Where have all the readers gone?

Oct. 20, 2004, midnight | By Katherine Duncan | 16 years, 3 months ago

For Blazers, reading for pleasure has gone out of style

The autumn wind ruffles her long blonde hair as she crosses New York City's busy streets and steps into Barney's, the famously chic department store. She floats toward the bathing suit section eyeing the selection for her upcoming trip to St. Bart's. Sophomore Maura Druhan suddenly opens her eyes and turns the page. Sitting in her Takoma Park home on a Saturday afternoon, Druhan is engrossed in the latest novel in the Gossip Girl series by author Cecily von Ziegesar. For a brief second, Druhan imagines that she is Serena van der Woodson, the beautiful, rich and popular protagonist in the series.

Druhan, who reads about a book a month, is among the 42 percent of Blazers who read books for pleasure, according to an informal Silver Chips survey of 100 students conducted on Sept. 7 and 8. The other 58 percent of Blazers, however, are a problem, according to English Resource Teacher Vickie Adamson. "Many students are not in an environment where people read and show appreciation for it," she says. Because high school students are not reading enough, schools and libraries have adopted programs that promote reading for pleasure.

Reading takes a backseat

According to The Educational CyberPlayGround's website, many teens would rather kick back in front of the TV or surf the internet instead of reading a book. "Reading has become taboo," says senior Hannah Schneider, who enjoys reading but readily admits that "it's a lot easier to just turn on the TV than pick up a book." Schneider believes that reading has become a stigma among students, who would rather do other things in their spare time since reading is already required in school.

Adamson believes that many children and teens do not like to read because it is too challenging for them. "They don't have the strategies required to read," says Adamson, which include being able to break down the text and understand advanced vocabulary. For students in this category, reading is work, not pleasurable. "It's a waste of my time," says junior Chris McNair. "Why would I read outside of school if I already have homework to do?"

Between rushing from her eighth period class to field hockey practice and working on her latest yearbook spread, sophomore Zoe Norvell barely has time to finish all of her school work, let alone read books for fun. For busy Blazers like Norvell, reading takes a back seat to other pastimes. "If I didn't have so much work and activities then I would read on my own," she says.

While everyone has different reasons for not reading, Adamson believes that pleasure reading is an acquired taste, one that many students lack. "We live in a world of immediate gratification," says Adamson. "After five minutes of watching a movie, there is a certain pleasure. With a book, it takes patience."

Still fun for some

Despite the "reading problem," that exists at Blair, according to Adamson, there are still Blazers who would rather pick up a book than play the latest edition of Madden or watch Friends re-runs. Druhan loves reading and even boasts a shirt from the bookstore Politics and Prose that says, "So many books, so little time." She even has influenced some of her friends to read books that she has enjoyed. Druhan's friends say that they cannot wait until the next Gossip Girl book, and they giggle as Druhan proclaims that "reading is like an adventure; you get caught in it."

Druhan mainly likes to read romance novels and "girly books" like Gossip Girl, The Lovely Bones and She's Come Undone. According to Druhan, these types of books are more appealing than books assigned in school because they are current and are not necessarily about life lessons. "I can relate to the characters and what they go through," she says.

Having these types of books in the Blair library is important says Media Specialist Lisa Hack, because students prefer to read books where they can relate to the characters. Because of the apparent popularity of teen novels among Blazers, the new young adult section was added to the library at the end of 2003, according to Hack. "The young adult section makes it easier for students to find the types of books they want," she says. Last year, nearly one fifth of the 10,263 books checked out of the library fell into the young adult category.

Schneider, who, unlike Druhan and many other Blazers, prefers historical fiction and fantasy books, has been an avid reader ever since she was in elementary school. "Reading takes you to another world," explains Schneider while organizing stacks of books onto carts in the English department. "You meet characters you wouldn't normally meet and you go to places that you can't go in real life."

On the right track

The fact remains, however, that teens spend too little time reading and too much time watching TV. According to the U.S.-based Center for Media Research, people aged 13 to 24 spend twice as much time per week watching TV than reading books for pleasure.

In response, schools and libraries have implemented different programs and initiatives. Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) run summer reading programs, such as "Readers Rule" for younger children and the "Teen Summer Reading Club," that feature prizes and reading lists for different age groups. A similar computerized reading incentive program exists at Blair called "Reading Counts," according to Hack. Students read a book, take a computerized quiz and are able to win prizes such as pencils, pizza and movie tickets. "It's a nice way to encourage kids to read," says Hack.

Hack believes that, in combination with more teen-friendly books and the new young adult section, the program has made a difference, and that Blazers are now reading much more than when she first came to Blair in 2001. According to information compiled by Hack, the use of fiction books and biographies has steadily increased over the past three years, from 3,002 in 2002 to 6,094 in 2004. Hack believes that another factor in the increased usage of books is the abundance of new book displays throughout the library. "A book can sit on the shelf for five years, then we put it on display and it's gone," says Hack.

Adamson, who attended a conference in San Francisco for the National Council for Teachers of English about what teachers can do for students who struggle with reading, is determined to make sure students can read and develop the strategies required to read proficiently. According to Adamson, a pending program at Blair will require freshmen to read for one hour cumulatively every day throughout their different classes. This can include reading for one hour straight in one class or organized shorter reading throughout the day that adds up to one hour. "The more reading practice students get, the better readers they will become," says Adamson.

Hack, who sees hundreds of Blair students coming in and out of the library every day, maintains a positive outlook on the current reading situation at Blair. "It's amazing to see every kid in a class walking out with a book that they are excited about," explains Hack. "We're on the right track."

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Katherine Duncan. Katherine Duncan is beyond excited to be in her senior year of high school. A perpetually tired, slightly spaztic girl, Katherine enjoys many things--including hanging out with her friends, going shopping and being lazy. Though she is still license-less, she has a permit (finally) and … More »

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