Monday, September 19, 2011

Word Up

I subscribe to Good Reads and peruse the book reviews of my writing peeps, but honestly, some of my best recommendations for books used to come from my kids. Three years ago, one of my high school students raved about how Twilight converted her into a voracious reader. I picked up the saga and didn’t talk to a soul for two weeks. Another slapped the entire House of Night series on my desk and exclaimed, “You have to read these. NOW.” So I did. And then counted down the days for the next installment.

I used to call one of my math classes my book club because they could simplify a complex fraction and banter about the most amazing books at the same time.
But that was one class, three years ago. I thought I’d always be able to turn to my students for what I should read next.

I was wrong.

This harsh reality bit me last year during lunch. I was using my twenty-five minute escape to read, and one of my kids stopped by, asked what I was reading. It was Delirium, and I raved about the premise and how awesome it was and asked her if she heard of Before I Fall because ohmygosh you would LOVE that story. About a month later—different kid, different book (Where She Went), similar story.

This year, Hunger Games came up in my classroom (I’m sure I initiated it). It led to talk about the trailer aired at the MTV awards, and I couldn’t help but blurt my excitement and how I was going to see the movie at midnight in Katniss garb. I probably lit up the room as much as I want to light up my hair for the premiere.

My kids laughed at me and thought I was completely wack, but it got us talking about books. And not one kid in that room (23 students) had read The Hunger Games. Some of them had NO idea what I was talking about.

And I thought, why is their math teacher the one recommending such amazing reads?

My curiosity led me to survey over a hundred readers* in various classes at a few different schools. I asked them questions like What have you read recently? How do you hear about books? What typically makes you choose a book to read?

My findings: Most new read recommendations come from teachers and friends. And while back cover blurb was the big hook for those surveyed, many said they’d also pick up a book based on first page, recommendation, and front cover art work.

And as for what they’re reading now: it’s the limited offerings of their high school library.

Then, I listed several recent (and some non-recent) titles and authors. And asked my survey peeps if they’d read (or even heard of) any. Out of 114 surveys, here are some of the results:

Uglies: 19

Hunger Games: 14

City of Bones: 10

Thirteen Reasons Why: 6

Shiver: 6

The DUFF: 3

Before I Fall: 3

The Forest of Hands and Teeth: 2

Across the Universe: 1

Anna and the French Kiss: 1

The awesomeness that is Divergent? 2

How can kids not know about Anna and the French Kiss and Before I Fall and DIVERGENT?

How can so many not know about John Green? Or The Forest of Hands and Teeth?

Or *gasp* Thirteen Reasons Why?

These books are AWESOME. If these kids aren’t reading them?

Then who is?**

Maybe it’s just a regional thing, but the kids surveyed represent a pretty diverse group. And if this is any indication of what kids aren’t reading everywhere?

I’m freaking terrified.

I’ve read these books and I know a lot of my writer friends have. And I know some of our ├╝ber-reader teens are reading them, but kids are our AUDIENCE. I mean, there’s a lot of buzz on blogs and awesome book recommendations for new and debut novels, but does today’s average reader look at book blogs? Does the average high school librarian or English teacher?

Does a book have to wait to become a Crank cult hit or depend on movie buzz to woo new readership?

Am I advocating for too much change?

I don’t know about you, but if when I do publish a novel, I want people to READ it. Like, a lot of people. Preferably soon after it hits the shelves.
Maybe I’m just impatient. Maybe I don’t want to simply “publish a book.”*** Or maybe I’m selfish because I don’t want just fifteen seconds of fame, I want to keep writing stories. And I want teenagers to keep reading them.

I DREAM of my first book signing. But tell you what. When this chick’s book does hit the shelves, I’m hitting the schools. And I’m not even waiting until then. I’ll connect with kids and high school librarians NOW. When I see a student with a book, I’ll ask them about it. And if I’m reading something AMAZING, I’ll share too. I’m not going to cram my love of books down a kid’s throat (um…I think I could get fired for that), but I’ll do what I can to pimp some good reads.

Right now, I’m compiling a list of recommended reads for my high school librarian before she does her purchasing. The English teachers are already referring kids to me who need a “good read.” I plan to do a book collage in my room of my faves. And establish my own somewhat sort of PG-13 library.

Baby steps, yo. As legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Little things make big things happen.”

Passion is infectious, in subtle doses. And I’m going to do what I can to spread the book love. And eventually pimp the heck out of my own.

How about YOU? Do YOU see this as an issue? What can YOU do to share the book love with teens?

PS - don't forget to enter our super awesome launch giveaway!!! Click here for details!

*Notice I said readers. Most of the teens I surveyed read outside the normal required high school reading. PS - if you wish to view the survey used, click here.

**rhetorical question—Agent A knows the answer.

***Okay, I so would be okay with this, but I really, really would like teens to read my books too!


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