From a personal experience, I held the notion for quite a while that reading was an old-fashioned hobby, losing out to web comics, streaming TV shows and mobile gaming. There is quite a bit out there to distract the masses, vying for our attention. When people see me read, they usually give me a pitiful look and say, “Reading is so boring/slow/etc etc.”
When I was in grade school, there was a predominate message that reading was a life-long interest, and the facility and teachers supported Drop Everything and Read and took part in the state-wide book awards and whipped up the class into excitement over the book fairs. Even corporations were in on the deal; programs and incentives to read over the summer always cropped up, such as free pizza for a completed Read It form from Pizza Hut to promote literacy in young students.
This seemed more intimidating than supportive. I’ve often talked about my own literacy challenges growing up. I wasn’t the best reader in school, and I always ranked at the bottom for reading and writing skills for my grade level. Looking back, I should have been held back, since I lacked proper social skills for my level, which correlated to poor scholastic results due to my (then unknown) anxiety, social avoidance and overall fear of school and failure. I was certain, at a young age, that I was not “a reader”. I only started to pick up novels because my teacher in the 5th grade introduced me to interesting YA/MG books, and the Babysitters Club was a hot commodity.
After I hit high school, my interest in reading waned once again, due to shame over my choice of reading, and the pressure to pick up more “intellectual” novels. When I left school at the turn of the century, I was hardly picking up a book at all. When I graduated public schooling, the internet was still in the early stages of production, and hobbyists were still slowly starting to develop their online communities.
In Summary: After a brief stint as a reading enthusiast as a new teen, I stopped reading because I didn’t know how to find books I liked.
According to my records that I have kept on a now defunct Livejournal page, I had read 14 books in 2008 and 13 books in 2009. I was just shy of ten years between my high school graduation and my sudden interest in novels. What pushed me back into reading was, yes, Twilight (that’s right, I was a Twihard for a few years). I was proud of my one book a month pace during this time. I thought I was just so awesome.
I first joined Goodreads in 2010, the good old days prior to the mass censorship that came with the Amazon buyout. I had only 2 or 3 wavering friends, who sporadically updated their profiles, due to disinterest or a heavy workload. By this time, I was in my infancy of my Book Renaissance. I connected to other readers and bloggers, and slowly, I started to discover one of the most vital skills for reading for enjoyment: how to find books that I would enjoy. This would kick off what would eventually lead me to blogging and reviewing as a hobbyist.
I was mistaken when I thought I was one of the few that was hitting a new Golden Age of Literacy. I still had the notion that reading was a specialized pastime for people. However, recently, I discovered that I am just one of the few that is currently experiencing a new relationship with reading.
This all started with this picture from an online source (I know, Cracked has some issues, but I love their info-graph contests), that states that reading is not dying off, but instead, finding a new life. I nodded and thought that maybe this was due to e-readers. I’m very vocal for my advocacy of e-readers, and I will fully admit that e-books and e-readers helped reintroduce me back into the world of fiction.
While e-books did see a surge at the turn of the 2010’s, some book stores report that now paperbacks are starting to edge out their electronic cousins. Paper is the new black and bookstores confirm this trend. Even though print is the popular choice, the new format has brought the life back into reading.
Frankly, it is much easier to be a reader currently than it was before, and what is offered is higher quality than previous generations of books. There is plenty of research that states that the children of the 21st century are beating the pants off the older generation when it comes to reading for fun. The very resources that some authors and readers scoff at are actually increasing the popularity of the hobby. While some bemoan that the internet is throttling the life out of books, the exact opposite is true. So while your uncle at the dinner table during the holidays complains that the world wide web is exposing kids to all kinds of evils, no one wants to acknowledge that the ‘net is exposing people to positive topics.
And while I give quite a bit of credit to the electronic and information age for boosting readers, there is another hero of these good times: the authors themselves. Diversity of characters and topics is changing the whole entire landscape. There are some great novels in the past, from my very own childhood, but literature that offered anything outside of suburban white privilege or European folklore was sparse. There were topics of broken families and social issue, but it was hard to find books that dug a bit deeper. I am in no way attacking older fiction. The Tillerman series was the first book I picked up that exposed me to mental illness and underage homelessness. The Face on the Milk Carton scared me because someone dared to talk about the sudden interest in missing and exploited children. But these books, to me, to a girl living on the fringes of a Southern conservative, and highly religious state, were a great discovery when I hardly had access to anything but mass produced cheap thrillers and stories of how girls should act and behave.
So what made you into the reader you are today? I know some of our readers are still teenagers. Do you believe that you will continue to be an reading advocate after public schooling? When you head into college? For the older readers, did better access help you? Or community programs to help adult readers? I am interested in your own reading history, if indeed you are experiencing your own reading renaissance.