As a young teenager my favourite book was The Hunger Games. I read the first book in three days but managed to stretch the third and final instalment of the series out to a number of weeks because I loved it so much that I didn’t want it to end. To be honest, I don’t think I have ever found any book which I have loved and felt so invested in as that.
To be clear, I am by no means claiming that The Hunger Games is the best series ever written. I haven’t read it since, but I imagine that if I did I would probably be fairly outraged by poor writing and plot lines and wonder how I ever loved the book as much as I did.
If I’m honest, I read quite a lot of ‘trashy’ fiction in my young teenage years. Divergent, City of Bones, The Fault in Our Stars – I even dabbled in Twilight (although I was not hopeless enough to continue reading it after I discovered the tragedy that was New Moon).
The classics just weren’t as engaging
Of course, this was all met by much protest from my parents. They told me that if I wanted to study English Literature at university I needed to put down all that typical teen fiction and start picking up some classics instead. And so, I moved on.
However, nothing ever grabbed me as much as The Hunger Games did. As much as I appreciated that writing about my love for that series in my personal statement probably wasn’t going to get me into a good university, the classics just weren’t as engaging. Of course, I found some that I quite liked, but I would like to state for the record that I still think that 1984 is an incredibly boring book. I appreciate its importance as a literary exploration of the possibilities of a dystopian society, but in terms of actually telling an interesting story, it’s pretty weak.
The most important point is that I got to write about it in my personal statement and I’ve ticked that off the list. Even though I thoroughly detested that book to the point that it took me almost six months to get through, I can now move on to something else from the canon – a ‘respectable’ piece of literature.
While YA books are admittedly not the most well-written in the world, they have an uncanny ability to capture the imagination
The problem with being forced to read classics was that it took away all the enjoyment I found in reading. I could no longer read for pleasure and instead found that everything I was reading was either for my personal statement or related to one of my A Level texts. As a result, I simply stopped reading.
The reality is that fewer and fewer young teenagers are reading now, and particularly for enjoyment. A study found that in 1980, 60% of students aged 17-18 read a non-school text everyday, but by 2016 this number had dropped to only 16%. Clearly this shows a very serious problem. So in our effort to encourage more young people to read, shouldn’t the fact that they are reading at all take precedence over what genre they are reading?
Whilst YA books are admittedly not the most well-written in the world, they have an uncanny ability to capture the imagination. As long as it makes people feel excited about reading, I don’t have a problem with it, because that is something that is dying out. We live in a world where children now spend hours on their phone before they go to bed, rather than reading. When parents come upstairs to check that their child is asleep, they no longer have to turn off the lamp and scramble to hide the book under the covers but merely turn off their phone screen.
But they will only be reading the classics because they read that badly-written YA first that taught them to love literature
The benefits of reading are not confined to specific genres. It teaches children new words, how to write and how to empathise and those are not skills that are made any less valuable by what book the person is reading. For me, I was just as capable of empathising with the characters from The Hunger Games as with those from The Great Gatsby.
So if teens want to read Twilight, I have no problem with that. They are learning all the same skills and I’m sure at some point will grow out of this genre and move on to classics instead. But they will only be reading the classics because they read that badly-written YA novel first that taught them to love literature in the first place. It seems to me that what is most important is that children read what they enjoy, because if they don’t enjoy it, they’ll simply stop reading and that would be a great shame.