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Reading Nook: Books for Non-Readers

05/02/2017 04:15PM ● Published by Jennifer Gonzalez

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By Diane Parfitt

My husband and I were at a party a while back and one of our friends said he hadn’t read a book since high school. As an avid reader, I was shocked. It would be like someone who lives in North Carolina saying they never watch disbelief!

Not only is there the joy of reading for those of us who always loved to read, or discovered it at some point along the way, but there are some very physical and mental benefits to reading. I will save that for another article, but suffice it to say reading books versus watching TV or playing video games has a more positive effect on a person’s well-being.

So, that sparked an interest in how to encourage non-readers to discover the joy of reading. First, I thought about why someone might not read books. Of course, it often stems from being “made” to read books in school. These may have been books that are considered classics, but hold little interest for adolescents struggling through the throes of growing up. I have often said, “Who really gives a flip about The Great Gatsby when you are 16 years old?” I know there are many people who will say it’s one of their favorite books, but there are just as many who don’t get it.

I then went about trying to figure out what books would appeal to someone who has not read a book in dozens of years. To help me with this, I consulted with one of my book clubs that meets at City Center Gallery & Books. The Directions Book Club meets once a month and we talk about books of all kinds, contemporary and classic. It’s a fun group of men and women who share a love of books. I asked them to help me come up with a list of criteria for books for non-readers and to suggest some books that would fit these criteria. The result is a list of books that should inspire any non-reader to discover the joy of reading.


1.      Short, around 250 pages, but not more than 300 pages

2.      Linear style, no flashbacks

3.      No dialect, or minimal

4.      Likeable characters, or at least a couple, not all bad guys

5.      Good to have closure at the end—no unresolved issues

6.      Mysteries are good because people like to “problem solve,” and a good mystery is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together

7.      Avoid archaic language—nothing earlier than the 20th century

8.      Animal stories—everyone loves stories about pets

9.      Fact-based books can be fun if well-written with some element of suspense

10.  Books that share historical facts in a fun way

Books that meet all or most of the above criteria:

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot


True stories by an English veterinarian about all the interesting and often quirky people he encountered in treating their farm animals and pets. Told in vignettes, this is easy to read in small bits and pieces. It was also made into a popular PBS series


The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger

This is the true account of the Perfect Storm that hit North America in October, 1991, and the crew of the fishing boat from Gloucester, Massachusetts, lost at sea. The story delves into the lives of the crew members and their families and friends before the voyage and then reconstructs the events during the storm.


The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

I have put this book on many lists of must-reads—it’s that good. A group of farm boys and loggers from the Pacific Northwest go to college and join the rowing team at the University of Washington in the 1930s. Against all odds, and in a


showdown between east coast and west coast teams, they row their way to the Olympics. It’s a heart-warming story and a fun way to learn about a time when collegiate rowing was as competitive and popular as basketball is today.


The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Agatha Christie

A good mystery is always a winner. And Dame Agatha can tell a wonderful tale. This is the book that launched her writing career and all the great tales to follow. We are introduced to Hercule Poirot, the delightful private detective in many of her novels. This book has all the elements of the best of murder mysteries and I challenge you to guess the ending.


Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Set in the English countryside, this book is about Major Pettigrew, a widower, leading a quiet, private life who values all the proper things in life: duty, honor, decorum and a properly brewed cup of tea. The death of his brother throws Major Pettigrew’s life into turmoil as all sorts of changes occur, including the blossoming friendship with a new lady in his life. Sweet, touching and quite funny!


Oral History by Lee Smith

Lee Smith is a North Carolina fiction writer whose books are inspired by her years growing up in the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia near the Kentucky border. Oral History traces a family’s roots with tales of love, murder, obsession and betrayal. This book, along with Fair and Tender Ladies, is considered among her best.


Raney by Clyde Edgerton


I don’t have a favorite child, but I do have favorite books as you might be able to tell from most of my articles. Raney is one of them. I read it shortly after arriving in North Carolina after living out west for seven years. Raney Bell, a Southern Baptist marries Charles, a Liberal from Atlanta and the fun begins. I loved reading how their marriage gets off to a rocky start, but only gets stronger as they learn to love each other more in spite of their differences.


The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Just as I have my favorite books and writers, I also have my least favorite authors. Ernest Hemingway is one of them. But that’s just me—he’s a man’s man and a great writer for men, although many women also love his books (and many women loved him). But I have to say The Old Man and the Sea is a story that everyone needs to read, a story about courage in the face of defeat and a personal triumph over loss. This is one Hemingway book that I really did love.


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

A more contemporary book about two teenagers in high school who don’t quite fit in. Meeting each other gives them hope for finding happiness despite the obstacles in their way. Current issues of bullying, family dysfunction and building a relationship are presented by the two protagonists in a funny, warm, sexy and tear-jerking way. Who can forget what it was like to be young and in love? This author reminds us of that time in our lives with humor and without all the angst.


Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler


The Hogarth Shakespeare project sought out contemporary authors to re-invent some of the famous dramatist’s most popular plays. Vinegar Girl is a modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. I loved all the earlier productions of the play and this story was a delightful read. It’s not too long, and the characters are feisty and spunky and quite endearing. The Hogarth books bring us a version of Shakespeare that all can enjoy.


Even the most reluctant reader can find a book to capture their fancy and bring the joy of reading to them. For the non-reader, perhaps they just haven’t found the right book to do that! If you know someone like that, show them this list or, even better, give them a used copy of one of these books as a gift.


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