Life Advice for Book Lovers: Sleepy Commutes and Short Attention Spans
Book Recommendations for the Troubled Soul
Welcome to Life Advice for Book Lovers, Lit Hub’s advice column. You tell me what’s eating you in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll tell you what you should read next.
I’m an (exhausted) 2nd grade teacher with no time in my day to read besides my commute. I’m not a morning person, I don’t drink coffee, and my ADHD means that I share the attention span of many of my sweet little monsters. I’m looking for a book that gets me excited to live each morning and entertain me for 100 blocks, give or take. I love my job and my students are my world (cheesy!! I know!), but I need to start my day doing something for myself. Sorry kiddos!
Sleepy in Second
Dear Sleepy in Second,
You are doing the lord’s work! Thank you for bringing up the next generation—your letter gave me a lot of faith that the future is in good, bookish hands. How you manage to get there before first bell, sans caffeine, I will never know. (As I write this, my third cup of coffee is cooling.)
I’d like to gently nudge you towards short stories and essays, if that’s okay. The constant pivots make them perfect for Pop-Rocks attention spans—and they’re usually the ideal length for glancing up between train stops.
When I think of books that make me “excited to live,” as you have requested, they are the ones that fill me with an almost childlike sense of wonder. Karen Russell might do the trick. I’m always amazed at the world she’s able to construct around you with just a few strokes of the pen. In St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, she does a fantastic job of occupying a kind of eerie kid-logic that you—a teacher of kids—might enjoy. (The first story is told from the perspective of a girl who comes from a family of alligator-wrestlers; there’s another that’s set in a sleep-away camp for “disordered dreamers.”)
When you’re done with that, you can move on to Orange World, an equally off-kilter book in which you will encounter: a man falling in love with a centuries-old girl from a bog, tornados being sold at auction, and a woman breastfeeding the devil to protect her baby. The stories in these collections will pull you in and hold you captive (in a fun way). I’m hoping there’s something about the strangeness that will jolt you to attention.
You know who also makes good commuting company? Nora Ephron. She’s the writer with a voice that cuts through the din of the morning. She’ll tickle your brain awake. It’s like running into a wise and witty friend on your way to work. Her disposition leaves a film on you; everything feels smarter, faster-paced, livelier after being in conversation with her. I Feel Bad About My Neck is a good place to begin.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also take this rare opportunity to effusive about a childhood favorite. There is one book that I think might be a perfect overlap of kid-friendly but equally entertaining for you: Louis Sachar’s Sideway Stories from Wayside School. If you haven’t yet encountered this weird world, you’re in for a treat. The stories are darkly funny—Mrs. Gorf, for example, has a habit of turning her students into apples. It’s a new way to engage the kiddos and to vaguely scare them into behaving! Win-win.