Oh Noes: Teens Reading?

From the department of “Again already?” there’s hyperventilation about whether or not kids are reading and growing more stupider by the minute because they don’t read.

Truly, take a breath people. Remember that annoying song in 1997 about how everyone has to wear sunscreen but not credit the correct source of all that wisdom? (It wasn’t Vonnegut, fyi). In the middle is this bit of perspective:

Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old. And when you do you’ll fantasise that when you were younger prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected elders.

Add to that: you’ll also insist that children should read great and sometimes cumbersome works written by those whom someone has deemed among the great minds and because children are not doing so, they are now growing more stupider by the minute.

No, I don’t think that’s true at all. I don’t think kids are stupid, judging by the ones I meet. I don’t always understand the things they worry about – but I bet the things I worry about are as baffling to them.

When I see histrionic articles like this one about what kids are reading and how they’re growing more stupider by the minute, I think to myself:

1. Take a breath.

2. How are you defining “reading?” Can we agree that the definition of “reading” is increasingly nebulous in its boundaries?

Are they reading text in ways you can identify? Are they interacting with stories in forms you have quantified in your estimation of Here Comes Teh Stupids Oh Noes? There are more ways to consume narrative on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.


According to a Daily Beast article on the subject of teens reading,

…children should read newspapers and magazines, texts about nature and technology, and biographies—genres that increase real-world knowledge. This is especially important for poor children, who may not be exposed to as much “background” information at home: the random vocabulary, facts, and associations that make it easier to do well on tests like the NAEP and SAT, and to succeed in the workplace.

But for the most part, kids aren’t reading this kind of material. “One of my big gripes is the imperialism of literature, of trivial fictions and poetry,” says E.D. Hirsch, a literature professor and advocate of “cultural literacy.” Hirsch rejects the idea that storybooks are the only books that appeal to children. “Fiction doesn’t have a monopoly on narrative,” he says. “Take, for example, biographies. They have the form of fiction. It isn’t whether kids can read it or not, it’s whether it is taught or not.

In other words, there is value in imagination, whether the intricate narrative is coming from text on a page or screen, or a interactive dynamic world projected on a screen. The narratives and issues dealt with in video games or in comics are not at all worth less than the narratives of classical literature, (just as romances are not of less value than other works of fiction). Alas, the bulk of the article is not so innovative, and rehashes a lot of the Oh Noes Here Comes Teh Stupids hand-wringing while recommending nonfiction in addition to fiction. Why not… let kids choose what they want to enjoy?

Peter M. Dickinson wrote about this back in 2002 in “A Defence of Rubbish” and said,

  Nobody who has not spent a whole sunny afternoon under his bed rereading a pile of comics left over from the previous holidays has any real idea of the meaning of intellectual freedom.

  Nobody who has not written comic strips can really understand the phrase, economy of words. It’s like trying to write Paradise Lost in haiku.

While I immediately bristle at the use of the word “rubbish,” as it’s so often applied to that which I hold most dear (and to my bosoms, of course) I agree with Mr. Dickinson like damn howdy.  Especially this part: “Third I am convinced of the importance of children discovering things for themselves.” And this other part, which addresses my rubbishy fears: “it may not be rubbish after all. The adult eye is not necessarily a perfect instrument for discerning certain sorts of values.”

Sing it, Brother P. I shall hold up a lighter. (Thank you to Christine D. for the links.) We’ve discussed the idea of youth reading and required reading before, and the discussion follows a similar route each time.

but I want to stop short of the shrill and earnest whining that at least kids are reeeeaaaaaaading when seen toting Harry Potter or Twilight or whatever mammoth hardback is capturing attention and making hands wring in agitation. I want to stop well short of that crap, to be sure, because it’s just as patronizing to say so, as if kids should be reading because doing so is good for them and they’ll all arrive at the same level of intellectual joy and wonderpants so long as they consume pages of text.

I disagree with that, and the idea that there’s only one way to learn, and the idea that identifying, quantifying and assigning to value to what a child is reading is more important than asking that child what he or she thinks. I drew a whole set of conclusions about Twilight, but some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had about the first book were with individuals between the ages of 10 and 15. (Note: I used to work in overnight camping so I’m often around children of camp age. Also, summer camp freaking rules).

It seems that as technology changes the way we consume and access information, articles about the state of reading among young people emerge that have all the calm and reasoned tone of a Weather Channel meterologist in the middle of a snowstorm in July. Calm down already.



Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Miranda says:

    Since the deep, intellectual reading I was doing as a teen included Stephen King’s Carrie and the works of VC Andrews, I don’t have a rightous leg to stand on in the ‘back in my day’ discussions. I still read fiction, mostly, unless I see something that particularly interests me like “The Darkened Room” which was about women and Spiritualism in Victorian times. Cool stuff.

  2. 2
    KarenP says:

    I read incessantly as a child (still do!).  I read everything : fairy tales, Lord of the Rings, Heinlen, Mary Stewart, Harlequin romances… You name it, I read it.

    That being said, what my children read is very different(both from each other and from me).  My girls read a lot of paranormal stuff (I can’t stand the stuff), my boy reads a lot of fantasy (I do too, just not the same kinds).

    Is this bad?  I don’t think so.  They are reading.  It might not be books that I like, (my son, at 14, is reading Robert Jordan’s epic 12 volumes) but a lot of the fantasy/sf. etc.that I read   he doesn’t like. So What!!!  All it means is that my DH and I have turned out three people that love to read.  Not a bad legacy to leave.

  3. 3
    nlowery71 says:

    When I worked at the public library, adults mostly checked out thrillers and romances—fun books. Why would anyone expect kids (who are expected to read for fun) to want books with greater “literary” value than the books most adults want. I have always found this strange.

  4. 4

    I’ve got a couple years to go before I’m likely to pop one out, so I don’t have any firsthand parenting or general babyhandling experience to speak from…but as Sarah suggests, calm down, everybody!

    I read a lot when I was a kid, from A Wrinkle in Time to Uncle Scrooge comics and Roald Dahl, to the Babysitters Club books to The Annotated Alice to every book about the Rosetta Stone I could find, to one very ambitious junior high summer when I read King’s It. I also read classics under duress for school, and hated most of them, excepting Golding, Orwell, and Shakespeare’s comedies. I think it’s preferable for a child to be engrossed by total schlock than to slog through Joseph Conrad so glazed over they aren’t absorbing anything (which I did for the second time in my life this very summer).

    Storytelling is magical, and we should be encouraged to enjoy what we simply enjoy, not what some vague intelligencia thinks we should. Even as an adult, I want to like Steinbeck, but I just don’t quite get it. So I read Palahniuk. I wish I could make it through a Tolstoy and set it down, nodding sagely. But I don’t, so I pick up Jacqueline Suzanne. On the flip side, I have no interest in Twilight but I’ve read every Naguib Mahfouz book I can find in English. What good is reading if it’s not pleasurable? What’s so great about staring at words if they aren’t lighting crap up in your brain? We’re all going to be just fine, people. Read what and how you like and believe it or not, you’ll still be reading.

  5. 5
    Janoda says:

    In my experience, people often don’t make sense when it comes to the youth and reading.

    The biggest fights (and I mean glass breaking, tears-flowing, door banging catasthrophies) I had with my father was about what I read. He hated my passion for Romance Novels, even though those were only half of what I read (Like KarenP posted above, I basically read everything I could get my hands on), but he insisted I should read Literature with the big L instead.

    What made me most furious is that my brothers never read, not even comics, and he never fought with them about it. It always felt as if he’d rather have that I didn’t read at all, instead of read what I liked to read.

    Short Case Study: When I was 18 I requested the complete works of Tolkien for Saint Nicolas (a dutch almost equivalent to Santa Claus), because I had read my paperback version of LOTR until it fell apart. A huge discussion followed, because would I still read these books in a couple of years? They weren’t literature after all, not timeless. I countered with the argument that they got me pants the year before, which didn’t fit me anymore. Presents shouldn’t be timeless, presents should give joy. And the same goes with books, games, or any other hobby somebody likes to do.

    The neverending Literature fights/discussions have put a strain on my relationship with my father, because I am an avid reader, and I identify with what I love. I still get angry at his refusal to respect that.

    I wouldn’t call it a trauma, but it is very much a touchy subject for me, and whenever I read articles that claim the youth doesn’t read, or doesn’t read the right stuff, I get very, very itchy.

    This whole history also made me itchy about the term Literature, and even more so about the term Literary Fiction. Because it’s judgemental, and implies everything that isn’t Literary Fiction is deemed less worthy. It physically makes me cringe.

