On 22nd October 2016 a programme aired on BBC 2 in the UK called The School That Got Teens Reading. Naturally, as a children/teens author, I was keen to tune in.
Some of the reasons the students gave were ‘I hate reading’ and ‘I don’t see the point of doing it.’ They’re not reasons, they’re states of mind. That’s where, at their age now and my age a hundred years ago, differ: I was reading full length children’s books from the age of 10 and I’ve never stopped. Without reading I would never have wanted to be a writer. Then again, I didn’t have social media to distract me, but I did have the telly and the football (and I still do). There was no internet back then. When I was 14/15 the nearest thing I had to social media was hanging round on a street corner gassing to my mates. We didn’t even have email, never mind Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp or Snapchat. As for smart phones, are you kidding? It was the queue for the local phone box if you wanted to ring your mates! That’s how old I am! Computer games? Nope. Now, at the age of 30-and-the-rest (oh, come on, a lady never gives away her age!) I use three of those social media formats and without them I wouldn’t be able to engage with other writers and readers, so I won’t knock it now.
Does social media distract this ageing teen? Er, yeah…
What was the programme attempting to achieve? It was presented by an actor/comedian who admitted he didn’t like reading at that age, either, but he found his love for books later and he was trying to engage a group of reluctant 14/15-year-olds with a particular book, One, by Sarah Crossan, about conjoined twins, in a three week experiment. The students were encouraged to read the book; some said they didn’t have time, some tried and ran out of time and admitted that they were distracted by other things like Facebook. Later, the presenter sought the help of a children’s author and they tried to engage the class further by asking them to dress up and live like conjoined twins. By the end of the programme, some of the class had managed to finish the book and others expressed interest in reading more books, so I think the experiment was somewhat of a success.
That said, you can’t force someone to read if they don’t want to; secondly, I agree with the author – using one book in the experiment was a mistake. Not everyone has the same tastes in reading and when you’re forced to read something because you have to it goes down like a lead balloon, so I knew how the students felt. When I was at school we had to study Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy for English Lit. Now I love the classics, but I found that book boring beyond words. I read the first page and gave up. I’ve never felt the desire to pick it up since. All the other girls in my English class were of the same mind and we rebelled against it. We ended up studying The Chrysalids by John Wyndham and I loved it. It was an easier read and more engaging, but I remember some girls found it boring.
I was 14 at the time and more into the Chalet School books.
Some people like reading textbooks and non-fiction like biographies and autobiographies. Not me. Others like crime books and erotica. I’ve read a handful of the first, the second just makes me laugh. I’ve never read Fifty Shades of Grey, but the reviews on Amazon are entertaining.
So if reading isn’t for everyone, it isn’t for everyone; you might be into music, or dancing, or outdoor things. Reading doesn’t make you a nerd, either. Can it help you get a better job like the programme claimed? I think so; I have a good job. It can certainly help you with your literacy, anyway. I hasn’t helped me with my maths, but that’s because I’ve never liked maths textbooks! (Rubbish plots!)