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Where Have the Readers Gone?

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Last week, I read an article in an e-newsletter about the canceling of a teenage book club by one of the major New York houses. They said it was due to a lack of support. I found this to be a sad statement about the future. Does this mean that teenagers have stopped reading? If so, where will we get (and how can we develop) our next generation of readers?

As a teenager, I remember immersing myself one summer in anything and everything I could get that had been written by D. H. Lawrence. I took these books to the beach with me; I read them on the bus as I was going to my summer job; I stayed up all hours of the night and got up early to finish the last few chapters. True, I wasn’t supposed to be reading these books. At that time, many of Lawrence’s titles were held in a back room of our hometown library because of what was considered to be their “questionable content.” I guess this was a form of censorship. Fortunately, for me, my best friend worked in the library that summer and had a key to this wonderful room. She’d sneak me into the room late in the day, and I’d pop a new Lawrence off the shelf, slipping it under my shirt, while returning the one I had just read. Then I’d casually stroll out of the library! Henry Miller and Dylan Thomas, who also shared the shelf space in this great room, were of no interest to me.

While my male counterparts would read the magazine Sports Illustrated and occasionally a book about some sports hero, I must admit that reading seemed to be more prevalent among my female friends than with males. I wonder if time has changed that at all?

The other day, I received a publication in the mail that somewhat buoyed my sinking spirits. Shoshanim: A Magazine for Jewish Teenage Girls arrived. While not very elegant in design, it’s packed full of interesting articles that teenage girls might actually read! It’s published by the Ahavas Yisrel Synagogue of Los Angeles and is a quarterly. What really lifted my spirits was what I found in the last two pages of the magazine. It was a polling of its readership. In the area of “What’s your favorite thing to do on a day off?” I found such comments as:

“Write. I write anything. Using a pen and paper. I do journal writing. I write true stories and poetry. (12th Grader)”

“I sit and read. (10th Grader)”

“…reading any book, but especially nonfiction. I like real stories. (10th Grader)”

“Reading. All kinds of books. Novels, history, biographies, magazines. (9th Grader)”

There were also the typical comments like “sleep late,” “go shopping,” “do homework,” “do something with friends,” etc., which are the joys and/or banes of any teenager’s life. But I found the amount of comments related to reading to be energizing. After seeing them, I thought that though the teenage book club got canceled, this may not be the end of the world for reading, reader development, and the future of publishing. It may just be the opening of a door for us to develop something to mesmerize the youth of today in the same fashion D. H. Lawrence hypnotized me. Any ideas out there?

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