    There’s nothing wrong with offering people a wide variety of reading choices, but judging what people like to read, or if they like to read is a very, very wrong thing to do. And it’s respectless.

    Sorry for the ramble, as I said, touchy subject :)

  6. 6
    macbethslady says:

    The article’s main weakness is that it ignores the obvious: Children have always been taught, and preferred, fiction over non-fiction. What fine generation of science journal and biography readers is this author – who looks pretty young – hearkening back to?

  7. 7
    Sarah L says:

    As someone who is currently in the education system as a school librarian, I find this panic over whether or not children are reading to be very hypocritical, especially on the part of the government. “Oh no! Our children aren’t reading! How can this be? Don’t we load them down with the finest test preparation materials and requirements known to man? Don’t we agonize over reading scores and withdraw funding from schools with poor reading scores? Why isn’t this helping?!?!?!”

    *insert my head thumping repeatedly on my circulation desk*

    I’m a firm believer that kids who say “I don’t like reading” just haven’t discovered the things they like to read yet. Even kids who tell me, slightly defiantly, that they don’t really like to read, came to my book fair a few weeks ago and bought schlocky paperbacks (“Killer Pizza” was one of my bestsellers)

    Let the kids read what they want! Can we stop ignoring the studies that say the best way to create intrinsic motivation to read is by letting them choose what to read? Can we stop telling them “Read whatever you want: as long as it’s over 100 pages, and a novel, and not a graphic novel, etc., etc., ad infinitum”? Can we actually just take a chill pill and acknowledge that maybe, if we stop panicking and LET THEM READ, they might actually read?

    *pant, pant* okay, stepping down off soapbox now.

  8. 8
    dick says:

    Those that do read…and can read…may read whatever they choose.  I couldn’t care less about what they read.  However, over the last five years I taught freshmen in college, I was appalled to discover that quite a few of them could not read with any kind of understanding and thus avoided reading if at all possible.  They could learn things, but only through other means than the written word, often because they had no internalized information—a store of common knowledge, those very things that Hirsch pontificates about—to garner the meaning a writer was trying to convey.  At the same time, their reactions suggested that they had an almost mystical belief that anything written was therefore correct and to be believed.  In my opinion, some concern is necessary.

  9. 9
    JamiSings says:

    Frankly, if the classics we are expected to read were actually good then there’d be no problem getting kids and teens to read them.

    I always hated the required reading in school. The “classic” books were so boring. Not good ones like Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and The Phantom Of The Opera, but boring, poorly written tripe that made no sense like The Great Gatsby, Catcher In The Rye, etc. (I did, however, enjoy and get a lot out of Animal Farm and Brave New World.)

    My mom loves the movie Gone With The Wind, so she made me read the book. Boring, stupid. All I wanted to do was slap Scarlett and tell her she was a stupid racist whore.

    I long ago came to the conclusion that most classics were never read by the people calling them classics. One high up person decided they were good so everyone praised them without ever reading them. And somehow a trend became a permanent thing. Thrust upon an increasingly uncaring generation, taught by teachers who don’t know how to teach the material.

    If the books were interesting, kids would read them. But let’s face it, they aren’t!

  10. 10
    Lori says:

    If kids weren’t reading then Twilight and Harry Potter would never have entered the cultural lexicon as they have.

    If kids aren’t reading classics, well… they will if they’re interested. I didn’t start to read many of them until my 20s when I was interested. And I never would have been interested if I hadn’t started reading Nancy Drews when I was younger.

    As long as they read, it’s good.

  11. 11

    I’m a certified special education teacher. I’ve seen kids who couldn’t even spell their own names correctly because they didn’t have the phonics and letter-recognition skills for it. (And I’m talking about an 8-year-old here.)

    In 2000, I wrote a phonics program with stories that were actually interesting and apropos to what my students told me happened in their own lives. Lo and behold, when presented with stories that they liked, my students learned to read. After a year and a half, the aforementioned 8-year-old was reading at grade level.

    Point not being to toot my own horn, but to say that kids want to read what interests them, not necessarily what adults say is “good” for them. There are books that to this day I haven’t read, classics like “The Wind in the Willows”, because a well-meaning adult told me I *should* read it. I learned to read at age 3 because I wanted to, and from that time on, I pretty much chose my own reading material. As someone else said, everything from comic books to classics.

