Jim Carrington: Getting boys into books
Published on: 21 Chwefror 2011 Author: Jim Carrington
When I write, my brief to myself is...um...brief. Simply, I write books that I would have wanted to read when I was a teenager. If it wouldn't have interested the teenage me, it doesn't make it onto the page.
In this way, I suppose you could say that the main reason I write is in the hope of getting boys reading. Perhaps the BookTrust website is the wrong place to admit this, but as a teenager I was anything but a bookworm. I could happily go from month to month without even worrying the pages of a novel. That's not to say that I didn't read at all however. I spent hours reading football programmes from cover to cover. I devoured countless music magazines every week.
My natural urge in the morning wasn't to visit the bathroom and spend a penny, but to switch on the television and read the football and cricket pages on Ceefax - oh, how I would have loved the internet as a teenager. But I barely read a book a year. It seems strange now that I'm a grown up - especially as an English graduate, a teacher and writer. But it's the truth. It wasn't that I came from a literary deprived household; every inch of my parents' house was covered with shelves and shelves of books. But, to paraphrase an old cliché, you can lead a boy to books, but you can't make him read.
I've thought about this a lot over the years; why I didn't read stories as a teenager. I'm not sure that I have come up with a definitive answer however, or that I ever will. It could have been that I didn't know which books to read, perhaps. Back in the late 80s and early 90s my school library didn't have much to interest me. The novels were all tattered and - to judge a whole library worth of books by their covers - they were dull.
My teenage years weren't a total literary graveyard though. Some of the books that we looked at in English lessons - A Kestrel For A Knave, Animal Farm and In Cold Blood to name a few - have stayed with me since and have become favourites. I think these books convinced me that there would be more books out there that were for me. And when one of my old English teachers began recommending books I might like - Slaughterhouse 5 stands out as a winning recommendation - I was a confirmed reader.
As an author and a teacher, I'm in the privileged position of visiting many high schools and libraries and I'd like to report that, in my opinion, things look much rosier than when I was a pupil. Many of the high school libraries I visit are stocked fantastically well. They have book groups running that shadow judging panels. They have excellent librarians pointing young people in the direction of books they will love and arranging author visits.
Still however, a lot of parents of teenage boys have told me that their sons simply don't read, and instead spend hours playing computer games online. I am heartened however, because these same parents have also told me that when they've handed their boys copies of my books, they have read and enjoyed them and even asked for more. Perhaps one book, one well judged recommendation, can be the thing that opens the world of books to a teenage boy. And if this is the case, the role of the librarian, the teacher and the parent is absolutely key in getting boys reading.
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