Blair Bertrand writes a blog which I read faithfully; not for his definitive conclusions, but for his curious explorations. One of his newer posts has me writing lists on the backs of envelopes and pestering my students for more details.
As an English tutor, I would have to change the question from “how do teenagers read?” to “do teenagers read?” Invariably, the answer is, “yes”. Books, not necessarily. Comics, yes. Graphic novels, yes. Non-fiction, particularly sports magazines and certain sections of the newspaper, yes. Anything involving taboo subjects such as drugs, death and sex, yes. Anything banned by the Authority Figures, yes. Anything recommended by the Authority Figures, no. These are the answers I get from students whose first reply is, “I don’t read”.
My two teenagers were raised in an entirely different atmosphere than most of my students. Not only were they read to from the moment of birth, but they were home-schooled for many years, and therefore didn’t follow traditional school reading curriculum. There are no literary limits in my house: classic literature, comics, banned books, cereal boxes; they’re all the same.
My 15-year-old son reads a few fantasy novels and graphic novels, but mostly non-fiction, and mostly to gain information for some nefarious activity; this can range from bicycle repair (oh, yes, it can be nefarious) to the maximum penalty received for graffiti. He follows the same rules as my students, but actually seems to enjoy reading the assigned literature in English class. He gets a kick out of Shakespeare.
My 13-year-old daughter reads novels for escapism. A lot of young-adult novels (she’s recently started an Alex Sanchez kick, but also lives for Deborah Ellis, Eric Wilson and Tim Wynne-Jones). She also seems to like the English class assignments.
What do I remember from my teenage years? I remember the novels I’ve kept:
I am David by Anne Holm
The Man Without A Face by Isabelle Holland
A Candle For Saint Anthony by Eleanor Spence
Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
The Last of the Crazy People by Timothy Findley
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Hannah Green
I read a lot of poetry, mainly modern Canadian poets like Leonard Cohen, Gwendolyn MacEwen, and Irving Layton. In my later adolescence, I started getting into Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Margaret Laurence.
My daughter likes some of these books. My son liked I Am David, but nothing else. My students don’t wanna hear it….