Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Providing Rich Reading For Time Poor Readers
How do we get people reading again or introduce them to reading?
We have to accept that reading is different in that it stimulates thinking and imagery that is often served up on a plate with other media. After all, you don’t have to imagine what someone looks like when they are stood as large as life in front of you on a screen.
We have seen many charity and government-backed initiatives and ones driven by the industry itself but the bottom line is that at best they are treading water and at worst losing the battle. We may all cheer from the battlements when books are donated and given away free to folk but if this is not succeeding we have to ask whether the focus and process is correct and what we have to do to really engage and make a difference.
The YouTube age is impacting not just the young but the older generations. We are becoming more and more visual and increasingly time poor. Giving someone a book is not addressing the problem and merely compounding it. We have to create the thirst and feed the habit not just give someone War and Peace and expect a convert. The studies don’t lie. The latest from the National Literacy Trust study of 34,910 young people, claimed nearly a third of children between eight and 16 say they read no text-based media at all in their daily leisure time and that the number of children who read outside school has fallen by 25% since 2005.
Many thought that children's reading was migrating from print to digital, but in reality their consumption of information is moving away from reading or writing text. Their attitude to reading have also become more negative over time. This was reflected in 21.5% of young people agreeing with the statement, "I would be embarrassed if my friends saw me read," up from 16.6% on the 2010 study.
In the US, The National Endowment for the Arts claim that only 46.9% of Americans interacted with art and literature in 2012 and that again reading is in decline. That’s down from 2008 (50.2%) and it’s down considerably from the 1992 survey (54.2%) and the 1982 survey (56.4%).
So let’s skip past the doom and gloom and look at ways to stimulate reading. Giving books away is probably not going to be the answer.
Should we focus on the children, the young adults or the older generations? Who are the social influencers and who are the responders? Do parents teach and influence their children or is it visa-versa? Can reading be combined with other activity such that it is less solitary in an increasingly virtual social world? Can the movement towards self-expression be harnessed to create a virtual circle of reading and writing?
There is no silver bullet or quick fix but we must understand what used to work and see if it can be reapplied to today.
We would point to that reading revolution and creative writing explosion of the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century. What captivated the masses many of whom had just learnt to read?
When we look at our daily lives many will relate to the time spent commuting to and from home. For many the newspaper is a vent to boredom, others it’s scrolling down the email and Facebook alerts that are fed to our smartphones and tablets. For others it’s being plugged in and switched on to their music. Then there are the gamers who apply fast dexterity over the keys of their smartphones whilst some animated character dives and ducks to save themselves from being zapped. The point is that commuters want to do something more than stare at the person opposite whilst contemplating some fantasy liaison with the good looking person two seats away. Giving them something that can’t be consumed in the journey is like offering them a five star gourmet meal and suggesting that what they can’t finish they can have cold tomorrow or can be put in a doggy bag for later. Time poor people will demand speedy service.
Poems on the London Underground was launched in 1986 and was the idea of American writer, Judith Chernaik, who wanted to bring poetry to a wider audience. Some 3,000 advertising spaces in train carriages displayed a diverse range of poetry including classical, contemporary, international and work by new poets, has been a great success. The service was geared to the audience. It is like a gentle thought for the day, a quiet moment of reflection, a digestible read for a brief journey. Some would say that poetry doesn’t engage but others would suggest when served alongside music, it works, and on the Tube it works especially well. Perhaps the way we bundle and package literature is the problem.
Then we have to look at the huge success of the short form writing competition today. Some will say that they just promote more slush and a feed a writing habit that goes nowhere. It’s true, printed short stories are not often top of the publisher’s agenda or the charts but that doesn’t mean they don’t work or there isn’t a latent demand for them. It just means that trade publishers still tend to publish 256 page volumes and short stories and poems have to be shoe-horned into collections.
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was the brilliant short story master, Alice Munro.
It’s no wonder we are working on bringing Read Petite to market!