I was listening to NPR the other day when I heard a program titled Why Aren’t Teens Reading Like They Used To? It seems that there is such an abundance of digital media available that kids just prefer other options. Some still read for pleasure, but many do not. Of course, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games are the exceptions.
I happened to be in London on a business trip when the fourth Harry Potter book was released in 2005. The book went on sale at midnight, and kids were lined up for blocks to get their hands on one of the first copies. Resting on my hotel bed, I watched the news coverage of the long lines, kids in costumes, and the parents who accompanied their children to a sales event that looked much like the feverish frenzy in the movie adaptation of Charlie and Chocolate Factory.
The news reporters interviewed several of the enthusiasts, including a notable academic from Great Britain. I can only say “notable” as I’m sure Londoners knew of this person, but I did not recognize the name or the face. Asked his opinion on the activities, he replied something like “how wonderful is it that kids are lined up around the block to read a book?” Wow! What a wonderful summation of such an unlikely occurrence, I thought. When the reporter asked him why it was important to read, the guest replied because “books allow kids to imagine.” Again, I felt myself deeply pondering the speaker’s meaning.
In books, we can construct the characters, both their external and internal qualities in our own minds, extrapolating from the author’s written text. My Harry Potter might look, act, think, and feel differently from another person’s interpretation, and that’s okay. In a movie, Harry Potter and his environment is already interpreted for the viewer. That’s probably why reading a book before seeing the movie adaptation so frequently leads to criticism of the movie. The movie represents the imagination of someone else.
I suspect that the NPR report is correct, and that kids aren’t reading as much as they could be if they weren’t bombarded by other forms of digital media. It’s easier to consume, and kids are busy with a million activities. I only hope that we can convert enough kids to become lifelong, die-hard readers. The world needs thinkers with an imagination.