5 Ways to Enjoy Reading with Aphantasia

Squeeze more joy out of reading without visualizing. Aphantasia is an opportunity– and an excuse–to let yourself get distracted by language. Breathe it in, enjoy it.
reading with aphantasia

Table of Contents

Originally published at BartholomewLANDER.com

Reading Without Visualizing

I recently saw some people on Twitter expressing confusion about how people enjoy reading with aphantasia. I even saw some people not believing that it was possible to enjoy reading if you were unable to visualize the characters and events.

This got me thinking a bit about what it is that I personally enjoy about reading. And I think most of the things I like and dislike about books can be traced back to aphantasia. While I think aphantasia is far too complicated and nuanced to paint with a single-sized brush, here are five things that I’ve found help me enjoy reading more. I hope these will help you get more out of reading with aphantasia without becoming frustrated at your lack of a mind’s eye.

Disclaimer: Cognition is super complicated and there’s no accounting for taste; your mileage may vary.

Five Ways to Enjoy Reading More With Aphantasia

1. Don’t Sweat the Details

Most of the time, especially in fantasy, the author has a very specific picture they’re trying to paint for you: a portrait of a hero or villain, the landscape of an enchanted forest, the detailed topography of bejeweled armor. And for most people, that’s probably great. But for us, there’s a lot of words being spent on specific details that do not matter.

I recently encountered this with the description of a courtyard. The author spent an entire paragraph meticulously placing trees and features on the east side, the west side, the north side… At which point I pretty much just started to skim. I know what courtyards look like; I could’ve done with “a courtyard with trees and frescoes and statues of epic heroes.”

When you come to a particularly detail-dense section of a book, don’t get discouraged. Pull out the things that matter (“there are trees”, or “the sword is made of gold”), fuzz them together, and throw the rest of it away (who cares exactly where the trees are positioned, anyway?).

Rarely, this might come back to bite you in the ass if these details are actually plot-relevant. Usually they’re not. But even if they do come back to bite you, don’t worry about it. You’re an aphant! It’s going to be nowhere near as jarring for you to reconcile the missing details than it would be for a non-aphantic reader who just happened to skim the wrong paragraph and now suddenly realizes that character X had a beard the whole time.

2. Don’t Reread Paragraphs

Life’s too short to keep rereading prose that doesn’t click. If you get to the end of a paragraph and realize that you’ve absorbed nothing, let it go. Something there simply did not work for you, and most of the time you’ll gain more by just reading the next paragraph and inferring what, if anything, you missed. From my experience, this tends to happen in sections of the book that are heavy with description or with mundane actions of movement—things which, if you’re aphantastic, can be easily skipped in favor of juicy plot elements.

There’s an exception to this, though: dialogue. By and large, dialogue tends to be worthwhile, so if you failed to absorb any at the end of a paragraph, make a point of rereading only the dialogue and then forge ahead for missing context.

3. Slow Down and Fill the Gaps Yourself

When I read, I’m in it for two main things: interesting stories and emotional depth. Most authors shoot to supply both, but I often find myself wanting for the second. Depending on the book, I sometimes find it helpful to stop for a moment, put the book down, and ruminate a bit on the POV characters and what’s happening to them, what they’re feeling. Try reflecting a bit on what’s not being said by the author, especially when it comes to motivations and emotions. Try to put yourself in their mindspace and experience a bit of what they must be feeling, without waiting for the author to supply it to you.

This can be expanded a bit to cover whatever it is you read books for. Ask yourself: what do you enjoy experiencing in fiction? Do you like exciting battles? Try dwelling more on the specifics of a fight scene. Do you like deep, complex history and lore? Let yourself speculate about the universe and wander a bit through the unspoken. The fact, by the numbers, is that most authors don’t have aphantasia, and most books are written assuming the reader has a mind’s eye. The pacing will naturally follow suit. Try setting the pace yourself, and enjoy some you time in the gaps.

4. Go for a Swim in the Language

Since there’s no risk of being distracted by mental imagery, you have a unique opportunity to get lost in the language. Sure, everyone can appreciate good rhythm and vocabulary in prose, but the language is my default focus when I read. A lot of complaints I’ve heard about books simply don’t apply to me: I don’t get pulled out of the story by allusions, alliteration makes me unconscionably happy, and I love purple prose (as long as it doesn’t, y’know, suck).

Aphantasia is an opportunity–and an excuse–to let yourself get distracted by language. Breathe it in, enjoy it. Find and share those lines that choke you out with their elegance and cleverness. Let yourself stretch out against the natural, raw shape of the words and sentences and see what you fit with.

5. Forget You Have Aphantasia

Easier said than done, but hear me out. It’s very easy to get distracted by the idea that other people are enjoying fiction in a way you can’t. I’ve even seen some people talking about becoming depressed after learning they have aphantasia. And I get it. After figuring out I had it, I did feel a bit cheated. It didn’t seem fair that I was just randomly missing what seemed like a basic human faculty. But I don’t think this is a useful expenditure of emotion.

Instead, just pretend that aphantasia isn’t even a thing. You probably lived most of your life without realizing your experiences were any different than anyone else’s; channel the you from before you learned about aphantasia. Take the benefits of knowing that your brain works differently, but leave behind the baggage that tries to drag you down into fixating on it.

So stop thinking about how things should be. Don’t try to hammer a square peg into a round hole. If you stop caring that you have aphantasia, it will be easier to enjoy and experience books in a way that works for you, rather than on anyone else’s terms.

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Total Comments (7)

I find it weird people not believing that it was possible to enjoy reading if you were unable to visualize the characters and events.  Having been completely Aphantasic all my life (I believe), and having read books all my life, I would say back to them that I can’t believe it is possible to enjoy flying unless you have piloted a fighter jet (or something similar)!  My point is, as I have never been able to visualise anything, I live my life in the acceptance of what I have, and cannot miss something I have never had.  I have never found myself saying ‘if only I could visualise this!’ as I don’t know what that would be like.

The only constructive thing I can add to this is the issue I often have with reading, is when there are too many characters, I often have to keep a list, with brief notes to help me remember who is who.

Thank you for this offering of ideas for enjoying books. I had rarely read fiction because it felt so cumbersome and challenging. I do like books that don’t get lost in the weeds. 
I did challenge myself the other year during COVID to read one fiction book per month, I almost made it, 10, but it was good for me. 

I find your tips helpful, it’s tiresome constantly going back and trying to figure out the picture they are portraying. Perhaps leave more to my“imagination”, and skimming makes it easier to digest. If I get a concept or idea wrong, no biggy, if it’s important it will become clear at some point. 

I will challenge myself to look more at the language usage. I’ve rarely dwelled there. 

And I appreciate the pause technique to intuit more of what the character is feeling. 


I’ve always preferred books written in the first person, but I only recently figured out why. First person perspective usually takes place in the characters mind, focusing more on their own thoughts and experiences, rather then the world as a whole.


A recommendation: I found Octavia Butler’s books easy to get into since her voice seems similar to my own (her characters think and speak in a way that’s similar to my own thought patterns), and her books are usually (if not all) 1st person. 

Thanks for the comments!

Sandlings: I’m so glad it was helpful! I definitely relate to your experience. Descriptions have generally been so difficult for me to get through that I’d only finish a handful of books a year. Figuring out I was aphantasic ended up being a sort of map to actually enjoying reading in a way that I never had before.

Sebastian Tanner: Intriguing! I haven’t thought about reading something out loud since I was a kid. I might need to try that on the next book I read and see if the experience differs at all.

Hans Baeker: That’s super interesting! It’s wild to see how people enjoy totally different things when it comes to reading!

Hi. Thank you for this article. I’m 61 and only realised I was aphantasic last year. Reading this I understand how my love of certain books is linked to my aphantasia. I read mainly fantasy and sci-fi.  I’ve often scanned over excess description as I cannot see it in my minds eye. I presumed because it was fantastical everyone else did too. Seeing The Lord of the Rings was literally an eye opener!  Thank you….and I’ll definitely check out your book too. 

I’m a hypophant, but something I’ve discovered in the last month that has helped me read is reading out loud. Even though I can somewhat create a picture ( a 1 or 2 on the scale) in my minds eye, it’s often not helpful for reading. Someone suggested a book to me recently and they said “it’s more enjoyable when you read it out loud.” I have been and it is super fun. Hearing what’s going on is almost as fun as what I “imagine” picturing it would be like. I get a different sort of sensory experience of what is happening by hearing it – as well as seeing (reading) it.

For what it’s worth, a work of fiction is often more like a travel guide to me than anything else in giving me, hopefully, something of an idea about what it would be like to live in that area at that time.  To me, the story itself is secondary.