At a recent book signing at the Enfield Mall, I was struck by number one, how dead the mall was compared to when I used to hang out there on the weekends with my friends, and two, how many teenagers reported that they HATE to read. Blasphemy! Horrors! And what’s up with that?
“Really?” I asked in shock.
In keeping with current vernacular, the young ladies replied, “Seriously. With all the crap we have to read in school, we like, have NO interest in reading.”
“Wow! So if I said this book is a young adult romance between a seventeen year old girl and a nineteen year old Marine who was wounded in Iraq, you wouldn’t be interested?”
Eyes widened, snarky smiles lit up their faces, and eyes rolled—all signs of interest for teenage girls—whether they will admit it or not. Since I had captured their attention and felt like I was on the cusp of breaking through a barrier of some kind, I pressed on. I thought, if I could influence these young girls to become readers, how cool would that be? My mission was clear. I needed to change their minds about reading. I gave them each a copy of the book and laid out the challenge.
“Read to the end of chapter one, and I dare you to put down the book.”
They all giggled and took the books, satisfied grins on their faces that they had been gifted a kind of treasure—for free! The only thing I asked in return was for them to go on Amazon and leave a review after they read it. They all smiled and said they would. We’ll see. Most importantly, the possibility exists that they will read the book and it will change their minds about reading.
I couldn’t blame them entirely for their disdain of books. After all, I too had to endure reading such classics as The Red Badge of Courage, Farenheight 451, and Catcher In The Rye. And who could forget Chaucer, Fitzgerald, Hemmingway and the works of Shakespeare? Umm…most of us, probably. I’m not against reading good literature, but kids in today’s world of immediate gratification and technological warp speed want to read about people they can identify with. They want stories that draw them into a world where kids are powerful—where they can take on the monsters and win—thus the fascination with the paranormal. Harry Potter, Twilight and the thousand other vampire, werewolf and witch stories available on today’s shelves have kids drowning in magical possibilities. Again, I can’t say I blame them. I too, read to escape the harsh realities of a world spinning out of control. So can we find a compromise?
This is a new generation of readers and we need to offer them books with stories that will engage them while also offering real, identifiable characters. If there are underlying life lessons, moments of poignant emotional revelation and reasons to root for our heroes and heroines, all the better.
Help me out here. How can we make teenagers LOVE reading again? Any ideas?