Why won’t Johnny read?

Disclaimer: I’m not much of a book reader. The last book I read — James Comey’s — I didn’t read at all. I listened to him read it.

But, the Washington Post says, kids today aren’t even doing that, raising a new literary warning.

Kids today, eh?

It’s not that they don’t know how to read, the study from the American Psychological Association says; it’s just that they don’t want to read a book for pleasure. Instead, they immerse themselves in their connected world.

So what? How many things are you doing for pleasure that you don’t find pleasurable?

One in 3 U.S. high school seniors did not read a book for pleasure in 2016. In the same time period, 82 percent of 12th-graders visited sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram every day.

That sounds horrible to those quick to clutch the pearls,but there’s nothing much more in the warning that proves an impact.

Granted there’s plenty of attention to the possibility there might be danger ahead, mind you.

Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and one of the authors of the study, said the lack of leisure reading is troubling. For her, the most important discovery hidden in the data is this statistic: In the 1970s, about 60 percent of high school seniors reported reading a book, magazine or newspaper every single day. Four decades later, in 2016, 16 percent of high school seniors reported doing so.

“This decline in reading print media — particularly the decline in reading books, it’s concerning,” said Twenge, author of the book “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us.”

The reason for the concern is that the skill set and attention it takes to digest concepts in long-form writing are quite different from glancing at a text message or status update, she said.

“Reading long-form texts like books and magazine articles is really important for understanding complex ideas and for developing critical thinking skills,” Twenge said. “It’s also excellent practice for students who are going on to college.”

The decline in reading rates began in the ’80s, the researchers said.

In essence, this is a social media warning disguised as a literacy problem. It says the lack of time spent reading (again, for pleasure) could lead to poorer performance, but it offers no proof it does. It also points out that social media “could lead to increased isolation and mental health issues.” Not much new there.

It suggests parents enforce a digital media ban, but don’t say they have to read a book instead.

“Litter your house with eye catching titles,” one expert says.

They recommend graphic novels.

Another way to instill a love for reading is to teach kids how useful it can be. The next time your child comes to you with a question, Willingham said, tell them to go find the answer by visiting a library and reading about the issue on their own. Explain that books offer a level of in-depth knowledge not available through the “instant gratification” of the Internet.

In other words: Pretend it’s 1974 and don’t encourage your kids to use the tools and resources that are available to them in the most efficient manner.

No telling where that sort of thing might lead.

  • Joe

    Interesting. I would never have guessed Bob would be so dismissive of literature.

    I find it is one of the best ways to empathize with other people. I’m forced into someone else’s mindset for awhile. But maybe new applications can do that even better. I’m a Luddite (no smartphone!), so if you propose that they make literature obsolete, who am I to disagree?

    • // Interesting. I would never have guessed Bob would be so dismissive of literature.

      I’m not dismissive of literature. I’m dismissive of the arrogant people who insist that what THEY do for pleasure, other people must do for pleasure. (they key to this whole “study” is the phrase “for pleasure”)

      Live your life as you see fit.

      / so if you propose that they make literature obsolete

      Oh, please. First of all, this is nothing I ever proposed and if you learned this technique from literature, I don’t think you’re making a compelling argument for your pleasurable activity.

      Literature isn’t going to become obsolete. My god, there have never been more books rolling off the presses than at any time in civilization’s history. It’s fine. It’s going to be fine.

      As I said, this is pretty much the usual shrieking a bout digital media, disguised as a defense of literature.

      They should be more honest about it.

      • Amy

        Then there are those people who take an even more stringent approach by saying things like graphic novels, etc. “don’t count.” Or listening to audiobooks. I really don’t get it. I love to read, am a voracious reader, but if reading gets turned into a “have to” or is severely limited by what “counts,” then what have we accomplished?

      • Frank

        Literature isn’t going to become obsolete. My god, there have never been more books rolling off the presses than at any time in civilization’s history.

        I read a lot of books; more than 12 per year. I do a bit of research before I buy a book, mostly because I don’t buy paperbacks and I’m frugal. There are a lot of books rolling off presses, but IMO most are crap.

        Of the ones I buy some are good, some are informative, but I’m trying to think of one written within the last 20 years I’d consider literature, but I can’t.

        Shogun is the latest I can think of.

        • I found Berg’s biography of Lindbergh fascinating.

          Same with McCullough’s The Wright Brothers.

          I had to read Meacham’s biography of George Bush for work and enjoyed it. But it was for work.

          OTOH, I found his Jackson bio to be unreadable.

        • Sybil Twilight

          I find some of my favorite novels, and new authors, on the New Fiction kiosk at my local library. I don’t really buy many books any more.

        • RBHolb

          If you liked Shogun, you probably will like The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell.

      • Joe

        Well I meant “you” in the general sense, not you Bob Collins. I should have said “one”. And I wasn’t being facetious. If we develop something good enough at putting us in someone else’s head that literature (as we know it) is rendered obsolete, so be it.

        It’s happened before. Epic oral poems were the method of choice for this for eons, and new technologies (paper, alphabet), rendered them obsolete.

  • Mike

    I read several books a year – fiction and non-fiction – and would read more if I had the time. Some of it is literary, some of it is shallow, but it’s all enjoyable.

    I use social media only in very limited ways, and have no interest in seeing what my friends had for dinner last night. Honestly, I can’t think of a worse way to waste time than to be a spectator to the pseudo-profundity, virtue-signalling, and humble-bragging that seems to comprise 90% of the medium. That being said, there are great nuggets you can find out on YouTube if you care to look.

    What I like about books is the break they give me from the petty demands and lack of perspective in the present. It’s hard to get upset about the latest, mostly meaningless news headline when you’re reading about much worse situations that people managed to live through.

    James Comey, really? It’s a pity Gore Vidal isn’t around anymore to puncture the egos of such pompous “defenders” of public virtue. There’s a world of great minds out there, and Comey isn’t one of them.

    • // t in seeing what my friends had for dinner last night.

      Heh! This is almost always the depiction that non social media users describe as what the conversation on social media is.

      // James Comey, really?

      It’s the judgy nonsense that drives me crazy. Who gives a damn what YOU think about what anybody else is reading?

      This is the foundation of this “study”. That people must adhere to the life that others say they should live.

      See, it’s not enough that people must have the same pleasurable activity as what the recreation police demand. It’s that they shouldn’t be reading what others don’t want to relieve.

      People should just mind their own business. Maybe go read a book instead.

      • Mike

        Oh, please. Stop clutching the pearls. I’m just expressing an opinion, and teasing you a bit. Get a grip.

        But yes, I do believe to the extent that people read junk like the books of politicians and other self-aggrandizing public figures (Comey and Donald Trump, for example), it contributes to the lack of perspective we have on various important issues.

        It’s an opinion. Agree or disagree, but get over it.

        • jon

          // lack of perspective we have on various important issues.

          Now that is a legitimate complaint about social media… the dinner bit not so much.

          • A generous amount of social media is actually links to articles which provide multiple perspectives. I don’t see how that’s a negative. I suppose one can wait until a book comes out but usually that isn’t until years later .

          • jon

            Social media is very very good at creating echo chambers…

            Some one disagrees with you, unfriend/follow them, and you get to hear a only statements that agree with you…

            while links to places where there are multiple perspectives might be found on social media, a generous amount of roads lead to libraries too… but that doesn’t mean even a slim minorities of people on the roads are going to the library.

          • Sonny T

            someone who agrees with you? What fun is that

        • I recognize it as opinion. I also recognize it as a judgement of other people. Read what you want to read. Let other people read what they want to read. Or don’t read. Live your life. Let them live theirs.

          Most of this judgy stuff is actually reflects a need for validation for their choices.

  • Brian Simon

    I’m constantly reading, if we count online media. My kids are pretty good readers, at 9 & 11. For the 9 year old, the graphic novels are a draw. The 11 year old reads voraciously. Much like i was 30-40 years ago, they are atypical. When I was a kid, the enemy were video games & television. I think this is Bob’s point: has anything really changed?

    • jon

      it hasn’t.

      I loaned a bunch of books to my nephew… he is working his way through them, probably at a pace similar to what I would have when I was a kid borrowing books from my brother.

      While I’m an adult now and much more considerate of what is age appropriate than my brother was for me (seriously, he gave me a copy of “dune” when I was in jr. high… sexually charged a bit?), the kid clearly has a style he prefers, and when I come across a book like that which is also age appropriate, I pass it along.

      Honestly the most frustrating part is finding things that are age appropriate. So many adult books are written at or below a jr. high reading level and just toss in a hyper sexualized 3-4 pages or reoccurring language that I’d be hard pressed to explain why I thought I should teach those things to my nephew… makes it hard to find things for the kid when honestly a few edits on one chapter would make the book a fine choice for the younger generation.

      • Joseph

        Dune wasn’t that sexually charged. And by the time they are in middle school, kids have been exposed to much more sexualized content than you think — kids are not nearly as ‘innocent’ as you imagine by that age (especially with the internet and social media).

  • MikeB

    I tell myself I want to read more books because I used to read many books and magazines. It’s mainly a sense of self imposed guilt but I am spending my time doing other things, including online reading. We all are consuming more information now, kids included. And kids are more educated and better equipped for the world than we were at their age. Things will be OK. Even for book snobs (recovering book snob here).

  • AL287

    The best thing a parent can do to encourage a child to read is to read to their child from an early age as in from the cradle.

    It was a ritual I had with my son every night—a bedtime story combined with a bath on bath days. It was non-negotiable and he loved it.

    My son and his wife are both avid readers. They also read to their son daily, several times a day in the summers when his mother is off from school and on weekends.

    My son likes authors like John Grisham, Tom Clancy and other whodunit writers.

    My daughter-in-law likes romance and historical fiction.

    When there is a book sale at their local library they always go.

    I have no doubt my grandson will enjoy reading just like his parents.

    • “Goodnight, Moon” still makes me tear up a little.

      • AL287

        “Goodnight Moon” is one of the all-time great bedtime stories. It’s hard to believe it was first published in 1947!

        My son also liked Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

        I was the gypsy story teller for the Boy Scouts’ Halloween Haunted Trail for about 10 years. The younger kids loved it.

        Children’s stories are a classic Christmas gift as well.

      • RBHolb
    • Joseph

      You son and I would get along quite well — we have the same taste in authors (and were raised by parent’s with similar philosophies! 🙂 )

  • kat

    It would be fun to link to an article about young women and novels from 1910

    • Barton
      • kat

        “A dammed mob of scribbling women” I’ll probably quote that all week

        • Barton

          It’s still the same today, isn’t it? Women’s fiction, as a whole, is not seen as great literature.

          • Jerry

            I feel there is a difference between “women’s fiction” and fiction by women. There is a lot of “men’s fiction” (Clive Cussler and his ilk) that doesn’t get a lot of respect either.

        • RBHolb

          I can’t remember the title, but there is a short story by PG Wodehouse in which the hero’s beloved wrote a novel. She then turned into the stereotypical “scribbling woman,” a fate from which our hero was finally able to extricate her.

  • Gary F

    Tell kids that reading is “Retro” and they may like it.

    I was at a business training session ten years ago when the speaker asked the crowd “how many of you read something every day that isn’t the newspaper, a trade journal, or People magazine”? Not many hands went up. “How many of you run, walk or go to the gym on a regular basis”? Many hands went up. “why aren’t you exercising your mind”?

    I was never a book reader. Now I start my gym workout 4-5 days a week on the stationary bike reading a book.

    It’s not just book reading, lots of things may go to the wayside for the screen generations.

    • // why aren’t you exercising your mind”?

      He reached his conclusion on insufficient data. There are many, many, many ways to exercise one’s mind without reading a book.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        I agree heartily. For me its puzzles (recreational math and logic puzzles have given way to daily challenges from online sources). My wife on the other hand has to have a book (or e-book these days) and in some cases it doesn’t matter if it’s one from her collection that she’s read many times.

