds of things he likes to do and start there in terms of thinking about things he might like to read about.

Also, library card, stat.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 7:34 AM on October 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is a mix of non-fic and fiction.

Black History/culture: Autobiography of Malcolm X

Graphic Novel?: really any of them. You can read any of them at any level and feel ok about it-- maybe some Joe Sacco (The Fixer; Palestine) if that is his interest (and he is non-fic), or Maus is an all-around favorite.

Modern Classic: Of Mice and Men. Setting may read as not at all relateable, but this book usually has the power to draw people in.

Seasonal: Edgar Allan Poe short stories.

More Modern/compelling: Stephen King. He has gained more and more respect over the years. When I was picking him up in high school, everyone gave me the side-eye. Now it seems like he is recognized as a pretty good writer.

I also read this book from a suggestion on here and loved it.
posted by oflinkey at 7:35 AM on October 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

if he has favourite genres/subgenres of movies and television, that's also a good way to narrow down the sort of fiction and nonfiction he might prefer.

Anything that you guys have read that he seemed especially curious about? He may be interested because of the possible communal aspect, so you could rec him the ones you guys could talk about.
posted by cendawanita at 7:35 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll back up hapax_legomenon and suggest any Alexie, including Flight and Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
posted by oflinkey at 7:37 AM on October 27, 2013

Response by poster: Interests?

Sports, mainly basketball. Hip-Hop, Reggae music, and Black History.

He is interested in a lot of things and has a voracious appetite for anything that expands his worldview and makes him think. Easily one of the most intelligent people I have ever met, but also very uneducated about basic cultural touchstones that most people on here probably take for granted. I am constantly having to explain to him about people or things that come up in conversation: Charles Dickens, Noah's Ark, Gandhi, etc.
posted by R.F.Simpson at 7:41 AM on October 27, 2013

Jackie Robinson's autobiography "I Never Had It Made" might interest him.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:43 AM on October 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm going to suggest Cosmos by Carl Sagan, specifically the hardback with the photos. This is no doubt in a local library. The science is a little out of date by now, but nothing has been proven wrong. More importantly, it's a truly magical reading experience.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:44 AM on October 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Walter Mosley esp. the Easy Rawlins stories and Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. The protagonist is compelling and although it's fiction, it speaks intelligently to a lot of real social/economic/legal issues (not just race - don't get stuck on race). But its also really fun to read, Mosley is so good. Several (incl. Always Outnumbered) have been made into movies & it's always fun to compare what you've ready to how it's told onscreen.
posted by headnsouth at 7:45 AM on October 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

(I should add that I suggest Cosmos, which has nothing to do with what "should" interest him, because it covers a whole lot of cultural touchstones he may not have learned about yet.)
posted by Countess Elena at 7:46 AM on October 27, 2013

Can't Stop Won't Stop by Jeff Chang is a really great history of hip-hop.
posted by Chenko at 7:54 AM on October 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I come to suggest Sudhir Venkatesh, Gang Leader for a day.

Gang Leader for a Day is about the authors experience in Chicago as a graduate student in sociology, and takes a deep look at the actual experiences of real people he met near school.

He shows how little he knew of the real world, despite being steeped in book learning. An interesting contrast for your friend.

If he loves it, point him to another book by Venkatesh. Off the Books. A more academic look at how people make ends meet in the grey market economies where unemployment is as high as 70%.
posted by bilabial at 7:56 AM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding Can't Stop Won't Stop and adding ?uestlove's "Mo' Meta Blues"
posted by kcm at 8:07 AM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Basketball Diaries?
posted by sacrifix at 8:08 AM on October 27, 2013

To address the missing cultural touchstones, I recommend the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. It's a great reference volume and I've even enjoyed just reading through the entries for fun. I picked mine up used for a dollar - since the topics are pretty timeless, you can probably get away with an older version.

