Reading is “very much important”
This opinion about reading was written by a young girl of 14 who participated in our reading survey. In the questionnaire, we asked them to write their opinion about reading. The idea that reading is “important” is reflected in the majority of the opinions given by the 250 respondents, students in second and third year from two government secondary schools.
So, according to them, why is reading “very much” important? We still do not have the exact statistics, but it is obvious that for the majority, reading is important mainly as a tool to “read better”, “learn”, “obtain knowledge/information”, “develop comprehension”, “write correctly”, “help with spelling” or “with cultural benefits”. There were only a few mentioned that it was “fun” or whose answers reflected a sense of enjoyment or pleasure. Other replies simply indicated that it was “boring”, “not for me” and/or that they did not “have time” to spend with books.
These opinions about reading are almost identical to those expressed by the 90 young people who participated in the original study and replied to the same request when the questionnaire was applied in 1992. This is what I wrote in the thesis when I analysed these opinions:
Although these opinions are brief, the contradictions and the repetition of certain words and ideas are significant, like the words "useful" and "knowledge". The adjectives used most frequently were "boring", "interesting" and "nice"; the verbs were "serve", "teach" and "learn" and the object of these actions were "culture", "knowledge", "vocabulary" and "spelling". These opinions seem to reflect the idea that reading is a means to achieve an objective and not an end in itself, in Rosenblatt's terms, they are talking about "efferent" reading.* These comments show that adolescents recognized reading as "useful" and equated books with school activities and boredom. There seems to be an almost total identification of reading as a curricular activity, as an obligation, but not as an activity that can be fun and entertaining.
Almost 25 years later, this scenario is repeated, although it seems that the issue of “having time” to read has become more problematic: at that point in time, reading competed mainly with television; now it also competes with the computer, digital social networks, cell phones, films and/or videos, i-pods and other music gadgets and videogames, among others. In what appears to be a contradiction, many young people wrote that they read when they were “bored” and had nothing else to do.
These results are not particularly surprising, what is surprising is that there are some young readers who take the time to read a book and have a favorable opinion of this activity, not because it is “useful”, but because of the enjoyment they derive from it. This pleasure is manifested mainly in the word “fun” and the idea that it stimulates the imagination. In the more recent survey, the responses that help us understand what they mean by this are the ones in which they describe why they liked a certain book, in other words, the responses that don’t refer to the “importance” of reading but to a “significant” text. These usually more elaborate replies were about particular books that had a personal significance, whether this was about relationships with others, their own search for identity, questions about life (or death), among the other things that preoccupy an adolescent in the 21st century, but that also preoccupied young people nearly a quarter of a century ago. Significant texts provoked their curiosity, took them “to the world of fantasy”; involved their emotions and feelings; and had to do with “identifying” with the characters or distracting them from their problems. Once again, the replies are almost identical to those mentioned in the original survey.
In the original study, I worked with young people who described themselves as reading only “a little”. We read and discussed three YA books, selected with the idea that they were about themes that could interest them, with characters their age and accessible language. These were the Spanish translations of The World of Ben Lighthart by Jaap ter Haar (1983, Ediciones SM); Don’t Ask for Sardines out of Season by Andreu Martin y Jaume Ribera (1988, Alfaguara) and The Thief by Jan Needle (1993, Fondo de Cultura Económica). Almost all the participants expressed their liking for these books. They found them “fun” and “entertaining” mostly because they had been able to relate to or become involved with the characters in some way. This is what I wrote in the conclusion of the thesis:
The most satisfying result of the research was that a few students manifested a pleasure in having finished and enjoyed a book and a desire to continue reading.
In the next blogs we will write not only about the more specific results of the survey but also about the three books that we chose for our current research. One of the differences between the projects is that in the first one all three were novels but in the current one, two of the texts have images, one is a graphic novel and one is a picturebook. We have started reading the graphic novel and so far it has been a success. Several readers have described it as “cool”. As Juan Domingo Argüelles, editor and also author of many essays on reading, said at one of the panel discussions during the IBBY Congress in Mexico, “if a kid says that a book is ‘cool’, you’ve done it”.
The question is, then, can a book be “very much important” and “cool” at the same time?
*Rosenblatt, L.M. (1978). The Reader, the Text and the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work, Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press.