The Help Desk: Is it even possible to read while high?

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I love to read. I love to smoke pot. I can't smoke pot and read. I can get high and watch movies, but words on a page get all swimmy when I've had even just a single puff. But I have friends who love to smoke and read, and they make me so jealous when they talk about sitting down for a night with a book and a joint and reading two or three hundred pages at a go. Can I make my dream a reality, or is my own brain chemistry working against me?

Jean in Shoreline

Dear Jean,

I find your friends' claims of reading (let alone retaining) hundreds of pages of text while high incredibly suspect, perhaps because I have trouble with basic tasks while high, like peeling fruit, blinking, and telephones. What in the Oxford-loving fuck are your friends reading and how could it possibly be more fun than rubbing your belly and chanting the word "velocity" under your breath in a dark closet?

To your question: Instead of reading books, give graphic novels a try. Ignore what little text there is and focus on the beautiful illustrations. I'd start with Black Hole and Bottomless Belly Button – both of which, if memory serves, are pretty light on text. Another option is to pick up Weathercraft or Congress of the Animals by local genius Jim Woodring. Most of his books are wordless, beautiful and weird.