Also, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is really great non-fiction that I have recommended to a lot of non-reader readers, who reported that they loved it. The themes of black history, racism, and science might resonate with your friend.
posted by topophilia at 8:11 AM on October 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

The Rivalry is a great NF about basketball (Russell, Chamberlain).

"Coming of Age in Mississippi", "The Civil Rights Reader", "Exit to Freedom" are also excellent non-fiction books that he may like.
posted by KogeLiz at 8:12 AM on October 27, 2013

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
posted by fuse theorem at 8:12 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Comics! Graphic novels are fantastic introductions to stories and won't overwhelm with text. Find out from him what his favourite TV shows or movies are and pick something in the same genre (Walking Dead would be a good choice if he likes the show).
posted by viggorlijah at 8:14 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Library card, for sure. LAPL has a great list of reading lists on their websites. I'd also see if there's a way you can figure out if he reads at normal adult level because

1. there are a lot of great books to read at any level but giving someone something to read above their level is usually a bummer intro to reading
2. many people who have "never read" have some sort of undiagnosed reading disability and that's always a thing that can get attended to if need be

Sherman Alexie is a great suggestion, he's very readable, has a good conversational tone and is also funny. I'd also second the Malcolm X autobio. A few other suggestions.

African American Stories
Monster: The Autobiography of an LA Gang Member was well-reviewed when it came out and is non-fiction and about that neck of the woods. Divided Soul is Marvin Gaye's biography about his troubled upbringing, very poignant. Pryor Convictions is an autobiography of Richard Pryor. Assata: an Autobigraphy is an autobiography of Black Panther Assata Shakur who escaped form prison and is living in political asylum in Cuba. Nigger (an autobigraphy) is Dick Gregory's very readable autobiography. Soul on Ice is a classic.

If he's a movie watcher, there are a lot of high interest books that turned into movies including Fight Club, The Great Gatsby, the Bourne books, LA Confidential, True Grit

I'd suggest starting with something he has expressed an interest in or even chatting about books you've been reading lately to see what piques his interest. A lot of non-readers who got books pushed on them in school often don't have as much of a sense of reading for enjoyment (and getting to read anything you want even if it's not a "serious" book) and that's a good myth to dispell early. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 AM on October 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'd recommend a Norton Anthology.
posted by srboisvert at 8:15 AM on October 27, 2013

I would suggest a book that he, you and his girlfriend can all read together and talk about. Being around people who enjoy reading helps instill a love of reading.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:19 AM on October 27, 2013 [21 favorites]

A couple off the cuff thoughts that, I realize, may not apply, but FWIW:

"The Message" version of the Bible (OT and NT), very readable in totally modern language. Maybe Kings in the OT and one of the Gospels and Romans in the NT. Those characters were all about culture and turf (seriously) and it would plug some holes in his cultural gaps.

On a totally different slant, could someone print out sections of "How Stuff Works", or show him at the library? Not to mention the many other explanatory sites on the Web, I just figured that one was geared toward careful explanation.
posted by forthright at 8:20 AM on October 27, 2013

For general reading, a book of essays like The New Journalism might be a good way in. These are mostly from the 60s and 70s, but still interesting.

Sometimes picking up a whole book is intimidating--essays and short stories might be more manageable.
posted by elizeh at 8:22 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I read a lot of Toni Morrison and Richard Wright in high school. If he's interested in picking up what are essentially cultural touchstones, you can't go wrong there.

Sometimes I imagine a utopian world in which every single person has read and understood "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee.
posted by juniperesque at 8:30 AM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Lost City of Z. The whole time I was reading it I was going, "What the hell? What the hell. WHAT THE HELL?" It's a real-life story, from which you learn many interesting things about the world, that reads like the most insane adventure novel ever. The guy's style is pretty straightforward and journalistic, which typically suits adult readers who don't read for fun a lot and maybe aren't into tortured artistic syntax but don't want to be talked down to either. There's a movie in pre-production, to star Benedict Cumberbach, so it'll be popping back up in pop culture conversations in the next year or two.