  • Barton

    On social media (Facebook) there is a “thing” going round regarding literacy, and people are posting book covers. I’m doing this too. You are to tag a friend to have them do the same thing. I’ve been a bit shocked at the number of friends (all Gen Xers) I’ve tagged who’ve replied that they neither read books nor listen to audio books.

    But, I know they have the same reaction when I tell them I don’t watch The Voice, or America’s Got Talent, or similar.

    No judgment on either of our sides though, just differences.

  • The Resistance

    I read a lot and I find it nearly impossible to have conversations with friends, coworkers about books. I get the glazed eyes. And I find myself refreshing my drink whenever the conversation inevitably veers toward the last episode of Orange Is The New House Of Thrones. It’s like we live in different media worlds. I also suspect those people aren’t reading much to their kids if they’re following a dozen shows on Netflix on the wall of their house that is a tv.

    • Another Minnesota bookseller who is a fan of Julián Is a Mermaid is Angela Schwesnedl, co-owner of Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis. “We have not been able to keep it on the shelf,” she said, adding that the University of Minnesota Queer Student Cultural Center sponsored a “drag story time” featuring this book and 80 people showed up. “It was a blast,” she said.


      The kids are fine.

      • The Resistance

        Sounds like I should be hanging out with kids instead of adults if I want to talk about books 🙂

      • Frank

        Julián Is a Mermaid (Ages 4-8)

        “Love lets an anxious beat pass before Abuela takes Julián by the hand, leading him to what some readers may recognize as the Coney Island Mermaid Parade.”

        Coney Island Mermaid Parade

        “Now in its 36th year, Coney Island’s annual seaside bacchanal features more than 3,000 near-naked revelers dressed as mermaids, mermen and other sea creatures parading down the main drag..”

        Seaside bacchanals for kids 4-8? Sure, why the hell not.

        • The Resistance

          Did you bother to read the book? I haven’t either, but choose to reserve judgement.

          Others may prefer to stay home and read the Book of Lamentations with their kids. So be it.

          I went to the mermaid parade in 2015…it was pretty cool. I don’t have kids, but if I did I’d have no problem bringing them. It’s sort of a pride vibe, but funner. Even the cops were getting into it.

          If you have children I would warn you to keep them away from old Darryl Hannah movies. They will be scarred for life.

          • Frank

            I must have missed the near naked bacchanal parade scene in Splash. Seemed pretty tame to me.

          • Jerry

            If you’re trying to avoid exposing your kids to adult content, I wouldn’t read the Old Testament to them.

    • Jeff

      I read too and don’t watch much TV (except GoT), but like food there is an infinite variety of reading. Sometimes a shallow novel hits the spot, other times it’s a biography, or great literature etc. Equating books with intellectualism and exercising your mind I think is overrated. There are a lot of books that are cotton candy. There’s a lot of TV lately that could be great literature and is intellectually engaging.

    • Jerry

      Weird that two of the examples you combined to represent vapid TV shows are based on well respected books.

      Some people absorb information and entertainment best by reading. Others from listening or seeing. I’m not going to argue one is better than the other. I can stay enthralled by a book, yet will lose interest listening to a lecture or speech. Others find books boring yet will watch documentaries about the same subject. To each their own.

  • Sybil Twilight

    I’ve had reading 52 books a year as a New Year’s resolution for several years. I keep a book list in my journal to measure my success, or lack thereof. Last year after becoming semi-retired I hit 102 (mostly novels) for the year. I do include audio books and graphic novels as part of the total.

    My observation of the young people I know is that they do read regularly, just not necessarily with a bound paper book in their hands. Many of my younger friends have turned me on to long reads on digital media that I’ve found both provocative and entertaining. And man of my connections on social media have linked to excellent articles that would also be considered “long reads.”

    I think kids and young adults are reading regularly, just in different ways and genres than we grew up with. There is far more variety in authors and content available now than ever before and I see evidence that it’s being accessed more often than I did with my peers while in high school.

  • Rob

    I guess we’ve entered a post-literate world, in addition to a post-truth one.
    Don’t wanna do books? Then don’t. But literacy is about more than just knowing how to read, and I’m deeply grateful that I grew up in a family of book lovers. Just finished Stiffs by Mary Roach.