    As a teacher, I’ve worked with kids in all grades from kindergarten through high school. Kids who despised reading, or found it so difficult they just didn’t bother. I helped them find material that interested *them*, not the curriculum committee, and they read.

    I write YA novels under a different name, and have shared manuscript versions of some of them with students in the past (with administrative permission). Because I write with an eye toward appealing to the kids who don’t like to read, those kids have enjoyed my stuff. Of course, that may have just been because they knew me.

    Kids will read what interests them. If it’s age-appropriate and decently-written, in my opinion, it’s all good. (Decently written only because I don’t like the thought of kids reading things rife with typos and grammatical errors.) That’s one of the many reasons I no longer work in public schools, because it did become all about the tests and how to analyze books and so on, instead of just plain instilling an enjoyment of reading.

    Captcha is “students57”, which strikes me as particularly appropriate…

  12. 12
    Sarah L says:


    AMEN! When they’re actually allowed to read things they like and are interested in, the studies show the same thing as your experience: they will read! and get better at reading!

    Shocking, no?

  13. 13
    Cynara says:

    I’ve just finished a year of teacher education, so all this is at the top of my mind. 

    It drives me bananas whenever I hear “well, graphic novels are great for engaging reluctant readers.”  “Well, at least they’re reading.”  “If they just start reading anything, it can lead them to other [read better] books.” 

    Well, dammit, I can tell you (and I know I’m preaching to the choir) that there’s no dividing line between the real nutritional matter which “smart people” read and the mindless sugared fluff that the rest of the zombified population wolfs down, to the detriment of their mental waistlines.  I wonder how many of these people know that Shakespeare’s plays were “fluff”, watched as a light alternative to the scholarly drama of the universities?  Under this heading also see: all early or “women’s” novels.

    Graphic novels aren’t necessarily dumber than works in any other medium, and I bet people will be surprised at how few of our cherished literary favourites (Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel, Khaled Hosseini, et cet.) will still be read in a hundred years.  We are notoriously terrible at knowing what will stand the test of time.  Look at the early 20th century Pulitzer Prize winners for novels, and tell me how many you’ve read.

    Basically, I want my students to leave my class liking reading more than when they came in, and to feel a sense of competency when reading.  I want them to have strong analytical skills, but you don’t need to read Emile Zola to get those. 

    I hope they go on to the literary canon, because I think there’s some great reading there and some important cultural capital, but I don’t presume to tell them what they ‘should’ be reading.  My only exception is that university or college-bound students need to get the ‘big novel’ experience so they’re ready for it when it hits.

  14. 14
    Andrea says:

    Hmm, it seems this discussion is everywhere (education and reading) – I am from Germany. My mother had the policy that we couldn’t watch a lot of TV and it was carefully monitored what we could watch but I could read whatever I wanted.  Her reasoning was – and I am going to follow the same when I have children – that since reading is “work” (in contrast to watching TV which is very passive), the child will put a book down that s/he can’t understand/is too young for, etc .  And even if they do read “trash” a lot, it doesn’t mean that they won’t enjoy literature later on. And let’s not forget the fun factor: if reading is fun, they will continue to do so.  If you force them to read books they can’t understand/dislike/don’t interest them, etc,  they will stop reading. 
    I believe that classics should be read in school – but at an appropiate age because otherwise there will be no joy in reading them.  Because then even students who are not avid readers will remember at least one book they had to read in school that they actually liked. There is also the age, or maybe better, the maturity factor.  I only started to appreciate books that I had to read but didn’t necessarily like when I was close to finishing school. 
    It also doesn’t have to be the same old, same old all the time. (It sometimes seems to me that there is a very finite number of classics that are read in school.)  There are so many good books out there, why not pick something a bit more unconventional?

  15. 15
    Laurel says:

    Real readers all have one thing in common: a love of reading. Most adult readers remember “THE BOOK” they discovered in their childhood, the story that sucked them in and made them sad when the book was over. That book was the springboard, the book that made them keep seeking another book just as good, just as satisfying. They slogged through lesser books, some they liked, some they didn’t, and once in a while found another jewel that kept them searching.  Some of them grew into lovers of classics, others not so much. But by the time they were exposed to the classics, they were capable of reading and understanding them.

    Whatever THE BOOK was, it fostered a love of reading. Once you’ve given that to a child, you have a reader. Who cares which book it was? Biography of Amelia Earhart or Amelia Bedelia, if the child wants to read it, let him.

    No one would dream of telling a fourth grader that they shouldn’t be running because they can’t break a six minute mile. At that age, the objective is to cultivate a sense of pleasure in physical exercise in the hope that the habit will stick.

  16. 16
    darlynne says:

    My parents let me read anything that interested me. A love of things magical taught me how to use the public library card catalog (man, I still love those little drawers) to search by subject for magic, fairies, time travel, flying carpets, and so on.

    I checked out every biography our grade school library had and learned about people such as Lotta Crabtree, Jenny Lind, Harriet Tubman. I had all the Nancy Drew mysteries, all the Walter Farley books on my shelves, along with The Twenty One Balloons, The Secret Garden and DC and Marvel comics.

    All it took to make me a voracious reader was exposure to books: seeing my father read, being read to before I could do so myself. An amazing world—and so many of them—opened to me through reading. That is what I wish we could give to all children. If their love of books can survive “required reading” in high school, there is hope for a lifetime.

  17. 17
    Lady T says:

    …children should read newspapers and magazines, texts about nature and technology, and biographies—genres that increase real-world knowledge. This is especially important for poor children, who may not be exposed to as much “background” information at home: the random vocabulary, facts, and associations that make it easier to do well on tests like the NAEP and SAT, and to succeed in the workplace.

    That part about the “poor” children really annoys me,with it’s condescending tone. Newsflash,writer girl-kids in the so-called “better off” areas can be just as ill informed as their counterparts on the other side of the tracks

    . Back when I worked in an indie bookstore,we had a couple of well touted private schools in the area and many of the students were local residents. The only time most of those kids had any interest in the classics or nonfiction was for class assignments;their preferred reading was series titles like Gossip Girls or bios about celebs(pro wrestlers like Mankind and once I got a request for a book about an actress who starred in Doritos commercials). I recall one time when a bunch of them hung out in the children’s sections and were reading board books to each other(I kid you out,especially since I had to shoo a pair of them off of one of our staff stools-a girl was sitting on a boy’s lap there).

    Assuming that children from a lower economic background either wouldn’t have access or be inclined to seek out “real world knowledge” is incredibly elitist and treating someone’s choice of reading as if it’s a poorly planned out grocery list is ridiculous. And,with respect to Mr. Hirsch,all biographies are not written as “forms of fiction”-some of them have prose that’s drier than Melba toast served during a sandstorm.

  18. 18
    JamiSings says:

    @Laurel – For me it wasn’t a book, it was a person.

    Namely, LeVar Burton.

    In first grade I was put in remedial reading. The teacher thought I was slower then the other kids. So my parents strictly monitored my tv time and read to me every night, but I wasn’t really interested until I developed a crush on LeVar Burton, host of Reading Rainbow.

    See, because of the tv show Romper Room I thought the people on tv could see me. So I thought if I read a lot, LeVar Burton would fall in love with me.

    The crush faded, but the love for books never did.

    Doesn’t change the fact I think many so-called classics are just dry, pretenious crap. Give me Sherlock Holmes over The Old Man And The Sea any day.

  19. 19
    Tikaanidog says:

    All I wanted to do was slap Scarlett and tell her she was a stupid racist whore.

    THIS! YES! So much of ‘literature’ I find to be just pretentious, boring crap (not all of it, of course – I found Animal Farm very educational, for example). I personally could never understand the appeal of Romeo & Juliette – I put both of them in the ‘too stupid to live’ category. She realy did need a Sassy Gay Friend – THAT I would have enjoyed reading!

    I just let my boys (now both legal adults at 18 & 19) read whatever struck their fancy. Both are avid readers of (mostly) fantasy/scifi, and whatever else they’re in the mood for.

  20. 20
    briony says:

    I believe that most teachers (and I am a teacher with teacher friends so I am using my own personal experiences to draw this conclusion) would tell you that they are not specifically teaching “fiction” vs. “non-fiction”, or “literature” vs. “fluff”, but rather that they are drawing from a wide range of genres to teach children strategies for comprehension. No one – children and adults – wants to read something they don’t find interesting or understand.

    Do I give a rat’s-rear if my Kindergarteners want to read Eric Carle instead of National Geographic? Nope. My kids know that they can choose either one and that I will still laugh with them about that silly hungry caterpillar or find that picture spread of the Hebrides to be the most amazing thing ever. Either way, my kids are engaged in the story and develop that magical “background knowledge” as they develop their comprehension skills.

    Articles like these are such crap. But I’m sure they help sell advertisements for tutoring programs.

  21. 21
    Suze says:

    What got my nephew interested in reading was video games.  When he was in kindergarten, he was getting to be more proficient at his video games, but needed help reading the instructions, and the little navigational tidbits that would pop up.  In grade 1, when they started teaching reading, it twigged with him that if he mastered this reading stuff, he wouldn’t need to nag his auntie to help him play his games.  This led eventually to Despereaux in Grade 4, his favourite book in the whole wide world.

    As I recall, I started reading at around age 4 from a combination of my older sister using my younger brother and me as her students, playing school, and me losing all patience waiting for my mom to come read to me.  Damn, she was slow.  I learned to tie my shoes and make my bed by myself because I couldn’t wait for her.

  22. 22
    ghn says:

    My middle niece (just turned 13) has never been much of a reader. I have over the years gently tried to tried to interest her in books, mostly by lending or giving her books that might encourage her to perhaps decide books are not boooooring.
    So I was rather pleased to find her totally captured by the _Twilight_ books! My opinion of the series is that it’s crap, and goes downhill from there. But I am happy that she is reading, so I have only teased her a _very_ small bit about it – like suggesting that she would undoubtedly want
    t-shirt for Christmas   ;-)
    And I recently lent a book to my youngest niece that she liked. Hopefully she will like others in my collection, and develop a fondness for reading.

    Personally, I don’t read books in Norwegian (my native language) these days. The reason for this is over-exposure to really dull examples of Norwegian Literaure in school, and then being required to analyze the things to death (as if the stories weren’t dead enough already…)
    Fortunately this didn’t kill my fondness for books – I was a bookaholic already – but it definitely shifted my interest away from Proper Norwegian Literature to what I read today (not that my interest wasn’t edging in that direction anyway – and there was hardly any SF or Fantasy published in Norwegian those days, and scarcely more today, and that is what I read most – it is not booooooring!).

  23. 23
    AgTigress says:

    I echo Dick’s point:  the thing that matters is that children can read, and can do so fluently, comfortably, with true understanding, and without having to struggle.  Judgements about what they read, or even how much time they spend reading compared with other activities, are relatively frivolous, because as long as reading, which is, after all, a highly complex skill, holds no terrors for them, all is well.

  24. 24
    JBHunt says:

    Here’s my dream syllabus:

    First 1/4 of the semester—We research what other people have claimed should be in the literary canon. Create an annotated list. Ta da, we’re what E.D. Hirsch calls “culturally literate.”

    Next 1/4 of the semester—We read a few examples of what the teacher thinks are great books. Decide if we agree and explain why/why not. Learn to mine a text for personal/social/cultural truths.

    Second 1/2 of the semester—Students explore what they enjoy, what they think are great books and authors. They choose authors they like and read several of their books. Write a detailed analysis of the chosen author/texts. Their choices could run the gamut—from classics to graphic novels—but they would still ask challenging questions about the text and their reaction to it.

    Final event—They share their personal annotated lists with each other.

  25. 25
    Phyllis says:

    Ditto on the slapping Scarlett bit. I also want to bitch-slap Jane Austen’s Emma – I had enough trouble with snotty know-it-all adolescent girls back when I was an adolescent. It’s probably the Austen book that I like the least (Lady Susan is short).

    When I was, oh about 8 or so, my teacher gave our class a thing to read about how young people these days don’t do XYZ and how they’re all baaaad, and then she told us it was by some ancient Greek, I think. I wish I could remember who. The point being that everyone has always been bleating on about kids these days.

    I read a lot of cr** as a kid, but I also read from my mom’s old Complete Works of Shakespeare. I read just about anything I could. I checked out 8 books from the library every week (still do, though the whole college and grad school period killed my love of reading for quite a while).

    So go ahead and read Twilight and Harry Potter and the whatsis twins where one’s a hoooor and the other’s a goody-goody. When you’re done, maybe pick up something sci-fi and then maybe Jane Eyre (one of my adolescent favorites) or Shakespeare or Moliere in translation or whatever.

    I read a lot of romance, but I also read other stuff. Still can’t stand Scarlett, but then I also find Cormac McCarthy pointless.

