I know some great teenage girls who are smart, funny, bright, and generally pretty amazing. I contacted these teens, one who just completed her HSC last year, and the other who is in year eleven, and asked them to talk to their friends about books.
I brought them the below questions:
Why don’t teens read very much, and what is preventing them from reading?
Miss 16: There’s not enough time anymore to fit it in with homework, extracurricular activities etc. Books are expensive, they’re big and they’re bulky. It’s difficult to find anything that is interesting, and everything feels the same and cliche.
I’m very rapidly getting sick of the good girl falls in love with the bad boy story, and all the modern dystopian love stories. I will always and forever love period dramas and fractured fairytales.
Miss 18: Senior school English. Enough said. Prescribed text. The groans of agony as every single beautiful detail is examined and analysed like a specimen in a jar. Year 11 and year 12 English taught me to dread reading- not because of reading itself, but the critical analysis and evaluation that I knew would come. I fell out of love with reading. My favourite books grew dusty, as I went through copious others that I’d never dare to pick up again. Reading lost its spark, it’s beautiful release. It became a chore.
Then I finished the HSC. It didn’t happen immediately, but when I saw a book from my favourite series on the shelves at the book shop, I knew I had to get it for my fellow Ruby Redfort lover and feaster, [my younger sister], for Christmas. It then dawned on me, that during the lapse in my love of reading, I’d missed the 4th book. What. How. Did. That. Happen? I picked it up, and read the 500+ page volume over two days. The flame was reignited. I tore through the entire series in 2 weeks (I didn’t read for 5 days while at [a church] convention, so 9 days for 5 books). I re-established my relationships with my favourite characters. I fell in love with the way that details fitting in, no loose threads hanging at the end of the book. And I couldn’t believe I’d let myself fall out of love with one of the most amazing joys in life!
But yes, agreed with [Miss 16] We don’t need anymore chick flicks recycled. Nope. I love fantasy without too many dystopian aspects-it’s just not original anymore. I hate that one gender has to triumph over the other, like weak girl vs. strong boy, or smart girl vs. dumb guy. Give me some equality, but don’t make characters identical.
Seriously…is it that hard to take a cliché and turn it on its head? Bet the girl that she can’t get the cool guy to go out with her. Make the pretty sweet best friend’s favourite subjects art and chemistry, because she loves to watch things burn and explode. Why can’t the “cool” guy teach ballet to little kids? Can we have normal characters who are just average at everything? Can we break away from the woe is me cancer story, where the main character dies and breaks our hearts? I wanna see people get to their feet and fight through their problems. I want to see characters that break the mold and are vulnerable, but aren’t afraid to fight for what they want, what is right, and what they believe in. I want it to be complicated, for self doubt to creep in, for grey areas that leave us questioning. I need a book that keeps on the edge of my seat, that makes me think, that I can’t predict the ending to (did not pick the end of Diverging Cadence at all. It was perfect). And I looooove fractured fairytales and historic fiction and time slip stories.
What can you suggest to overcome these obstacles?
Miss 16: For bulky books we suggested ebooks. Reading classics as opposed to newer things can help break cliches. And to find time, reading during car/train/bus trips to various places can be worked into busy schedules.
Miss 18: I think kids need to be taught to read and to love reading when they’re young, and be free to read what they want as long as it’s appropriate. English teachers should give kids a de-stress lesson every once in a while to just read for enjoyment. One of the things that I loved hearing at uni the other day is the idea that you always, always, ALWAYS read a book for the first time just for enjoyment. You don’t force them to learn, or think, you just read it for fun. Fortunately, reading is also becoming a bit more of a “cool thing”, so younger people are being encouraged to read more, which is fantastic. And to those kids that can’t find the book they want to read, write it yourself! Readers are writers, and writers are readers, they go hand in hand.
We discussed the issue of expense and how that can be overcome. Many teens don’t have ereaders, except on their phones, and even then that’s limited according to data usage. Many teens, due to school and social expectations, don’t have time for jobs, and when they do, their priority is paying for other things. An ebook that is $2 or $3 is more appealing that one that’s $8 or $9, because that extra $5 can be used on that gear they need for that extracurricular activity, but they’d be happy to spend a couple of dollars for something enjoyable to read on that bus trip, because as Miss 18 said, reading is becoming “cool”. It just needs to be affordable too.
What I gleaned from these teens is that they face the same issues I did as a teenager. I wanted to read, but I could never find anything that felt unique or interesting enough for me to spend my limited time or money reading, especially went I was forced to read and analyse the crap out of something I hated. Honestly, the only books I purchased as a teenager were the Harry Potter books. Even my scouring of the school or local library rarely came up with much. I also had to factor in the size of the book, because I had to carry the thing home along with textbooks and what-not. A hardback book was always set aside for a paperback, and nowadays, an ebook is even lighter.
I think, with our tech-savvy rising generation, access and affordability for ereaders will make a huge difference in how many teens spend their time reading.
So, although there are more and more books aimed at teens, the ratio of teen readers doesn’t match up. The market and industry may have changed, but the lifestyles of teens, and their accessibility to books, hasn’t. Even if it is becoming cool, other factors prevent reading, like time and cost. They’ve also lost interest in what’s “trending” in the market. They want stories that are fun, fresh and exciting, not necessarily issue driven because issues are their daily lives, and with characters who are like them; just normal, everyday kids. If we want to encourage readers among teenagers, the gap needs to be closed.