Why are we Reading Less for Pleasure?

I really began thinking about this question after meeting someone on the train. It was amusing because my initial judgement of this man had been completely dismissive and impartial. With earrings that stretched each of his lobes to the size of a two pence coin and an unkempt beard, I hadn’t given him much thought. This was before he clocked the book I was reading, which incidentally was American Psycho, and struck up a conversation.

He asked me what I thought of it so far. I told him I was reading it for the second time, and that it was the first book that’s made me feel properly sick (which was why I thought it was good enough to be reading again). We chatted about it for a bit, swapping ideas and opinions. The conversation then evolved as he began asking me about The Handmaid’s Tale and The Catcher in the Rye before it abruptly changed when I told him I was still in school.

Together, we agreed that very few children and teenagers seem genuinely interested in reading, and that this downward spiral doesn’t seem to be going in the opposite way anytime soon. I suggested that most of them prefer flicking through Instagram or Facebook, something that does not require much effort and attention. I myself didn’t really know what to do about the problem, but this guy seemed to have it all sussed out.

“The problem is,” he told me, “is that them teachers are throwing the same old thousand- year stuff at kids who were never interested in the first place”. He began saying how rather than making them read Shakespeare and Jane Austen, we should be doing texts by Ian McEwan, or Zadie Smith – stuff that makes them interested. And if it takes American Psycho to get these kids to engage then so be it.

I did laugh to thik of a couple of school boys drooling over some of the more erotic passages involving threesomes and prostitutes in Ellis’ modern classic, before they realise that the scene is swiftly followed by two gruesome and gut-churning murders. Nevertheless, I did see where he was coming from.

According to a recent survey, 44% of young people do not read for pleasure, and with the increase in smartphones and tablets, this number is only increasing. Despite studies showing reading slows mental decline in old age or that its actually been proven as the most effective stress buster, so many just aren’t interested.

Teenagers instead seem to be engrossed by the instant gratification of social media, which provides an easy and accessible escapism day to day. A study has found that British teenagers spend more time on the internet than almost anyone else in the world, leading to the U.K being in the bottom ten ranks for life satisfaction. Obviously there is not simply fix to this problem, but if light is not shed on this matter, it will only worsen with the progression of technology.

-Romilly Cotta (R)