I wonder about the attraction of reading as an escape. I rarely give myself over to the plot so completely that I am unaware of my surroundings. I am highly attuned to my senses, especially sound, so I can never really disappear into the world on the pages. I've come close - being surprised at how much time had passed on the clock on a lazy Sunday morning or a summer day at the beach. Books elicit a highly personal response. What attracts each of us to a particular author's style? What determines our preferences in our reading choices?
I have never taken a psychology course that addresses why we choose to read what we do. Being part of a book club for several years however, has led me to a deeper understanding of the nature of our own personality types and emotional investment in books. Personal history plays a huge part in our selections, or lack thereof. Reluctant readers do not derive the positive reinforcement that reading an engaging work of fiction can bring. I see it as one of my goals as a middle school teacher to instill a passion for reading in my young charges.
In the increasingly media-driven world, I am not seeing fewer readers, thank goodness! I am, however, seeing the reluctant readers less willing to put down the media and try a book than ever before. These youngsters' inability to see a moving picture in their head makes book reading practically devoid of enjoyment. They expend incredible amounts of emotional energy trying to decode the meaning of the words, leaving nothing left for the picture formed by imagination. Much has been written about this issue (see Tankersley and Pylyshyn for details) with much disagreement. How do I convince them that the effort is worth their struggle? I cannot effectively transmit my experience, just as I cannot describe to you what red looks like to me (great vid on this topic: vsauce). Indeed, my love of books has more to do with my own interest in human behavior and psychology and the books I select that capitalize on this aspect of writing. I engage in books that have authentic characters with valid motivations. Fake or unrealistic characters are easy to spot. Knowing this, and how my own preferences differ from those of my book club friends has given me a more focused lens to use in choosing books for us to read as a grade. Seeking believable protagonists encountering the same struggles that my students experience is paramount. No adult can swoop in and rescue. Such hogwash defeats the purpose of these pre-teens searching for ways to become independent.
Still I struggle with the students who eagerly confess they despise reading, even after gushing how much they enjoyed the book we just finished. What a conundrum! I often encourage reluctant and struggling readers to listen to an audio version as they read along. Hearing the voice changes and inflections adds a piece of information they may not yet be able to create on their own. Beyond providing these proverbial carrots, I'm still searching for intrinsic motivators. I am not a fan of extrinsic motivational programs. I believe that Dan Pink's philosophy (see below) applies to my young readers' interest, too. I know that I cannot be the panacea for every child experiencing a struggle. I just want them to love to read as much as I do. In my own house, I have a 50% success rate. My daughter, now in college, is a voracious reader who now recommends books to me. