Max Greenfield, actor and author of the new children’s book, I Don’t Want to Read This Book, joins Zibby to talk about how his kids helped inspire this project. The two discuss the effects of dyslexia and why those diagnosed with it often tend to be the most creative people, as well as how this book evolved from the videos Max would film with his daughter, Lilly, early in the pandemic. Max also shares how he got feedback for the book and what advice he has for anyone looking to create art.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Max. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss I Don’t Want to Read This Book.

Max Greenfield: I like the title of your show.

Zibby: Thank you.

Max: Is there anything you do have time for?

Zibby: I mean, I make time for everything. Yet I feel like I never have time for anything.

Max: Here’s my question, actually. When you find time for anything, are you overwhelmed by it and then accomplish nothing?

Zibby: You mean if I actually have a stretch of time where I don’t know what to do with myself or time off?

Max: Yeah.

Zibby: Yes. Often, I say out loud, what should I be doing now? Wait a minute. Should I do this? Should I do this? Should I do this? If it’s an appropriate time where I could possibly be doing something like hanging out with my husband or watching TV or something, I don’t really know what to do with myself.

Max: I don’t know either. It’s a weird thing. I’ll be like, gosh, I just need time for me. Then a random window or an unexpected window will open up. I’ll go, this is a nightmare. I don’t know what to do.

Zibby: There’s too much. I’m like, I should go through the kid emails. Holidays are coming up. I don’t know. I don’t know how everybody else does it. I try hard every day and see if I can do it. Then I give myself a rating at the end of the night where I’m like, did I do okay? I don’t know.

Max: That’s a mistake. I’m certainly not going to judge. It would be terrible. My ratings would be very low.

Zibby: I doubt that. I have to say that my kids thought it was hilarious that I had this book on my desk and, of course, read it and loved it. They were like, “Why did he write this book?” I was like, “I will ask him.” Why did you write this book?

Max: I don’t know what your experience has been, but my experience as a parent and as a reader myself, but as a parent first, was going into my kid’s room every night before bed and going, “Okay, let’s sit down and read a book.” My daughter, who’s very much like me, would have some sort of reason why she didn’t want to read each book that I suggested, at which point a half hour later, I’d be like, “Now it’s bedtime, and we’ve read nothing.” When the opportunity of writing this children’s book came around, I thought, if I was going to do it, it would be called I Don’t Want to Read This Book. It would be all the reasons why you don’t want to read a book in the hopes that your kids might read that book. It was sort of based on that thirty-minute conversation that we’d have. Then when I started writing the book, it opened up to my own experience as a young reader and the difficulties that I had and continue to have. Then it became a much more personal experience for me. I think the book works on a lot of different levels, some very light and fun and then some where I think it opens up a real conversation for some kids who find reading to be difficult.

Zibby: Yes. I like how you really lament the role of sentences and paragraphs. It just keeps getting worse. How much worse could it be?

Max: Based on the child’s performance reading the book, I think you can identify if this is a fun book for them. If they turn it into a drama, you can be like, hey, tell me about how you’re reading and where you’re finding difficulty.

Zibby: Were you not a big reader yourself?

Max: No, I was not at all. I’m still not. I’ll get scripts, and specifically movie scripts, where I’ll go, if I can make it through the first ten pages, somebody’s written a masterpiece.

Zibby: You think it’s lack of attention, or you think it’s the processing of it? Do you feel like you have dyslexia type of thing?

Max: Oh, I know I have dyslexia.

Zibby: Okay, sorry.

Max: No, please. I know it. It’s not like I’m reading words backwards. For me, it’s a little attention things, but it really is, I have to focus so intensely on what I’m reading to retain any of it that it becomes such a heavy lift. I can only read small sections at a time. I love audiobooks. I’ll listen to an audiobook, and I’ll get it all. I’ll listen to it for hours. It’s great. My daughter’s the same way. I’ll read to my daughter at night. Sometimes if she has a book for school, I’ll sit and I’ll help her. I’ll read a big chunk of it. I’ll think to myself as I’m reading it, I’m like, you know, this is difficult for me. I hope she is listening. It turns out, because she’s had to do tests for the books that we/I have read, she does so well on the tests. What she retains through listening is so much more than either of us will get out of actually reading because it’s hard work for me.

Zibby: There is a whole field of science around that. Don’t feel bad.

Max: I know, but in books that I won’t read.

Zibby: It’s true. They shouldn’t even publish books about dyslexia.

Max: That’s right. It’s like, here’s a 550-page book about dyslexia. I’m like, great.

Zibby: I have many people with dyslexia in my immediate orbit. Reading letters backwards is such a misconception. I don’t know where that came from.

Max: I know. It’s wild that that’s the definition for people who don’t really understand it.

Zibby: I had dinner last night with this fellow mom of one of my kids’ friends or whatever. She said one of her kids has, it’s the dyslexia for math, dysgraphia maybe. Anyway, now there’s a math thing that people are being diagnosed as. I feel like it’s great on the one hand because the people who just always thought they were bad at math, how interesting to know that there’s a reason why. If they do X, Y, Z, you can fix it. It’s not your intelligence.

Max: That’s exactly right. I think the advantage of having the diagnosis — it’s exactly what we talked about before. You can get the 550-page book about dyslexia. I’m not going to read it. The advantage of having the diagnosis of it is that hopefully knowing that, it doesn’t chip away at your self-esteem and your confidence. You go, oh, there’s a real reason why this is hard for me. Hopefully, you get to a place where you can say, and that’s okay.

Zibby: I do think that so many people, their self-worth comes from how they are perceived in school growing up. If everybody misses it, you grow up thinking that you’re just not bright or you can’t do this, that, or the other thing. It’s sort of a tragedy because most dyslexic people go on to be some of the most creative people, actors, producers. My husband’s a producer. He’s undiagnosed dyslexic, but I read him. If there’s a book and I’m like, “This is really good –” I don’t do this as much anymore because I’ve gotten too busy, so I’m really sorry to him for this. I used to read the books out loud to him at night. That’s what we would do. I’m like, “Oh, this is hilarious, let me read you this chapter.” I also think — I’m totally off topic here of your book. Now I’m just chatting with you.

Max: You’re right on topic.

Zibby: It’s really hard in this email, text world. My husband Kyle gets so tired reading all these texts all the time, and his brain and his eyes, by the end of the day. Meanwhile, I’m like, , because it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s very inconvenient.

Max: The adult version of this book is I Don’t Want to Read This Email.

Zibby: Are you going to do that?

Max: I should.

Zibby: You should. It should be this format, maybe a little smaller, but not a grown-up book. That’s so funny. I love that.

Max: It would just be in the subject, I Don’t Want to Read This Email. Blank.

Zibby: You could have a whole thing on texting, folders.

Max: Going back to what you were saying, though, because it sparked something in me, you were talking about…

Zibby: Creative people being dyslexic?

Max: Yes. I had it for a second and lost it. It’s early.

Zibby: I’m sorry. I didn’t have to do this this early. I’m so sorry.

Max: No. I remembered it. I had listened to a study that said one of the things that happens right around the age of seven, eight, and nine, right when you’re learning to read, is that a child begins to compare themselves. They learn how to compare. It sort of hits them. They’re like, hold on, why is that child tall? Does that mean I’m short? It happens at the exact moment that they’re starting to learn how to read, to be able to look around a classroom and go, they’ve read two of the Harry Potter books and I can’t get through a chapter? What’s wrong with me? Because there’s so little to go on at that point of what and how we tell ourselves what intelligent is, if you can’t read like the child who’s ripping through the Harry Potter books, you probably think you’re not that smart. Your parents might think, and still can be the most loving, wonderful parents, they can’t read, I don’t think they’re that bright. It becomes this whole thing. To me, so much of what this book is trying to do subliminally is take some of the emphasis off of how important we decide reading is at that age. If this was in any other format than a book, I’d say it might be problematic. Here’s a book that’s saying, I don’t want to do this. It’s hard. It’s written, I feel like, in an intelligent way where the reader is not some infantile child. This is an intelligent who’s saying, these are the reasons why I don’t want to read this book. I think I make a pretty compelling argument. It’s to just take some of the air out of the balloon. Look, man, we’re all going to figure out how to read, but we’re going to do it at our own pace. There’s going to be children who are going to it do very quickly and are going to be incredible at it. Then there’s some people who, in their mid-twenties, are going to go, you know, I think I’m getting the hang of this. I think I know how this works for me.

Zibby: I think you’re right about the social comparison. That’s also the age when anxiety sets in. I think it’s this double whammy. You’re comparing yourself. You’re like, wait, now I’m short and I can’t read, or whatever it is. Then you’re anxious about it.

Max: I think that’s probably why the anxiety creeps in.

Zibby: Apparently, that’s developmentally when it happens, but forget all that.

Max: I’m not a scientist. I won’t read the reports.

Zibby: That’s funny. Does it affect your writing? Did you sit down and write this whole thing, or is it more, for you, in reading? Tell me what it was like writing this book.

Max: There’s another book that’s called I Don’t Want to Write This Email that is a drama for me because I think that’s definitely how it affects me in terms of how dyslexia affects me in terms of organizationally putting words together and shaping sentences and paragraphs. It is a nightmare. The way the book came to be was, it was in the very beginning of the pandemic. I was homeschooling my daughter. We started posting some videos and stuff on Instagram that got a big response. People loved them. It was really nice. We were doing it basically because we were so overwhelmed and terrified. We sent these videos out. Then we were getting these responses from first responders and from teachers who were saying, these videos are keeping us going. Then Lilly and I were like, this is so much pressure. We were doing that. I had an agent who reached out to me at the time who was like, “What you’re doing is so wonderful. We love the relationship between you and your daughter. We think there’s something here. Is it a podcast?” I was like, “It’s definitely not a podcast. I can’t talk for that long.” Then they said, “It might be a book.” I go, “Well, I cannot write a real book.” It’s come up since after having written this book, “What if we extended it and you wrote –” I said, “On a good day, you might convince me that it’s a good idea, but when I actually try to sit to do it, this is going to take fifteen to twenty years. I’ll still be like, I don’t know.” Organizing words is tough for me. Then he brought up the idea of, “What about a picture book?” I said, “I think I actually can make sense of that.” It really is the perfect format for me. Forty pages, this format really makes sense. I can move words around. I can play with it in a way in that small space that feels very doable.

Zibby: That makes sense. I still think you should do the email book. Maybe that won’t take you that long. I feel like I’m tempted to do it and send it to you. I’m like, use this. That’s funny. Did you get paired up with the illustrator?

Max: Yeah, it was a really wild process. I pitched this idea to an agent. He said he was going to take it out. I thought, it’s a bummer that nothing’s ever going to happen with that. Then a couple days later, he was like, “Penguin would like to make the book.” I had written some screenplays and some other things that had very different responses. I’m still waiting to hear on those. All of a sudden, we were tasked with writing the book. Then writing the book was this incredibly rewarding experience. I didn’t write it with my daughter, but she was certainly a part of the writing process. Her friends were a part of it. Again, it was right in the middle of the pandemic. There was a small group of kids in our neighborhood who’d go on these bike rides and come back to our house and sit on the front lawn. I would read them drafts of the book. I’d go, “And?” They’d go, “It’s okay. What about this part?” It was great. We had so much fun doing it. Then you give that over. You find an illustrator that might be right for it. That illustrator then goes off and does whatever they want to it and visually brings it to life. I thought, you’re going to really just have to let this go and let it become what it’s supposed to become at this point. We were so lucky to get Mike. He exceeded every expectation of what I imagined this book would look like when it came to life.

Zibby: It’s so cool.

Max: It really is. The only thing I was really adamant about was, it needs to be readable. I want this to be a book that kids read.

Zibby: When we got to this part where it says, “Chapter Two: I Still Don’t Want to Read This Book,” all of a sudden, my daughter was like, “What? It’s a chapter book?” I was like, “No, it’s a joke. It’s okay. Keep reading it. You’re not reading a chapter book right now.” The illustrations are amazing. They’re amazing. It’s really awesome. I actually have a children’s book coming out in April from Penguin Random House.

Max: Oh, right on.

Zibby: It’s called Princess Charming, about a girl who can’t find her thing. Then she realizes her thing is that she never gives up. It’s sort of loosely based on my daughter.

Max: Wait, what’s the ?

Zibby: It’s called Princess Charming. There is actually another twist, but I won’t give it away. It’s about a girl who can’t find her thing. Then she realizes that her thing is that she never gives up.

Max: I love that. That’s cool.

Zibby: It’s based on, this movie star comes to the palace. It’s kind of funny. I didn’t know how to write a picture book either. My editor was like, “Okay, I’m going to draw you a little picture on how many pages.” Literally, on a scrap of paper, she was like, “Here are the boxes.” I found it really hard versus writing — it’s much faster for me to write long than to pick the right words. I think it’s a skill.

Max: This, to me, it felt a little bit like writing a song. Mind you, I’ve never written a song.

Zibby: But if you were going to, it would be like this.

Max: It felt like this as opposed to this. Making it all sort of one, the first page needs to relate to the last page, it was just great. I had so much fun doing it.

Zibby: A song, a poem, whatever. My kids, by the way, like you, they have written this — I have a second one coming out, so I let them write the whole thing. Now they have crazy characters like Rainbow Theophilus. I don’t even know. Now my editor’s like, “Let’s talk about that second book.” She’s like, “Did your kids have something to do with that?” I was like, “Maybe.” Might need some edits to that. In terms of your real job and stuff, what are you working on? What’s your acting situation now? Are you on something currently?

Max: I’m trying to transition into solely children’s books and just do those forever. I had so much fun doing it. No. I’m currently working on The Neighborhood on CBS, which is in its fourth season and going really well.

Zibby: Awesome. Amazing. Do you have any parting advice if anybody else out there was going to attempt to write a children’s book?

Max: It would be the same advice I give to anybody who’s doing anything creative. Look at your own experience and pull from that. It’s very easy to write and create when you’re doing so out of your own experience and what’s truthful to you. I’ve made the mistake of thinking something’s a good idea with having no experience based in that area at all and just banging my head against the wall and being like, I think this is a really good idea, but I don’t know how to do it. This book was such a wonderful thing to write because it was easy. It was based on my experience, again, not only as a parent, but as a reluctant reader myself. I think it’s probably the most honest and true content that I’ve ever produced.

Zibby: Amazing. Anything that can help that selection issue late at night when nobody can find the right book and everything seems wrong, and even the book that was like, two minutes before, they wanted to read and then they changed your mind. You’re never going to get them to bed. Having this in the tool kit is a welcome addition. Thank you for that.

Max: Totally.

Zibby: Thank you for all your time today. This was really fun. Sorry, I feel like this just became a conversation. I had a great time. Thanks for the book. We will be reading this even though we don’t want to.

Max: Awesome. Thank you.

Zibby: Take care. Good luck with school.

Max: You too. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.



Purchase your copy on Amazon or Bookshop!

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts