10 Delightful Books For Your Compromised Attention Span

From the Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman.

I see a lot of news articles lately that feature lists of books we could be reading right now. Many feature dystopian novels, heavy classics and slogs through history.  Some are books you think you should have read by now or those that will remind you of your worst fears. The Plague. War and Peace. Steven King. Cormac McCarthy. Thucydides. 

I don’t want to read that stuff right now, and, for many of us, it’s hard to read anything. People talk about feeling too distracted by worries and the barrage of news. We are slowed down by over-eating, the world’s lowered expectations of us, and an unfamiliar kindness toward ourselves.

But some books are good in these circumstances. They let us be distracted and anxious.  Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorites. Each is delightful, well-written, and intelligent. Some even have lots of pictures! I’ve included a review of each in case you want to know more before committing.

1. The Principles of Uncertainty —  Maira Kalman.

Most of Kalman’s books are for children. This one is for adults who are a little childlike. It reminds us of life’s absurdities, magical little corners of the world, and the quirks of human nature. The illustrations are playful and artful. You don’t even have to read it in order. https://www.startribune.com/hats-off-to-maira-kalman/12486111/

From The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman

From The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman

2. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? — Roz Chast

My dear friend, Steve Weissman, and I have shared a peculiar fascination with New Yorker cartoonist, Roz Chast, for a really long time. Her work usually portrays the most unassuming types of humans awkwardly coping with the most prosaic facts of life.  A few years ago, she published a graphic memoir about her aging parents that is poignant and side-splitting funny.  You can’t put it down. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/books/review/roz-chasts-cant-we-talk-about-something-more-pleasant.html

From Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

3. Cat’s Cradle —  Kurt Vonnegut.

Vonnegut is like quantum mechanics: too many layers to understand but addictive. I almost didn’t include this one because it is a story about the end of the world. But Vonnegut never gives you an opportunity to feel scared or hopeless. It is cathartic and hilarious and puts the big questions in context. I plan to read it again.  https://georgetownvoice.com/2016/11/28/lessons-from-literature-cats-cradle/

From Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Stock photo

4. An Everlasting Meal — Tamara Adler

Written by a former chef at Chez Panisse, this book about the philosophy of cooking and food  emphasizes the wonders of simple, soulful meals, and a reliance on intuition ahead of precision. It’s beautifully written and almost as intimate as a letter from your best friend. After every chapter, I wanted to drop an egg in a stew and celebrate celery.  http://hereelsewhere.com/see/an-everlasting-meal/

Photo by Here Elsewhere

5. Hyperbole and A Half — Allie Brosh.

This quirky graphic memoir is about confusion and depression, but you don’t need to be confused or depressed to love it. You could just be a person with a sense of humor and some curiosity about coping skills and dogs. Here’s the “Fresh Air” interview of the author. https://www.npr.org/2013/11/12/244758140/even-when-it-hurts-alot-brosh-faces-life-with-plenty-of-hyperbole

From Hyperbole and A Half by Allie Brosh.

From Hyperbole and A Half by Allie Brosh

6. Good Lord Bird —  James McBride.

This award-winning novel is one of my favorite novels ever. It tells the story of a freed slave who wanders the world as a girl during the time of the white abolitionist, John Brown. If the premise sounds heavy, the book is not. It’s a scream and a smart one at that. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/books/review/james-mcbrides-good-lord-bird.html

Stock photo

7. Encyclopedia of Early Earth — Isabel Greenburg.

I just started this graphic novel. It is a poetic love story with references to creation folklore, and it gets rave reviews. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/02/encyclopedia-early-earth-isabel-greenberg-review

From Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenburg

8. The Soul of the Octopus — Sy Montgomery.

This seems like a great time to read books about nature, although I personally get bored by long passages describing the landscape. Montgomery’s story about octopuses is never boring. It is a tender and scientific portrait of a species that is intelligent and playful, and seems to have a thing for humans. You will never eat calamari again. https://www.laaudubon.org/blog/2019/11/12/book-review-the-soul-of-an-octopus-a-surprising-exploration-into-the-wonder-of-consciousness

The author of Soul of The Octopus with a friend. Stock photo.

9. Ways of Seeing — John Berger.

Berger is a lefty art critic who brought social values to the world of art criticism. This book is for regular people and it changed the way I interpret art. It’s short and easy to read with lots of pictures. https://theconversation.com/how-john-berger-changed-our-way-of-seeing-art-70831

Stock Photo

10. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse — Charlie Mackesy.

This sweet book is quickly becoming a classic. It’s more of a long greeting card than a book —  a wonderful meditation on what is best about life with dozens of delightful illustrations. It’s perfect to read with kids. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/01/books/looking-for-a-book-to-read-with-your-family.html

From The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy.

Happy reading and please share your favorites!

From The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman


  1. “Cat’s Cradle” was one of the books that changed my life in my teenage years. I will follow up on some of these. Will they change my life now? That would be interesting. πŸ™‚

  2. What a beautiful list! I’ve read half of them, and I agree. I want to read the others. Although I barely celebrate Christmas, the only book I reread every year is A Child’s Christmas in Wales. I just love the language, the link to my Welsh heritage, and the joy of that story. My son and husband and I read it aloud, taking turns.

    1. Me too! And I often I listen to Dylan Thomas reading it. He has such a gorgeous voice. I love that book. Wendy, I would love to see your list of great books to read right now.

      1. I’m not reading much these days, Kim, apart from the news. Still, I recommend The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, a Finnish book I really loved that seems perfect right now.

  3. An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment. I do believe that you should publish more about this issue, it might not be a taboo subject but typically people don’t discuss these issues. To the next! All the best!!

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