Teen Reading Rates On the Rise

By Ifeanyi Chijindu

It seems the hectic lifestyle of Cal Poly students may cost them
their reading habit.

The Seattle Post Intelligencer claimed young adults are buying
and reading more books than the book industry has seen in
decades.

However, it’s the opposite case at Cal Poly.

Blanca Fernandez has worked at the Cal Poly University Library
for three years and though the library carries some fiction, she
believes the students mostly check out books for research and
homework, not pleasure.

“Students check out books mainly for classes,” said Fernandez.
“[The fiction] gets checked out less than academic subjects because
this is [mainly] an academic library.”

However, Fernandez-who calls herself an “average
reader”-believes the reading decline isn’t just affecting Cal Poly
Pomona students, but society in general.

“I really don’t think I’ve changed my reading habits,” said
Fernandez. “[But] I think people are reading less because there’s
more entertainment means than before.”

Fernandez’s opinion contrasts with “Booklist” magazine critic
Michael Cart’s statement to the Seattle Post Intelligencer

“Kids are buying books in quantities we’ve never seen before and
publishers are courting young adults in ways we haven’t seen since
the 1940s,” said Cart, a specialist in young adult literature.

The Seattle Post Intelligencer also stated an increase in the
caliber of books chosen by teens and young adults. It claimed teen
book sales went up “by a quarter between 1999 and 2005, but the
quality is soaring as well.”

However, Barnes and Noble bookseller Eric Hemmett, 30,
disagrees. He deals with the reader on a very personal basis and he
feels though teens and young adults are definitely reading more,
but quality of the books they choose has gone down, not up as the
Intelligencer claims.

“Books I read in elementary and junior high [can now be] found
over in the regular book section, [instead of] the kids’ section,
except for Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary” said Hemmett.

It seems most of today’s teens first encounter great literature
well into their high school years.

“When I was in junior high, I read things like ‘Flowers for
Algernon,’ ‘The Outsiders,’ and a few Steinbeck books like ‘Grapes
of Wrath,’ but I now know those to be for high school,” said
Hemmett.

Most Gen X adults remember enjoying books like “Ramona the Pest”
and the “Babysitters’ Club” in elementary school, not junior high
and “Grapes of Wrath” used to be a seventh grade staple, but no
more.

“I loved Ramona Quimby in elementary, but now I see kids about
to enter junior high reading them and at that point, I was reading
at a much higher level,” Hemmett said.

However, the Harry Potter craze may help to bring back quality
reading for teens and young adults.

According to Hemmett, each Harry Potter book challenges the
reader to a higher level of reading than the previous one.

“The beauty about Harry Potter books is [how] they’ve forced
kids to start reading at a higher level because the first book is
written at a 7th grade level,” said Hemmett.

So, even though Harry Potter and similar books have taken
advantage of the money generated by teen readership, they still
challenge their teen readers to rise up to and beyond their reading
comprehension.

“As [they] progress, the reading level becomes more difficult
because it’s keeping up with the kids who began reading at that
age,” said Hemmett.

Some hope this will start a reverse trend, where kids will read
ahead of their age, instead of behind.

Developing a continuous reading habit includes endless rewards
such as strengthening the imagination, building the vocabulary and
stimulating ideas.

Ifeanyi Chijindu can be reached by e-mail at
arts@thepolypost.com or by phone at (909) 869-3744.

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