Over the past couple of weeks we’ve looked into what it is that teens are looking for from books, and why it is that some of them just aren’t interested in reading. In terms of fiction, teens are looking for something they can see themselves reflected in, whether that be through the setting – such as a high school – or through their insecurities, such as an underestimated or ‘misfit’ character defying expectations (take your pick of any dystopia series). Similarly with non-fiction, teens want to read about people or issues they can relate to.
Teens find it hard to pick out what they will enjoy, because they are discovering who they are and what they like. On top of that, their desire to read is also squashed by the immediacy of their social life, or by resentment of being told what to do and what to think all the time.
The main thing that will solve a reluctant reader is time. If you do have a young adult who’s turned off to reading, they will age out of their unwillingness when their brain opens up to the wider world as an older person. The more we try and push them into reading, the longer that will take. What we can do is try and make sure they don’t manage to avoid books wholesale as they grow up. I can’t solve the existential crisis of being a teenager, but I can provide Bookseller-approved guerrilla tactics to attempt to get reluctant teens to read something.
If you remember last week’s post, you’ll be familiar with my very simplistic division of reluctant teen readers into two camps, which I’ll summarise again:
A lot of teens lose interest in reading because their everyday lives just got interesting. When your phone is blowing up with social engagements and intrigue, it’s enough to keep you entertained and a book would just take you away from it..
These teens pathologically avoid anything they’re ‘supposed’ to do. Being constantly being told what to do, including being nagged to read, has turned them off.
So how can we fight these two different types of reluctance?
Type A: Answer
Non-fiction books on topics relevant to their lives and which they can dip into will be more appealing than long novels, as will books about people they admire. When it comes to fiction, pick something light. But just leave the books lying around, or casually say ‘I saw this and thought you might like it’ – then don’t bring it up again. If they suspect you care about them reading it, they’ll burn holes in it with their eyes.
Type B: Answer
Take them into town, make sure they have a little money. Take them into a bookshop and then mysteriously remember you have to go to the bank. Tell them you’ll be gone a while so they should stay here and browse, they can buy whatever book they fancy. Say it as if you’re not really paying attention, like it doesn’t matter. Then leave – go get a coffee, or actually go to the bank. Whatever you need to do. But stay away for at least half an hour. I can’t tell you the number of times I saw surly, uninterested teens become mysteriously very engaged with the books once no one was looking over their shoulder. I even had one of them come and ask me for help finding a book they’d like. It was amazing.
You cannot push someone back into being an enthusiastic reader – they have to come back into the fold on their own. But you can do your best to sneak a couple of books into their diet in the interim.