Pretty random but it's what leapt to mind.

He might also like The Beautiful Struggle, which hits his interests and probably shares some of his experiences.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:32 AM on October 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Something altogether different but that I believe would speak to his interest in broadening his worldview would be the works of Bill Bryson. They're easy reads, funny, and great for people who haven't experienced a lot of travel.
posted by cooker girl at 8:37 AM on October 27, 2013 [10 favorites]

Geek Love.

As far as I know, this excellent and fabulously twisted story is only available in book form.
posted by flabdablet at 8:45 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:49 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I want to Nth Stephen King, the guy is incredibly readable.

My brother has a learning disability and always hated reading until he picked up the Redwall books, although he was a preteen at the time, I think adults read them too. He also really enjoyed the Hitchhiker's Guide series, those books can be enjoyed on a lot of different levels.

Maybe there are teen books that he'd enjoy? Lots of adults read teen books.

George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut are both pretty readable.

James Herriot goes over well with many people.

Who's his favourite basketball player? Favourite musicians? Try their biographies or autobiographies.

Maybe you guys could go to the library together, pick out some books that pique his interest, (or even just random books), and just try the first couple of pages of each and see what clicks? This would also be a good way to determine his reading level, you could find stuff from various levels and see what he likes. I'd say go ahead and include some heavy or artistic literature in there- you never know what will resonate with a person. Include some classics, too, maybe Twelfth Night or a Midsummer Night's dream. Taste is really hard to determine without trial and error- I've been reading as long as I can remember, and I still find it difficult to find writing that's really engrossing. Maybe warn him that it will take patience to find stuff he really loves.

PS your question made me all teary-eyed. I think it's awesome and sad.
posted by windykites at 8:55 AM on October 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

There must be something about reading that doesn't sound fun to him if he's never done it before. For that reason, I wouldn't chose a non-fiction book for his first one as they can be easy to put down if the story doesn't grab you and hold you. For that reason, I'd start with a more commercial fiction thriller - one of those can't put down books that keeps you up all night reading. Something along the lines of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Angels and Demons (or the more popular Brown book, Da Vinci Code), or something by Tom Clancy or John Grisham.
posted by cecic at 8:58 AM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd second Into Thin Air. It's an adventure story but mixes in just enough philosophy that you learn as you read.
posted by salvia at 9:00 AM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing Dan Brown, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, hell, even Nora Roberts - they are fun reads that appeal to tons of people because they know how to tell a story and keep up the pace!

And if it won't insult him, I'd say Harry Potter - they are great stories and huge in pop culture, easy to read, entertaining.
posted by firei at 9:01 AM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

After years of resistance, we got my white, middle class friend to start reading with the help of Tony Hillerman. He wrote a number of detective novels set on the Navajo reservation. It seemed to me that the slightly exotic setting provides a bit of escapism, but the fundamentally universal themes (modernity vs tradition) really resonate widely.

There are also a bunch of them, so if he likes one he can keep it up for a while.
posted by notsnot at 9:14 AM on October 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've recommended him before, but I would definitely recommend Kiese Laymon's Long Division, which is an easy, smart read with some really sharp humor. It deals with black history, among many other things.
posted by cushie at 9:18 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks would be brilliant. Some other suggestions are Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell and nthing the Stephen King suggestions. Also how about The Psychpath Test by Jon Ronson? Non-fiction but so readable and interesting.
posted by hazyjane at 9:23 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Drown by Junot Diaz. Unequivocally relevant.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 9:25 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Something by George Pelecanos? He's a great American crime writer, Greek-American but writes well about African-Americans in D.C. His books are hard-boiled page turners but there's also a lot of social commentary packed into them. Right As Rain might be a good start as the first of the Derek Strange series; King Suckerman is another good place to start (it's actually the second, not the first, of the "DC Quarter" set but can be easily read first).
posted by tiger tiger at 9:29 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Magic of Reality. A beautiful book to the eye, and it explains complex science about the world around us very simply without talking down. The chapters often begin with legends and myths from various cultures and I just think it's a great book.
posted by lemniskate at 9:56 AM on October 27, 2013

How about Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler? It's a terrifying dystopian novel, somewhat comparable to The Stand by Stephen King, but much more interesting. Black author and black characters.
posted by gentian at 10:07 AM on October 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Leon Bing's Do or Die and Smoked
Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills (don't bother with The Men of Brewster Place, it's mediocre).
James M Cain.
James Ellroy....

Does he remember what he read and liked in his English classes?
posted by brujita at 10:15 AM on October 27, 2013

If his reading level is not high, try starting him off with "high-low" readers, books with high interest for lower reading levels. You can google them.
Popular science books with lots of pictures, like the DK books are good. I read once that young men prefer non-fiction or biographies over fiction, so you might check that out with him.
Also shortstories might be easier, and there are tons of engaging sci fi short stories that he might relate to and which can open up new world views.
posted by SyraCarol at 10:34 AM on October 27, 2013

I really liked Zack by William Bell - great book for young adult reading level, good exploration of racial discomfort, especially in the southern black community.
posted by rhythm_queen at 10:57 AM on October 27, 2013

This is a great question! Everyone who says start with his actual interests and then find related books are spot on, but I'll throw in some specific suggestions, too.

First, you may want to consider the Harry Potter series. There's a reason why they are so wildly popular, even among people who aren't typically into magic and sci-fi stories. Since you aren't sure of his reading level, they move nicely through them and are engaging enough that proficient readers are still entertained by the earlier books.

As for non-fiction, I'm a big fan of memoirs but some of the best non-fiction I've read is humorous, especially when I was a younger reader. Who is his favorite comedian? Chances are s/he has written a book and since he would already know the author's voice and mannerisms, it's easier to transform the words on the page into the multidimensional, engrossing experience that is reading.

It's tempting to recommend some of my all time favorite books, but books that reminded me why I fell in love with reading in the first place are probably better recommendations. Both of these are fiction and not related to any of the interests you mentioned (seems counter intuitive I know), but he might enjoy The Book Thief and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. While these don't fit the criteria per say, I'm recommending them because the main characters are just so compelling and enjoyable. Tonally, these books are very different, but the characters feel like friends you are glad to know, and their worlds would definitely be outside of his personal experience.

Obviously, there are a lot of different ways into reading, you just need to find the one that appeals most to him. So, I suggest having a variety of ideas and let him choose what intrigues him most. I'd also suggest that you and his girlfriend read the book at the same time, even if you're re-reading it, so you can talk about it and all the details will be fresh. Enjoy!
posted by katemcd at 11:15 AM on October 27, 2013

Ursula le Guin?

I like windykites suggestion of taking him to the library and going through lots of books. Even when someone has a read a lot and can articulate what they like it can be difficult to anticipate what might be appealing to them. Present him with an array of possibilities - but help narrow those down to a non-overwhelming number of choices.
posted by bunderful at 11:15 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

If he's into the NBA and its history, he'd probably enjoy The Book of Basketball. It's pretty long, but you can find it pretty cheaply at most bookstores (paper for $10 or less) because I think it's probably a popular gift item.

It's very readable (written at about the same level as an analysis piece on, for example) and I learned a lot about the history of the NBA when I read it.

It's easy to grow into the trap of thinking the players you've seen in the NBA since you started watching are the best of all time--this book really makes you reconsider.
posted by Precision at 11:18 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about What's My Name, Fool? by Dave Zirin. Essays about sports & politics, including race politics. Really great even if you're not into sports.
posted by the_blizz at 11:20 AM on October 27, 2013

If he's never read a book, he's missed out on a lot of rewarding children's literature. He might really enjoy Harry Potter, the Hobbit (later, though, given that it's a lot more dense than most books), and the Chronicles of Narnia.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:36 AM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Richard Price's Clockers could be a really good place to start.
posted by goo at 11:55 AM on October 27, 2013

Basketball: Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game (possibly a little dated, as it's about basketball in the late 1970's).