  26. 26
    Lyssa says:

    True story: My godson whose video game addiction had always been the annoying splinter under the skin of his mother (a reading fool) got into TROUBLE with the parental units. As a Consequence, his video games were taken away, his movie/television time was cut to 2 hrs a week.

    To keep him from murdering his entire family from “BOREDOM” his mom tossed books at him. He read the entire Harry Potter series, and Narnia. Then his mom picked some series that may have been more his level. Dune (all of the series) was read over one week, The Ender series by Card was next. I personally suggested the Vorkosigian series by Bujold. Currently he is reading Temeraire series by Novik. He enjoys the stories, and discussing the character development. Something that his mom did not expect was this embracing of reading.

    NOTE: reading was not a punishment. Reading was one of the allowed things, like doing housework, yard work, homework, crossword puzzles, and learning how to cook. What was taken away? Unlimited TV, Unlimited phone time, Unlimited Video Game time and Running off to friends houses at all times of the day. Yup, he had to live the way we did when we grew up…and he did not die, or go crazy. And he is learning that Consquences can teach you how to survive without the latest ‘nifty’ game.

  27. 27
    Perryw says:

    Ah, the benefits of age. The lack of memory, the nostaglgia. Hee Hee
    Let’s remember that a lot of the young people today will be saying the same about their younsters when their time comes.
    I’m on the band wagon of the – hey they are reading.

    Kids today (ugh I’m old) don’t read Nancy Drew the same way a kid did in my parent’s generation. Some of these classics have a very whitebread world and not a lot of the grittiness of the world.

    As long as reading is interesting, paper, electronic or audio – or whatever form comes next. People will read, kids are people.

    Thanks for the post

  28. 28
    Tamara Hogan says:

    I’m very depressed because my niece not only doesn’t read for pleasure, but her school screens movie versions of the classics instead of expecting the students to read the book.  This, ironicaly enough, is in her LITERATURE CLASS. 

    It’s not like I expect her and her classmates to plow through Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” in the original middle English – but “The Hot Zone?”  COME ON.  Allow me to quote the bumper sticker I have affixed to my computer monitor:  “Read a fucking book.”

  29. 29
    Glynis says:

    My father took me to the library every week when I was a kid. In our system, the kids’ cards and the adults’ cards were different. Kids could only check out books from the children’s section. Somehow, Dad found out that I could, with his permission, check out anything I wanted from anywhere in the library. So I got the coveted blue star on my children’s library card. Free rein in the library! w00t. And that’s just it, I could wallow around anywhere and look for things that interested me. Which I did.

    As an adult, I read Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series (ah, pron). A friend at work asked to borrow the first novel. When she handed it back to me she said that it was the first full novel that she’d ever read. She was ashamed that it was pron, but I told to get that foolishness out of her head, and handed her the next two novels. By the time I left that job, she was a voracious reader of just about anything.

    We have to stop assigning value to what we read like it’s some huge shopping list. Intellectual curiosity isn’t a form to be filled out, it’s the active search for what is interesting.

  30. 30
    Christy says:

    Many of the comments here seem to be geared towards what children should be allowed to read for recreation, and what will inspire a love of reading; and in that respect I agree that children should be allowed to read what they enjoy.

    But as Dick and AgTigress point out, and what the linked article is addressing, is the inability of many children (and adults) to read for anything other than pleasure. While it is wonderful for children to love reading, it is not essential from an educational standpoint. What is essential—or should be—is that they are able to do it well. Being able to recognize a string of words is necessary of course, but it is only the starting point of true literacy. Children need to be taught to read for content, for ideas. I don’t think perpetuating the idea that one should only read what one loves does children any favors. Reading isn’t merely for entertainment! It is a vehicle for education and edification. Not everything important or good or interesting is entertaining in the consumption sense that children are accustomed to.

    This isn’t simply a Classic Cannon vs. Fun Lit issue, it’s about our children learning to read for information and comprehension, regardless of the content, writing style or narrative format.

    Lady T, I agree that wealthy children can be as ignorant as anyone, but I don’t think the author’s point was meant to be elitist. It has been well-established that poorer children are at an educational disadvantage for myriad reasons.

    And finally, boring is in the mind of the beholder! To read The Great Gatsby referred to as “boring, poorly written tripe” made me cringe. I understand and respect that people may not enjoy it, but it is certainly well-written. I didn’t like it myself in high school (I dismissed it as “stupid people making a bunch of stupid decisions”), but have fallen completely in love with it as an adult.

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