As undergraduate literary critics, as lovers of all things English, as monstrous gluttons of poetry and fiction who have probably always enjoyed a literary snack before bed, it may come as a surprise (or not) that there is a large population of youth who do not enjoy reading, at all.
In a world of immediate access, of Instagram and Facebook, of movies that do all of the imagining for you, where bite-size tidbits of social media gratification keep young adults hooked in to the digital networks, how can we, as ambassadors of literature, get the world’s young population reading again?
In my experience in Junior and Senior High schools all over southern Alberta, the biggest population of non-readers seems to be the young adult male. Often, when asked, the non-reading boys say books are too girly (it doesn’t help their case that a majority of ELA teachers are female, and so may be biased towards more “feminine” books), or too boring. I fear that a large portion of the books offered in school are in fact boring, due to the school’s censorship of material. Schools banning books due to content is a slippery slope in my opinion, and can easily begin to look like a school board pushing its own agenda, rather than protecting the innocence of the students.
This needs to change. Not only is it true that (largely thanks to the internet and social media) students are beginning to see more mature and serious topics at a younger age, it is often vulgar and dangerous topics that interest hesitant readers. This may be because the readers can more easily empathize with the characters in these books, or it may simply be of interest. It’s been shown that schools which provide Free Voluntary Reading, where students have a mandated period of time to read whatever they want “is effective in increasing and improving reading… results in superior general knowledge… improves spelling, writing, grammar… helps ELL learners dramatically… improves scores on reading tests and other subject matter tests… results in better reading comprehension, writing style, and increased vocabulary.. [and] develops better thinkers.” (source) It is important for students to be able to read what they want to read (with parental consent) during this time, and to have a good reading role model.
Some young males may still be hesitant to read during this free read time, but it is likely because they do not know how to find books that they will actually enjoy. Having a good knowledge of YA literature is key to helping those non-readers. Knowing a good librarian is a huge benefit, but just knowing where to start is also helpful. Here are a few books I’ve read, which were suggested by hesitant readers.
Post by Daniel Lafferty