History: Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe series is wonderful, and pretty comprehensive. Cartoony, though, of course. Post-Columbus it shifts to Cartoon History of the Modern World.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:58 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Gulp, Mary Roach's latest book. It's kind of like a wide survey of a single large topic, that doesn't spend too much time into the details, but offers a lot of really interesting tidbits that might encourage further investigation. Really fun, with lots of super interesting leads to follow on your own, about a universally relatable topic. Basically pop science at its best.
posted by danny the boy at 12:27 PM on October 27, 2013

I nth the Junot Diaz suggestion, since he's currently one of the It Guys of literature (but, for a change, not white, nor are his central characters) and the Henrietta Lacks book, which was a fascinating read.

I also recommend Paul Beatty's The White Boy Shuffle which is a hilarious and scathing look at race relations in high school and the basketball courts... and is largely set in South Central.
posted by TwoStride at 1:17 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

These broke me into non-fiction:

Same Kind of Different As Me

posted by Sassyfras at 1:36 PM on October 27, 2013

The Poisonwood Bible or High Tide in Tuscon (really nice essays that weave together stories from daily life with philosophy) by Barbara Kingsolver.

To Kill a Mockingbird?

David Sedaris

My husband and I read each other the entire Harry Potter series....

On my To Read list is Running the Books, about working in a prison library.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:49 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with the suggestion above that you choose something that you and his girlfriend can read as well, so you can all talk about it.
My recommendation would be a classic like The Outsiders or To Kill a Mockingbird- there is a reason why these books are classics. Not too long, likeable characters that draw you in, and a great story. The other angle would be to go with popular fiction- something fun that sucks you in- Harry Potter, Stephen King, John Grisham etc. I also like the Tony Hillerman suggestion above.
posted by emd3737 at 3:16 PM on October 27, 2013

I LOVE to read but I am not really a fan of graphic novels (I find the pictures distracting; I know this is weird, but I've heard it from other people, too), so I might start with a book-book first. I also think it's important to stress to new readers -- my own grandmother basically started reading for pleasure at, like, 80 years old -- that if you pick up something and you don't like it, you don't have to keep at it. That's the best part of reading for pleasure.

I agree with the Stephen King suggestion, and if he lives in Los Angeles, he might like Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch novels. (I love them -- they're very gripping detective novels, but for a Los Angeleno, they're particularly fun because the geography is all spot-on and they're easy to picture if you live here.) The first one is called The Black Echo.

Harry Potter is obviously a classic for a reason, but I think it's possible an adult who is perhaps self-conscious about not having read a ton might want to start with an adult book so he doesn't feel he's doing remedial reading (I say this as someone who read them all the day they came out). I am not a huge fan of non-fiction, but the new ?estlove book mentioned above is GREAT.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:48 PM on October 27, 2013

Based on what you said about his interests, I'm seconding the recommendation of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And if you haven't read it yet, it would be cool for both of you to read it at the same time and get some good book discussion going.

I remember when I first read AofMX. I chose to read it because I was thinking, "Okay, I know that this is an Important Book and I really should read it, so okay, I will ". Then as soon as I opened to the very first page, I found it a really gripping read and couldn't put it down and couldn't stop talking about it.
posted by marsha56 at 4:28 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Richard Wright, his autobiography "Black Boy" is very readable.
posted by Melismata at 4:37 PM on October 27, 2013

windykite's suggestion that you go someplace where he can pick up and start reading a variety of books is great, particularly given that we have no idea what his reading level is or if he'd be more interested in Af-Am authors and subjects. Maybe ask him about those things? But it might be easier and more respectful to take him to a library or cheap used bookstore and let him find his own way, with you pulling out some of the above suggestions to help narrow it down.

If his reading level is nearer to young adult (or he wouldn't be insulted by that) and decides to try fiction, I'd recommend handing him some Walter Dean Myers to start. Look at the reviews for Monster or the Vietnam story Fallen Angels, e.g.
posted by mediareport at 5:09 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The first thing that leapt to mind for me was Wally Lamb's Couldn't Keep It To Myself which is stories told by women in a correctional institution. Their stories are told at various levels - each has their own style - but they are true and real and fascinating. It sounds like it would be depressing and it's true that some of the women have had appalling things happen in their lives, but somehow it was also like a real window into our fellow humans that was uplifting in a way. It also may illuminate the power that words and stories can have on an individual level.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:17 PM on October 27, 2013

"Have Gun, Will Travel" by Ronin Ro (IIRC)

"Manchild in the Promised Land" by Claude Brown

"American Saturday" by Clark Howard:

all of these are IMO excellent books about the contemporary urban black experience.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 5:24 PM on October 27, 2013

I think perhaps a well-loved classic like To Kill a Mockingbird that you could re-read at the same time and then talk about over a home-made dinner(s). (For non-fiction, perhaps something science-related written in a friendly way like Stiff, or the Disappearing Spoon (but perhaps that's just my interest in science showing).

But more than anything, I would say
go with him to the library.

Direct him to the card signup desk and wait while he gets his card. Maybe introduce him to some of the staff there so he feels like
"This isn't the library,
this is MY library. :)"
Let him know that the librarians are not the clichéd shushers of cartoons and movies, but people who delight in helping people find good things to read to meet their interests.

Check and see if there are any reading groups or cool things coming up on the library calendar.

Get him an app for his smart phone or computer that let's him keep track of his checkouts and place holds. Show him how to reserve books via the library's web site. Remind him that if he sees an interesting looking book in a bookstore window, chances are good that the library has 30 copies just waiting to be put on hold and then checked out.

Also, I would let him know any insight you've picked up along the way like
"Don't feel any sort of 'failure' if you put down a book that isn't capturing your interest. There are too many well written, crazy-interesting books out there for you to waste your time on something that's not doing it for you."
(I used to feel guilty for not finishing a book, but now I'm like 'Become a better writer and we'll talk, but for now you're going back to the library, my boring little book-friend!"
posted by blueberry at 6:17 PM on October 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would see if LAPL (or another organization in the city) has a "One City, One Book" type of program. Usually the books they pick are quite accessible, and engaging to a wide range of people.
posted by baniak at 6:42 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Black Boy by Richard Wright. The Corner by David Simon and Ed Burns is the basis for the shows "Homicide" and "The Wire" and is also very readable narrative non-fiction.

If he's willing to take the leap into fiction, Brave New World is an easy read but it's still mind-blowingly subversive, way more so than most anything he'll probably have seen on TV or in movies. A lot of non-readers don't realize that books can be (and maybe even tend to be) a lot more subversive than the "corporate" media we're used to otherwise -- to me, that's a major draw for books. If that fits his sensibility but he doesn't want to commit to a whole novel, he might also like Kafka's short stories.
posted by rue72 at 7:07 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

When at the libe I'd make sure he knows how to look up and find books using the Dewey decimal system in case he never learned as a kid. If he has a smartphone then you could also teach him to check out & download ebooks from the library. Also the suggestion of him reading books that you & his gf are also reading is great for discussion or even a book club some day but I'd start slowly so he doesn't get overwhelmed with it all.

It's awesome he wants to start reading books. Maybe you could buy him his first book once you figure out something he'd like. I love getting books from friends as gifts.
posted by wildflower at 7:19 PM on October 27, 2013

Nthing the Autobiography of Malcolm X. His story is a very inspirational example of the benefits of self-directed education via reading.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:33 PM on October 27, 2013

I'm really enjoying The Alchemists of Kush by Minister Faust.

From internationally acclaimed author Minister Faust, increasingly described as one of the best writers of his generation, comes a searing new novel fusing modern realities with ancient yearning, struggle and triumph.