    • Again…this is a story of reading for pleasure. The kids could be reading books as required reading and wouldn’t be included in this “study”.

    • Sybil Twilight

      I don’t think it’s post-literate as much as it’s differently-literate.

  • Jeff

    The last couple books I’ve “read” have been audiobooks. I will tend to take the written version while on a ‘do little more than relax’ vacation but day-to-day I need to take the multitasking approach. Mowing the lawn and cleaning the garage become much more enjoyable while listening to a good book.

    • Kassie

      In my car on my commute is when I read. And when I’m home and want to relax and play a stupid game on my phone. I’ve read 22 books this year and only one wasn’t an audio book. (I’ve also read a bunch of graphic novels that I don’t track.)

  • Went Rogue

    When an article begins, “A new study has alarming findings,” my local paper (the Minneapolis Star Tribune) finds it irresistible, and deems it front page material. Headline in the Strib: “Teens no longer care to read a good book,” which is hardly panic-worthy, even if it were true. Meanwhile, independent bookstores are thriving, and the young adult fiction genre is as popular as ever, so maybe let’s not ring the alarms so quickly.

    • As I pointed out, there’s nothing in the study to prove a negative consequence of the assertion. It’s merely a “young people aren’t finding pleasure in the same way the people doing the study think they should”. Same as it ever was.

  • Jared

    I’m not too worried by high school kids not reading for pleasure. I never read for pleasure in high school, there was just too much else I had to do including reading books that weren’t my choice (I was terrible at doing that as well). This slowly went away in college as I took fewer classes that required reading beyond textbooks. I now read regularly and have finished 12 books this year according to my Goodreads account which seems about right for my usual pace. I know I’m an outlier and social media wasn’t as big when I was a kid but I spent a lot of time on myspace, IM, and generally had a lot of screen time and still do (although not on myspace or IM).

    I’ll also add that the workload that kids get from school today is absurd compared to what I got in high school. It’d be interesting to see if there’s any correlation between that and reading for pleasure, especially since the decline began well before social media.

    • Exactly. In that article it notes that the way to get kids to read is not to tell them they have to. Meanwhile, what are seniors told they HAVE to do in school? Read book XYZ.

      • Jack

        I knew our son was reading when he wanted the Strib login information after he reformatted his computer.

        We share articles and I enjoy sharing links to the insightful pieces we come across. Executive order 9066 was one of the more recent shares.

      • Jared

        Yeah but it’s a fine line. While I didn’t come close to reading all of my assigned books in high school, there were some I enjoyed. And while that may be solved by giving a list for kids to choose from, discussions on what’s read can be interesting too. I still recall a few conversations about books I didn’t enjoy that have shaped how I appreciate books today. I would guess the balance is in how much time kids are expected to spend reading assigned books and how much time they can use for themselves.

      • RBHolb

        An English teacher in high school told us that, even though it was not required, we should read The Scarlet Letter because “that’s the kind of book people who are going to college read.” Needless to say, that comment took it off my reading list for decades.

        I read it when my son had to read it for school. Everyone is right: The Scarlet Letter stinks.

    • Jerry

      I feel if kids aren’t reading as much for pleasure, it’s for the same reason as with adults. They just don’t have time with everything else they are expected to do.

      • Or they just want to do something else.

        • Jerry

          That too

  • Jerry

    People sure do like arguing how their harmless hobby is morally superior to your harmless hobby.

  • joetron2030

    By the constant stacks of books in our house from the county library, my kids (14 & 12) must be extreme outliers. They’re constantly reading. Anything and everything. Books scattered all over the house.

    • The “kids today” are going to be just fine.

    • John

      ditto (9 & 13).

      Though they also read on phones, tablets, computer screens, and magazines.

      They’ll be all right.

  • lindblomeagles

    As I mentioned in a Post last week on a different topic, there’s a lot to read out there for pleasure — on the Internet, through Social Media, at the library, in the book store. Gee, I even gave subject titles. I believe I was told some people don’t want to escape in a book anymore the way I do. This story would seem to prove the point I was told by some as well as the point I was making. Imagine that.