I follow many avid readers on social media and so I tend to see at least one daily post about the importance of books in people’s lives.
These bibliophiles lust over photos of beautiful libraries or piles of tomes waiting to be read and their perfect day involves settling down with a book for part, if not all, of the time. But it’s odd that keen readers, with their big imaginations, can rarely empathise with one particular group of people – those who just don’t like reading.
To the book addict, anyone who doesn’t share their passion can feel almost alien. We simply can’t begin to imagine why anyone would close themselves off to all that pleasure and enlightenment. But year on year, reading levels among young people in particular have fallen.
Although a 2013 study of almost 30,000 schoolchildren showed that levels of reading enjoyment improved a little for the first time since 2005, around a fifth of young people (20.2%) still say that they rarely or never read outside class. When they do, the survey counts such things as texts, websites and instant messaging. ¹ I can almost hear the howls of protest about whether this comes under the category of ‘reading’ or not.
As someone who writes for children, this interests me, of course. But I have just started a new project involving interactive e-books, sent to schools in weekly chapters, so the issue of what turns young readers on and off is of even more pertinent than usual.
All I’ve written so far is Chapters One to Three of a spooky story for ten-year-olds, called My Cousin Faustina. On a Friday afternoon, pupils in schools around the UK read a chapter and – gulp! – they will get to choose what happens next. I then have to write the next chapter, based on their votes, by the following week. It’s taking a strong writerly stomach.
I’ve been asking around to find people who didn’t like reading when they were younger or else whose children/grandchildren are unenthusiastic now about picking up a book. I want to know what it is that turns them off.
Long screeds of text and irrelevant subject matter are two issues, it seems. So too is the wealth of alternatives to reading that young people have today. The school-age introvert can bury themselves in so many other kinds of activities than they could when I was just such a student. For me, books were almost the only option for my overactive imagination and it’s a good thing that children today have so much more.
On the other hand – wouldn’t it be great to find ways of getting more children excited by books and stories? So if it means they get to choose what happens or if they want to press some buttons, then that’s fine with me. Of course none of these things will work if the story’s not good enough. So wish me luck!
What turns (or turned) you off when it comes to reading?