The Alchemists of Kush is the story of two Sudanese “lost boys.” Both lost fathers to civil war and mothers along the path of escape. Both boys were hunted and fell into violence to survive. Both came under the guardianship of mystic madmen who promised to transform them. And both vowed to become leaders who would transform their worlds, or die trying.

One of those lost boys is Raphael Garang, known to the streets of E-Town as the Supreme Raptor.

The other lost boy was Hru-sa-Usir, who lived 7,000 years ago in the Savage Lands of the Lower Nile, and known to the Greeks as Horus, son of Osiris.
posted by spunweb at 7:36 PM on October 27, 2013

Consider John McPhee; the Wikipedia entry includes a list of works, there's gotta be a subject that would appeal to your friend.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 8:28 PM on October 27, 2013

...make sure he knows how to look up and find books using the Dewey decimal system in case he never learned as a kid...
Please don't waste his time (or scare him off) by trying to fill his head with the Dewey Decimal system.

I mean, you might mention that each subject has it's own area--like all the wood-working books hang out in the same area--but I think that's pretty self-evident when he's walking into rooms labeled "Science & History" or whatever.

If he has trouble finding a book or section, that's exactly what the friendly, helpful staff are literally paid to help him with.

(Honestly, the last time I heard someone (a lay-person) reference the Dewey Decimal system in a non-joking way was probably back during the Reagan years.)

The only thing I might mention is that "periodicals" means magazines, newspapers, and zines. And that you can't check out 'Reference' books because they are for in-the-library use only.

Other than that, bringing up the Dewey Decimals seems like making him memorize all of the country's area codes when he just wants to call his friend on the phone.
posted by blueberry at 8:35 PM on October 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

Does he have any favorite movies that were based on books? If so, it could be fun for him to take a look at the original book and see how it compares.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:51 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
posted by maggieb at 9:24 PM on October 27, 2013

Seconding Assata. Truly amazing book, engaging/well-written, and I still regularly think about it 15 years later.

I can't believe no one has suggested Alice Walker. Meridian is another book I read years ago, that I still think about to this day. It's a story of the Civil Rights Movement, but told in a very personal, fresh way. Fiction, but very much based on real events and people.
posted by lunasol at 11:02 PM on October 27, 2013

I'm going to recommend Eric Jerome Dickey, and Theive's Paradise in particular. Very character driven and a really fun read also, this one takes place in LA, so there's the recognition factor there.

He wrote a bunch of chick-lit early on, and I like those too. When I taught High School, EVERYONE wanted to read my Eric Jerome Dickey books.

Sister Soulja's Coldest Winter Ever was another one that's gripping, although very ghetto and violent.

Omar Tyree's Fly Girl, is interesting, but I found it disturbing (very young girl having sex, although voluntarily). The sequels are absolute shit though, so skip them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:25 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anything by the great rappers: JayZ, Tupac, Biggie, Ice, Dr. Dre, etc.
No Disrespect by Sistah Souljah
50th Law by 50 Cent
A Chance To Win
Bringing Down The House
The Pact
posted by PeaPod at 1:11 PM on October 28, 2013

I want to second Napoleonic Terrier's recommendation of John McPhee and suggest two books in particular:

A Sense of Where You Are, about Bill Bradley - it has a lot of basketball and a lot of great background about Bradley and Princeton

Levels of the Game, about tennis and especially Arthur Ashe

I have very little interest in sports, and I found both of these gripping and beautifully written - while still being accessible. (I think they're also both fairly short, which might be good as a starting point for your friend.)
posted by kristi at 10:23 AM on October 29, 2013

Maybe some Todd Walton? Good basketball reads.

Inside Moves
Ruby & Spear
posted by duckus at 6:50 PM on October 29, 2013

« Older Phun in Phoenix: Time to Burn   |   What are some fun things to do in Los Cabos that I... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.