Why my teens read and yours don’t.
By Tyra Heinrichs
I have two teenage boys (17 & 16). Yes, they read. They read fiction for the same reasons almost everyone else does. To be entertained. Sounds simple doesn’t it?
I’m about to offend the literary types out there, but us masses tend to read for the fun of it. We’re not into the sound of the words, their underlying meanings or even elegant prose. We want thrills, chills and to connect with characters who live and breathe in our mind’s eye. We’re escaping our day-to-day lives. This is no different with teens.
When we connect to a character in a great story, they become part of us and their story becomes our adventure. I believe that well crafted stories teach us about the human condition and what we’re capable of. What teen do you know (or anybody else for that matter) who isn’t looking to understand the world around them?
We all read to experience something outside our everyday lives. Both my sons loved, Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. That’s a story and a half. It’s adventure and discovery. How would you survive months on the ocean, in a lifeboat, your only companion a tiger?
Fiction is like music. Sometimes you need a piece that will lift your spirits and sometimes you just want to dance or sing along. Jazz is to literary, just like rock is to popular fiction. Ballads, classical and pop fiction can all be covered by genre fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction. Don’t believe me? Listen to the scores for any of the Lord of the Rings movies.
If you’re over thirty and you don’t think science fiction is not real literature, then think of it as social commentary. The first interracial kiss on television happened on a science fiction show (Star Trek). The concept of the end of economic growth was first explored in science fiction. The real consequences of nuclear war were first understood through science fiction stories. Look around you, do you use a computer, cell phone, have you ever driven in a car? Thank science fiction for that.
The thing to remember is that reading for fun isn’t about being safe. It’s about danger. So forget books that only move your thoughts in one direction. Forget safe. Your heart should race or at the very least ache for the characters on the page. You want Romance? Why not add an element of nightmare and read a Romantic Thriller? You want a coming of age story? Why not add wolves, a quest or a lost map to untold riches?
Oh, and forget most of the stories you read as a kid. The majority of it was written for the culture of the time. You didn’t grow up with cell phones or cyber bullying. Let your kids escape their lives, just like you do, with characters dealing with today’s issues. It’s a bit scary, but the average teen I’ve met is intelligent, aware of the dangers in the world around them and quite honestly, a lot more willing to take chances then those of us tied down by mortgages.
A current fantasy favourite of both my boys is Grunts, by Mary Gentle, about Orcs with P-90s (the guns used on Stargate) and US Marine training. Why should anyone read this book? Answer: Orc Marines!
Of course, what real home doesn’t have some sci-fi? My youngest picked up a Star Wars book called Death Troopers, by Joe Schreiber. We’re talking Star Wars and Zombies...this will keep you up at night—reading or not!
My oldest has finished the Fire and Ice series by George R. R. Martin (there’s at least one more book coming). I’m still on the first book, but my husband has also finished, A Dance with Dragons. There’s not as much sex as on the TV version on HBO. Its plots and characters are more subtle, a lot of intrigue and yes, dragons! Battles! Danger! And characters you love actually die!
Reading isn’t a secret in our house. We all read. We talk about books, we share books and we give books. The most important thing we do is choose out our own books.
You want readers in your house? Then start with yourself. Reading isn’t a case of do what I say, not what I do. They need to see you reading. What have you read for fun lately?
A passionate word smith, T. Masters-Heinrichs has been exploring “what if’ for more then twenty years. From mystery to starships to dragons, Tyra’s work submerges her readers, who come up gasping for more.
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