Books that are easy to read for those with attention problems?
December 31, 2006 8:26 AM   Subscribe

What are some good books for people with mild ADD? By this I do not mean, books about attention deficit disorder, I mean books that are short, or easy to read.

My boyfriend really wishes he could start reading books. I'm also a huge reader, so I want to be able to nurture this desire by recommending some suitable reading material. He was medicated for ADD in the past, but he is 30 now, and I suppose it has mostly worn off (if that's possible), but he still has the same type of internet-induced distractability discussed in this previous thread.

I'm specifically hoping that people with attention problems could help me out here. Have any of you even found 1 or 2 books in your life that are of the proper format to suit your attention span?

My boyfriend reads TIME magazine compulsively, and the only book I have seen him read is Nietzsche's "Human, All Too Human". He loved it, so I'm thinking the short aphorisms suit him well. He wanted to read The Tipping Point quite badly, but couldn't concentrate on it for long enough. He also loves Dr Karl Kruszelnicki's pop-science books, because they're broken into easy-to-manage sections as well.

Any more books in a similar vein? Written in blog-sized paragraphs, and so on? Any cool anthologies or books of miscellany? Anything relevant to TODAY'S WORLD, so that it's easier for him to digest?

(If this will help with suggestions, he's interested in the usual things: computers, science, martial arts, general world affairs...)
posted by mjao to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman.
posted by mattholomew at 8:37 AM on December 31, 2006

Most sci fi books are pretty short. Asimov is usually very fast paced. "Childhood's End" by Clarke is classic and around 100pgs. Mr Palomar by Calvino. Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen are both awesome collections. Strange Horizons is always updating but is not always fast-paced.. still worth checking on.

Feel free to email me if you want a super long list of magazines and collections that are ADD-friendly.. I have extensive experience.
posted by shownomercy at 8:55 AM on December 31, 2006

Caveat: I don't have ADD. I love big meaty novels that I can throw myself into for a whole day. But I'll take a whack at it.

Many classic novels are fairly short. I was surprised at how slim Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men was, for instance. (And there are really no complicated words or ideas in it.) He might like Hemingway, who is famous for his simple, short sentences.

I would disagree that "most" sci-fi books are short. Some are, but there are plenty of quite long ones, and many of them are part of series or trilogies and are disappointing to read standalone. I imagine that would be frustrating for someone with ADD.
posted by kindall at 9:06 AM on December 31, 2006

My ex boyfriend who was also medicated in the past for ADD really enjoyed reading Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions (it's a satire about society like all of his work). Kurt's writing style is very succint and the book itself is short and goes by rather quickly. Plus it has funny pictures!
posted by eunoia at 9:06 AM on December 31, 2006

Slaughtermatic, by Steve Aylett.
Lint, by Steve Aylett.
Notable American Women, by Ben Marcus.
The Second Sin, by Thomas Szasz.
Holidays In Hell, by P. J. O'Rourke.
The Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard, by Søren Kierkegaard, edited by W. H. Auden.
Parasite Rex, by Cal Zimmer.
Three Men In A Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome.
Unholy Alliance, by Peter Levenda.
Extremities, by Kathe Koja.
Gödel, Escher, Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter.
The Mind's I, by Daniel C. Dennett and Douglas Hofstadter.
The World's Most Dangerous Places, by Robert Young Pelton.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, by Oliver Sacks.
Six Memos For The New Millennium, by Italo Calvino.
Pixel Juice, by Jeff Noon.
The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien.
Feeding Frenzy, by Will Self.
A Short History Of Decay, by E. M. Cioran.
Love, Poverty, and War, by Christopher Hitchens.
Mythology, by Thomas Bullfinch.
The Denial Of Death, by Ernest Becker.
The Playboy Interview, edited by G. Bary Golson.
The Whys Of A Philosophical Scrivener, by Martin Gardner.
The Annotated Alice, by Lewis Carroll and Martin Gardner.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:08 AM on December 31, 2006

This might be a long shot, but how about George W. S. Trow? His books are entertaining and important for all kinds of reasons, and they're broken up into short, interrelated vignettes.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:14 AM on December 31, 2006

Generally magazines are good. Something like TIME, perhaps, which has a nice mix of current events and pop culture info? My brother (14) has pretty extreme ADHD, but he can read Sports Illustrated cover-to-cover (not all at once, of course) and loves it.

