Look on just about any surface you care to glance at in our house, you’ll see a book.
There’ll be comic books. Books from the school library. Books form the shelves in the kids’ rooms, or the shelves in the basement.
Books get abandoned like dirty socks in our house; sometimes with a bookmark in them, sometimes draped open, more often than not just sitting there, abandoned, waiting to be picked up again.
We have tablets, too. And phones. And computers. All sorts of electronic joy. They get them confiscated once in a while for spending too much time on them.
And once in a while, we gather all the random books left around the house and make them put them back on the shelves where they belong.
They are, for the most part, not the kinds of books DavidDenby thinks teenagers (we have two of them, plus an 11-year-old – should be reading.
Denby writes in The New Yorker that “serious reading” among teens is suffering because they spend too much time with their smart phones, their friends, and with sports and video games.
It’s a bit difficult to latch onto what Denby considers “serious reading” to be, but there are a few snatches:
[F]ew kids are ashamed that they’re not doing it much. The notion that you should always have a book going—that notion, which all real readers share, doesn’t flourish in many kids. Often, they look at you blankly when you ask them what they are reading on their own.
No more than a minority read, on their own, J. D. Salinger or Joseph Heller or Charlotte Brontë fifty years ago; or Kurt Vonnegut or Ray Bradbury or Allen Ginsberg forty years ago; or science and history.
He also trots out the names Mary Shelley, Poe, Hawthorne, Twain, Stevenson, and Orwell.
I’m not disagreeing that these are fine authors (I question only Salinger and Ginsberg) – but force-feeding of such authors and their novels is part and parcel of why many look at reading like a chore to be done, rather than something to be done for pleasure.
Any time I suggest to my kids that they should read books I’ve enjoyed – say, John Christopher’s Tripod trilogy, the McGurk mysteries of E.W. Hildick, or C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, I get frowned at. Yet they’re reading voraciously, bringing home library books, losing library books and paying library fines. Having Dad recommend a book isn’t an automatic tell that they’re going to read it. More often than not, they run in the opposite direction.
Denby also needs to look further into this Pew study, where it’s revealed Millennials – that first internet-raised generation – is actually reading MORE than those of the older set, are more open to information that’s not from the internet and other such interesting facts that Slate tells you all about.
Should teenagers be challenged to read outside their comfort zone? Yes. That’s why we have the kinds of “serious” books that Denby writes about in the house where the kids can find them. And they do find them. I caught the sixteen-year-old reading “The Count of Monte Cristo,” outside of any school assignment. He also read “To Kill A Mockingbird” as part of a class assignment – and enjoyed it. There’s an art to getting teens – anyone – to read books, as Denby outlines as he talks of teachers challenging them with classics that fit the modern trends for dark and dystopian. But there’s also a craft – a craft of just having a lot of good books just lying around the house for people to read.