Writer, Matt Haig, posted this piece on his Instagram. I wanted to share his interesting data and perspective. Thoughts?
At age 11, most boys enjoy reading. By 14 that drops from 65% to 32%. In other words, we lose half of male readers in three years. And many of them won’t return. Does it matter? Should boys (and men) read? I don’t know. Reading fiction is known to enhance mental health and job prospects and increase empathy. It helps with concentration and has even been proven to aid sleep.
But these reasons aren’t going to sway a 14-year-old boy.
In fact, I think this is the problem. Books are perceived unlike other cultural forms. There is a do-goody earnestness to the way the culture of books increasingly presents itself.
You only have to look at the whole recent Roald Dahl re-edit farce. A farce that was not at all about gen z wokery and more about corporate greed and timidity. Roald Dahl is a writer who relished nastiness. And now there is a worry among the old people in charge of the Roald Dahl cash cow that generation x doesn’t want their generation z offspring to read nasty things because books are there to DO US GOOD.
Young people in general like risky things. Their prefrontal cortex is yet to fully develop so they have a shitload of imagination and zero caution.
The trouble is that the rest of the media industries teenage boys encounter – video games, movies, YouTube etc. – don’t have this misguided do-goody earnestness to them. In contrast, the children’s book industry seems almost entirely one big prefrontal cortex. V big on caution but not very big on risk and impulsive imagination. The kind of things teens like. Ironically an industry which painfully tries to hide its white middle class private school heart, often ends up looking like the classic do goody prefect trying to help put the world to rights in a wholly simplistic and arrogant 1980s-Blue-Peter-appeal kind of way.
I live with two teenagers. Even our daughter struggles sometimes to find books that aren’t ‘too school teacherly’.
If we want all kids to keep reading, we need to see books as another entertainment form. Not something there to engineer the present or correct history any more than a rap or rock album or GTA 5 should. But there to be brave and alive and sometimes a little bit dangerous.