For many young people, boys in particular, reading is not perceived as a desirable pursuit. It’s not seen as cool or the kind of thing ‘lads’ should be doing and there is still a strong stigma attached to being geeky and nerdy amongst a large proportion of teens, despite these labels being embraced, and even coveted, by many adults. British author Nick Hornby has come up with a suggestion for how to get boys to read – telling them not to. In an article in today’s Independent Hornby outlines how he managed to trick his own son into developing an interest in reading for pleasure by telling him certain books were ‘highly inappropriate’ and ‘one of the most banned books in America.’ In the article it states that ‘Studies continue to reveal that boys of early reading age lag behind their female counterparts for literacy.’
‘If we don’t break the barriers to reading when they are young they may be doomed to a bookless life, and that is a depressing prospect for anybody.’
This is clearly a genuine problem and having worked on a highly successful reading project in a secondary school in Brighton, I can’t help but see the genius in this approach. The one thing young people fear the most is the mundane, they don’t want to be bored (who does?), but enticing them with something illicit and a little bit naughty – that works. There is little point in attempting to get young people to read sanitised books about well behaved children when what they are really after is sex, drugs and rude words. I remember all too well crowding around Judy Blume’s Forever in the school library, which fell open at the ‘sexiest’ pages (do you remember the infamous Ralph?). Of course looking back it was very innocent but at the time it was exciting and alluring, and although I personally never needed any encouragement to read, it definitely drew in many of my peers that may otherwise have shown no interest.
Of course this approach won’t work with everyone but it is worth a try. The way I see it is that when it comes to encouraging boys to read we should take a ‘whatever works’ approach, because if we don’t break the barriers to reading when they are young they may be doomed to a bookless life, and that is a depressing prospect for anybody.