Author Archives: Mgpcoe

How To Rediscover Reading

Dear Literopathy,

I have been an avid reader my whole life. However, in the last few years, my attention has shifted to online reading. I devour dozens of blogs, articles, and posts every single day. I would say I spend at least a quarter too third of my waking hours reading. The unfortunate side effect is that all of this readily available content from such a myriad of sources has pretty much destroyed my attention span for reading. I find it very hard lately to finish books, even books I like, even short stories, or essays, or anthologies. I also think this stems from having a ridiculously large reading list will in university that just burnt me out—there’s only so much Heidegger one can read in a day before going mad.

So I’d really like to see your recommendation for something that can keep me going until the very end.


Too Long Didn’t Read

Dear Too Long,

I sympathize with the Heidegger burnout. Even before I started university, I’d become turned off reading for school, and opted to take film instead of English Lit in my first year. It made a wonderful difference, and may have saved literature for me in general.

Before I give you your prescription, I’m going to impose one condition: you must get these books on paper. No reading these on an eReader, on a tablet! Even with a simple device like an eInk Kobo, there are still a lot of distractions available, and having light shine at you from an iPad or a Nexus won’t help you get away from the sense of reading on a computer. So get the dead-tree editions.

In order to get rediscover your lost love of reading, I believe you should start by easing yourself back into the pool. Stories that have relatively frequent points where the you could put the book down, but also so compelling that you just won’t want to. So we’ll step out of the usual types of literature one expects to see university graduates reading.

We’ll start with Tim Hamilton’s graphic novel adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. The medium is an interesting reset in terms of altering how you read—your eyes can move quickly across the page, and back and forth, as you take in the artwork, without making you face off against a wall of text. And the story of a dystopian future where books are feared by the masses and kept alive only through the underground should appeal to the part of you that wants to get back into enjoying books. Hamilton’s pacing provides a number of places where you can set the book down if you need a break, but it’s a compelling read, and I doubt you’ll want to set it down before you get halfway through.


Once you’re done there, another graphic novel adaptation. This time, it’s Hope Larson’s take on Madeleine L’engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. Like Hamilton, Larson has to adapt the narration to a medium that doesn’t do well with a third-person narrator, and she does so to great effect. A Wrinkle In Time is thicker than Fahrenheit 451 by a fair amount–particularly the hardcover edition–but Larson’s work with the original pace, again, gives opportunities to give yourself a break.


After all, the idea here isn’t to force you to read these books, but to find books that work with your new tendency to put them down, but will also make you want to keep going.

Last, but not least, is Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Though it’s nominally a children’s book—pre-young adult in its targeting—the story, fully considered, is downright Huxleyian in its dystopia. The Giver follows a young man, Jonas, who is assigned the role of become his community’s "Receiver"—the person responsible for remembering the community’s history. But, like all good dystopia, there’s much more to this than it seems. When Jonas learns, over time, just what he has to remember, so that everyone else can forget, an adult reader of this book will begin to see just how incredibly dark the story really is.


The Giver isn’t a graphic novel; it’s probably barely a novella. But it is compelling; it has wonderful re-reading value, and I distinctly recall a sleepless night in my youth, where, for the sake of something to do rather than just lie in bed and stare at the ceiling, I picked up my copy of this book, and didn’t realise where the time had gone until I had finished it, four or five hours later. Even though I knew what happened, I just couldn’t put it down. Hopefully you’ll find yourself doing the same.

How to escape from a rut

Dear Literopathy,

I feel like I have no direction, like I’m running as fast as I can to stay in one place. As if my life is over at the age of 25 and nothing of interest will or can happen or change. I want my life to be exciting and meaningful profound like the books I read, and I feel like I’m perpetually waiting. How do I begin?

– Julia

Dear Julia,

A number of books spring to mind. Particularly, you’ve made me think of Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, when you say that you’re “running as fast as I can to stay in one place”. There are many titles that seem to echo your particular circumstances, with a positive ending—Douglas Coupland’s jPod and Rob Payne’s Working Class Zero (which, I believe, would also satisfy our CanCon quotas)—but ultimately the champion goes to Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Warrior’s Apprentice.

This book introduces Miles Vorkosigan (and her Vorkosigan saga), in truly spectacular fashion: Miles, only son of the only son of the Count Vorkosigan, washes out of his planet’s military academy during a final physical trial by breaking both his already-fragile legs in the first eight pages.

Suddenly, Miles’ future appears to have collapsed along with his shins. His militaristic society will certainly never accept his becoming Count without any military service, particularly in consideration of his pedigree—his father is known as the greatest leader ever to serve in their military. It appears that he’ll inevitably destroy his family’s good name when he becomes Count, primarily because his people won’t respect him.

Miles doesn’t take this defeat sitting down, however. Though it seems he’ll never serve in his world’s space fleet, he takes up smuggling, and promptly bluffs his way into owning an entire mercenary fleet with thousands of devoted, loyal soldiers. Miles has something of a talent for bravado, and it makes his mouth both his greatest asset and his greatest liability. While discussing your case, one of our staff described Miles by saying, “Half the time Bujold has to knock him unconscious to get him to stay still long enough for her to finish the book.” Even Miles knows this:

“I’ve got forward momentum. There’s no virtue in it. It’s just a balancing act. I don’t dare stop.”

Miles builds up a lot of momentum for himself, largely through an over-developed confidence in his ability to improvise. And this is what many of us, in our day-to-day lives, feel like we lack. We find ourselves stuck in a particular role that we’ve probably assigned to ourselves—when I’m not reading, or being a dad, I’m a computer programmer, and for many reasons, that sometimes feels like what I’m destined to be forever.

When Miles is suddenly thrust out of what he perceives to be his trajectory, he creates his own—but that creates a whole new trajectory that even he doesn’t see coming. Miles doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but he makes snap decisions, with only minimal apparent regard for consequences, because he’s confident he’ll be able to get himself out of it.

We recommend The Warrior’s Apprentice because it becomes a vivid demonstration of what a person can do when they’re thrust out of their comfort zone. In Miles’ case, outside forces pushed him at first, but there’s certainly nothing to say that we can’t push ourselves. Try something you’ve never done—audition for a play, volunteer with a group that does something you agree with—and see where it takes you, and what you like. Life rarely gets interesting when you want to, and sometimes we have to make it interesting ourselves.

Fellow readers, have you ever felt stuck in a rut? What helped you out?