Sunday, August 9, 2020

Are Book Dragons a Dying Breed?

At work the other day, I was talking with some of my coworkers about the Harry Potter release parties. As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to read the books, and I’d never gone to a release party for even the popular series that I had read, like the Eragon books. Release parties sounded exciting, and I remarked how I wish I had been to one.

“People just don’t read books anymore,” my coworker said.

To which I frowned. “Many people,” I corrected. “Some still read.”

Honestly, I’ve seen both sides. For a couple of months, I worked as a substitute teacher, and I watched several kids who absolutely abhorred reading. When they had to read a chapter for class, they complained through the whole thing or said that its contents offended them or just didn’t read at all. I’m sure if I spent more time substituting, I might have seen more eager readers.

On the other hand, at my current job, which combines education and fun outside of an academic setting, I’ve seen plenty of young adult readers. I’ve seen kids read older books like The Hobbit and Ender’s Game and even the recent releases like The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I’ve talked with kids about how much time they spent at their local library, something I actually missed out on as a kid, which was mainly my socially awkward fault because I didn’t know how to ask for help.

Falling Fandoms

Humans like to congregate. If you don’t believe me, try putting a group of children in a room and telling them to keep six feet apart. The same goes for readers. Once two of them find that they both enjoyed the same story, nobody can get them to shut up.

Fandoms can be a pretty big deal, though not all readers get into them. From fanart to fan merch to events, readers can get just as enthusiastic about their fandoms as some do their sports.

However, it does seem like it’s been awhile since a YA fandom was on the rise. Right now, you have Game of Thrones or The Witcher (neither of which I would see myself getting into), but the popular books for young adults and kids aren’t discussed as much, except maybe as a means for political debate, like The Hate U Give. Which is actually kind of infuriating. Can’t young adults have their stories without it being torn apart by jaded adults?

Lucy Pevensie: I wish you’d all stop talking like grown-ups.
Trumpkin the dwarf: I… am a grown-up.
Prince Caspian, film adaptation

Sure, fandoms still exist, like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, but some of them aren’t doing as well as others. The Chronicles of Narnia may never be a complete film series, especially now that the actor for Eustace from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (book 3) is too old to play in The Silver Chair (book 4).

Not to mention whatever nosedive the Harry Potter fandom took lately. I don’t really follow news when it comes to authors, despite being an author, because I think it’s important to separate the stories from the writer. Yes, I believe in supporting present-day authors by buying their books, but I don’t have to agree with all of their beliefs or lifestyles. But that’s not something all readers can do, which is evident by the withdrawal from the Harry Potter fandom.

The Rise of Technology

Technology plays a big part in our world. Sometimes it can be a tool to encourage readers, especially when it comes to the accessibility of e-books, but it can be a distraction as well. Personally, I’ve been having a really hard time with e-books lately, even with authors whose work I typically devour. It might have something to do with no longer owning an e-reader, but that’s not all. On days when I come home tired from work, my first instinct is not to read but rather to do something that requires less energy, like watch a show or play a video game.

I’m not the only one. Technology can be a form of entertainment for many, which isn’t a bad thing as a whole. But in general, you’re more likely to hear a lot about a generation of gamers, not so much readers. In fact, readers are viewed as being more elite, which isn’t so good for a person’s pride when they consider themselves so much better than non-readers.

Finding Your Niche

My current workplace comprises a smaller part of the public, usually those who tend to prefer intellectual and/or nerdy topics, those who enjoy topics involved with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics). So a lot of the teens and preteens who come through tend to like nerdy topics already. Sure, not all of them may be avid readers, but some of them turn out to be, even if I didn’t peg them as readers at first glance. I even met a fellow writer once, which was awesome of course.

While I met one kid who said they read The Lord of the Rings in a week, I also met a kid who said they didn’t like reading but they were really into comics and graphic novels because of all the art. I did my best to encourage them, saying how I like reading graphic novels and want to read more and that they totally count as reading.

My little sister doesn’t always get into YA like I do, but she’s obsessed with fanfiction. It’s taken me a while to admit it, but sure, Wattpad counts as reading too. Besides, plenty of authors have written their books on sites like that and gone on to traditionally publish it elsewhere.

My brother, on the other hand, doesn’t get into fiction like I do, though he will occasionally pick up historical fiction. He prefers history books—the big ones and the smaller ones that get into the nitty gritty details. Back when I was first discovering what an amazing resource the library was, I used to drag him along, and he has thanked me countless times for introducing him to the place.

I am a firm believer that people who “don’t like to read” simply haven’t found their niche. Just because somebody doesn’t enjoy reading Shakespeare doesn’t mean they don’t like reading (Seriously, though. Shakespeare was a playwright. His works weren’t meant to be read). Now I haven’t studied statistics (which can easily be manipulated by the way), and I do believe that overall, the world-wide book industry isn’t doing as well as it once was.

Yet as long as we encourage new people to pursue the books that they like, readers aren’t going away anytime soon.

“Reader’s Bill of Rights
1. The right to not read
2. The right to skip pages
3. The right to not finish
4. The right to reread
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to escapism
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right to browse
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to not defend your tastes”
― Daniel Pennac

Let’s chat! What’s your take on the survival of avid readers? What’s your reading niche? How many book dragons have you encountered in the wild?


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