Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Are children reading?

It's easy to make fun of the lack of literary merit in huge-selling book series like Twilight and Harry Potter, and bemoan how fast they go from books to movies. But you can't deny that millions of kids are reading them voraciously, at a time when we take it for granted that kids don't read for pleasure; they're too busy with video games and the Internet and texting and instant gratification of all kinds.

So what I'm wondering is, how often do those books lure kids into reading? How many kids are there who might not otherwise have gotten the idea of reading as a leisure activity, who got drawn in by Harry Potter, and then moved on to the "harder stuff"? In short, is Twilight a "gateway drug" to reading?

Then again, it's almost certainly true that the much-bemoaned decline in reading-as-entertainment amongst kids is probably nowhere near as bad as we imagine. How many of my classmates read for pleasure when I was in grade school? Probably fewer than an idealized nostalgia would suggest. And how many are reading now? Probably most of the children of the people who were reading when I was a kid; probably more than our jaded cynicism of the present would indicate. I don't doubt there's been a decline but it's probably not as bad as people imagine.

Still, if Harry Potter is luring more kids into the larger world of fiction as fun, we can forgive him his recycled storylines and overeager moviemakers. Maybe lots of kids will be reading next year's flash-in-the-pan on the Kindles and Nooks sitting under their Christmas trees. That would be nice.

No comments: