Friday Reading Roundup: Teen Reading, E-Book Subscriptions, and Diversity

By Mary Hendrie — May 23, 2014 3 min read
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As the week winds down, dive into some of the recent literary discussions you might have missed.

Imperiled Young Reading

Teens and “tweens” are reading less than they used to, according to a report by Common Sense Media released this month. The report, based on an aggregation of several studies on the habits of young readers, found a marked decrease in self-reported pleasure reading, especially among older teens.

Response to this report has been mixed, with bloggers and commenters split on the causes and significance of the findings. In an op-ed in The New York Times, Frank Bruni laments that the research points out a deeply troubling trend; Bruni says frequent reading is an important component of being an intelligent, empathic person.

NPR’s coverage of the report raises the (persistent) concern that this dip in teen reading is attributable to the rise of digital distractions. “Numerous reports show the increasing use of new technology platforms by kids,” Jim Steyer, the chief executive officer of Common Sense Media, told NPR. “It just strikes me as extremely logical that that’s a big factor.”

Forbes contributor Jordan Shapiro instead blames the decrease in teen readership on poor reading habits modeled by parents. “Is the problem that kids don’t read books,” Shapiro asks, “or is the problem that nobody reads books because our culture has become anti-academic and anti-intellectual?”

In an analysis of the research for the School Library Journal, Marc Aronson takes issue with the research on which the report draws, especially the studies’ failure to account for the role that school plays in teens’ reading. Aronson concludes that “the study does more to indicate what we do not know about teenagers and their reading habits than to help us understand what reading material does occupy their interest.”

While writers continue to debate the death of our reading culture, parents can learn from tips on encouraging teen reading that Common Sense Media offered in the wake of its troubling report. Teens might also hope to find something of interest in Rolling Stone‘s new ranking of the best YA novels.

For more resources to revive flagging student interest in reading, a recent Bookmarks post rounds up some valuable summer reading resources.

E-Book Buffets

It’s been a big week for e-book subscription providers Epic!, Oyster, and Scribd, which offer e-reading services analogous to popular video-streaming models such as Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Epic!, an e-book subscription service targeted toward readers ages 5-12, has just announced it will be adding 1,000 HarperCollins children’s books. Oyster and Scribd, two leading competitors for the all-you-can-read adult subscription model, have also landed a big-name publisher this week, with both services now adding over 10,000 Simon & Schuster backlist e-book titles.

Before considering a full-time switch to e-reading, however, readers might want to check out Benjamin Herold’s recent article in Education Week on the potential harm of digital reading.

Literary Diversity

Although BookCon, a convention which kicks off next week, has adjusted its initially all-white lineup of panelists in response to widespread public outcry, the discussion over diversity in children’s books continues.

In The Atlantic, author Monica Byrne explains her decision to write the protagonist of her debut novel as a woman of color, contending that the overrepresentation of white men in literature is dehumanizing to everyone else. Salon contributor Anita Felicelli argues that media representation of diverse racial backgrounds is essential to the self-worth of children of color. In an article for the School Library Journal, Elizabeth Bird urges parents to not only provide children with culturally diverse books, but to also engage in honest discussions about race, religion, and alternate lifestyles.

In response to the still-active Twitter campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks, the non-profit First Book pledged to order tens of thousands of books representative of diverse ethnic backgrounds and to fund affordable paperback versions of diverse books previously only available in hardback.

For more literary diversity discourse, the LongReads blog offers four relevant essays on inclusivity in the literary canon, and the BookRiot site lists 30 diverse YA books.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.