Reluctant Reader? Read on

It’s easy to take something as fundamental as reading for granted, especially in the internet age, when the majority of our communication takes place online via emails, Facebook, instant messaging, forums, blogs, and the like.  However, studies have shown that over 90 million Americans are functionally illiterate, many of them in impoverished areas.  In the past, those who struggle with their literacy have few options when it comes to improving their reading skills—it’s either trying to fight through a 300-page adult novel, which can be frustrating and discouraging, or reading novels geared towards teenagers.  And vampire love stories are not for everyone.

This empty space in the publishing market has led to recent movements in Canada and the British Isles (it hasn’t caught on in the United States yet, but it’s only a matter of time,) to publish short novels written for adults who want to improve their literacy skills.  This can apply to ESL students, reluctant readers, and really anyone with a busy schedule who wants an engaging, fast-paced story to read. Good Reads and Rapid Reads are both Canadian series that seized the opportunity to provide resources to this niche market.  They currently publish a series of fiction and nonfiction books by bestselling Canadian authors.

The books, designed to be as addictive and rewarding as possible, are limited to 10,000-20,000 words, with contemporary plots and straightforward, linear narratives.  They walk the difficult line of having easy language and simple sentences—accessible to someone with a 5th grade reading level—without talking down to the reader or losing their interest.

While writing such a novel may seem to be an easy endeavor, the authors of these series have described the process as incredibly challenging.  To fit a full story arc into 10,000 words, to restrict themselves to certain types of vocabulary and syntax, and to make sure that every sentence actively moves the plot along is an experiment in economy of writing that is sure to make any writer reevaluate their approach to storytelling.  However, most Good Reads authors have described their experiences as rewarding, both in terms of their style and in the knowledge that they’re introducing the love of reading to people who wouldn’t otherwise experience it.

Book series like Good Reads and Rapid Reads have received glowing reviews by readers as well, with people learning for the first time the joy of getting lost in a good book.  The use of high-suspense storylines, cliffhangers, and other hooks keep the readers coming back for more, and that the books can generally be finished in an hour or two increases confidence.  Publishing books for reluctant readers is a growing market in the United Kingdom and Ireland, (Ireland’s Open Door series offers novellas in Irish as well, for those seeking to improve their Irish skills,) but surprisingly haven’t caught on yet in the United States.  In a country where it’s estimated 50% of people have below-average literacy skills, seeing books like these in libraries or at bookstores could be the encouragement they need to take the first step into developing a love of literature.

Do you know of any other book series written for adults struggling with literacy?