I've always found Stephen King's short story compilations to be easy to pick up and put down again, when I'm too busy or stressed to settle into a long novel. Night Shift is good, as are Skelaton Crew and Nightmares & Dreamscapes. There's also an annually published compilation of the O Henry Award winners. If he likes the author, he may find it easier to take the plunge into a full length piece.

Oh, Spider Robinson also writes hilarious S/F-ish stories, including The Callahan Chronicles compilation, but any of his Callahan/Lady Callahan books are short enough and episodic.
posted by sarahkeebs at 9:16 AM on December 31, 2006


The Everlasting Man, by G. K. Chesterton
The Man Who Was Thursday, by G. K. Chesterton
Hardcore Zen, by Brad Warner.
The Diary Of A Rapist, by Evan S. Connell.
The Basic Kafka, a compilation of Franz Kafka.
Word Virus, a compilation of William S. Burroughs.
Amok Journal Sensurround Edition edited by Stuart Swezey.
Cosmos, by Witold Gombrowicz
A Guide To Philosophy In Six Hours And Fifteen Minutes, by Witold Gombrowicz
Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
Answer Me! The First Three Issues by Jim Goad
The Cloud Of Unknowing by an anonymous monk.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:22 AM on December 31, 2006

I like short story collections, particularly the works of Harlan Ellison.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:23 AM on December 31, 2006

I'd say start with collections of short fiction and non-fiction, and this is one of the better ones: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006, edited by Dave Eggers. The other books in the "Best American" series listed on that page are also full of great stuff in manageable one-sitting chunks, including "Best American Science and Nature Writing," which he might like. In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Nonfiction is great, too.

if he already knows about breaking books into shorter chunks to use the cumulative satisfaction of finishing short sections to help get through and enjoy a longer read, then just remind him that any well-organized nonfiction book can easily be divided into manageable pieces. For fiction, I'll sometimes just arbitrarily note where 1/8, 2/8, 3/8, etc. of the pages are, and then take a break at a logical stopping point after reaching the next eighth (or whatever). When I get to 5/8ths, I know I'm gonna finish. Silly, I know, but it works to keep me focused.

You really can reverse the negative attention effect of long-term Internet reading by gently moving yourself along in the other direction.
posted by mediareport at 9:35 AM on December 31, 2006

(Oops, I apologize for the U.S.-centered titles there, but if you don't mind the writers all being from the U.S., there's all kinds of great stuff in those "Best American" books.)
posted by mediareport at 9:39 AM on December 31, 2006

Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem. Fast, fun read.

Also Anansi Boys or Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Both novel-sized books that are pretty quick but fantastic reads.
posted by baphomet at 9:49 AM on December 31, 2006

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

Short, sweet, lush.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:55 AM on December 31, 2006

They call these "magazines." Reader's Digest, Harper's, Newsweek.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:13 AM on December 31, 2006

Fight Club, the book.
posted by etc. at 10:37 AM on December 31, 2006

Any oral history by Studs Terkel. These each contain many interviews mere pages long; and are written the way people talk, so difficulty of the text isn't an issue.

Hard Times
The Good War
Hope Dies Last
American Dreams
Coming of Age

posted by eustatic at 10:50 AM on December 31, 2006

"perv - a love store" is a fantastic book written by jerry stahl about a boy growing up in the 60's. it's funny, a little vulgar at times, and very entertaining. i have a very short attention span and this book is such a fun read for me. i couldn't imagine anyone not laughing out loud at this book unless they are extremely conservative. good luck.
posted by lilafain at 10:57 AM on December 31, 2006

Blackbox by Nick Walker.
300 pages - 840 chapters. It's a good book and an ADD reader's dream come true!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 11:30 AM on December 31, 2006

I'm not so sure your boyfriend's ADD is the problem. Instead I think he just needs books that interest him.

I have ADD and I tend to get totally engrossed in books that interest me. It's like it focuses my tendencies to space out all on the book, and so I often read books regardless of length in about a day. For example, each Harry Potter book was started and finished in one day each (I'm using that as an example for length, not subject matter :P)

However, I've tried about 9 times to read Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six since elementary school. I'm in college now. And the beginning always hooks me but then, it gets so boring! The book cannot hold my interest, and that's the problem.

So instead of looking for short books, perhaps looking for books in which your boyfriend can get totally wrapped up would be your best bet.

And for the hell of it, maybe some memoirs? I've read all of Augusten Burrough's books, and they're all hilarious. Magical Thinking and Possible Side Effects and they're hilarious, with moderately sized, yet independent chapters.

And I'm with Dave Faris on this one, I'm a bit of a magazine addict; National Geographic, Popular Science, Discovery, etc.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 11:58 AM on December 31, 2006

Roald Dahl's short stories are amazing and I can't recommend them enough. They are fiendishly clever and fairly short. They will certainly keep his attention...I couldn't put them down.

- The Best of Roald Dahl
- Switch Bitch
posted by unreasonable at 12:25 PM on December 31, 2006

I prefer audio books. That's the only way I can get through them.
posted by petersn1 at 2:26 PM on December 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

I agree with spinifex23; Harlan Ellison's short stories are great.

A short(ish) novel that I enjoyed a lot was "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," which was/is just under two hundred pages, as I recall.
posted by therealshell at 2:28 PM on December 31, 2006

I second short stories. Go for a Mcsweeneys or Dave Egger's or Nick Hornby's collected short stories... the nice thing about them is if they don't interest you, you can just skip to another one.

Also magazines like the New Yorker and Scientific American.
posted by dentata at 2:41 PM on December 31, 2006

james joyce's "the dubliners", he can do one a day.
posted by bruce at 3:47 PM on December 31, 2006

Microserfs is written as a series of diary entries, interspersed are nonsense entries and off-topic ones, I'd say it's the prototypical ADD-friendly novel.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:30 PM on December 31, 2006

I was given Michael Palin's new diaries for Christmas (The Python Years) and it was great holiday reading. Because it's diary entries each one is a small chunk, often only a couple of paragraphs long, so it was easy to dip in and out. But it's also tightly edited so each day adds to the overall story quite nicely. I read a lot of blogs and this felt a lot like reading a really good one.
posted by shelleycat at 6:33 PM on December 31, 2006

Anything by Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, or Louis L'Amour
posted by RussHy at 7:32 PM on December 31, 2006

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World.

It's amazing. It's clever. It's so funny. It's well done. And, it's in small, manageable chunks, so it's not overwhelming, but it compels you to keep going.
posted by duckierose at 9:25 PM on December 31, 2006

The Book of Lists 1, 2, and possibly 3. These are great because they're full of all kinds of information, factoids, anecdotes, legends, rumors and scandal. They're like the internet except without the porn or ads and with better writing. Also, they've been around a lot longer. You can read one page or two pages and still get a beginning, middle, and end to your story (or anyway your list) or you can read thirty or forty pages; whatever suits you.

Plus, they'll introduce him to so many different topics, writers, and ideas that he might come up with his own list of potential reading material.
posted by Clay201 at 10:44 PM on December 31, 2006

I don't have ADD; nor do I pretend to. But I think some of the choices here are good...and some are mistakes.

You'd like books that are both immediately engrossing and have short chapters.

Just look at fairly popular books with short chapters. Harry Potter. Dan Brown's works.
posted by filmgeek at 8:23 AM on January 1, 2007

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino - bonus: absolutely beautiful

Robert Lacey's Great Tales from English History series (3 volumes) - excellent bite-sized stories with plenty of education baked in
posted by cadge at 3:05 PM on January 1, 2007

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is perfect for someone with ADD! Tru skips back and forth from character to character throughout the book with only a few pages spent on each one, though the storyline continues in one path. The story is compelling enough to keep him reading. The prose is easy to read and well written.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:25 PM on January 1, 2007

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader series.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 8:55 AM on January 2, 2007

Gotta agree with Neil Gaiman's "Anansi Boys" (just finished over the weekend), "Neverwhere" (a voracious reader, I gobbled it up in a day) and added in "Coraline" - a 'younger' book, but still rather enjoyable to this adult.

Short stories are it, as well - Harlan Ellison sometimes takes a taste for the dark and twisted, but to start off with I'd go and find his compilation "Strange Wine" - your man might definitely enjoy the short "A - Z In The Chocolate Alphabet."

And speaking of Ellison, if he shows a taste for anything sci-fi'esque, you can try out "Dangerous Visions" and "Again, Dangerous Visions."

Any of Spider Robinson's Callahan books are great - light reads, usually in several short-stories.
posted by Adelwolf at 12:10 PM on January 2, 2007

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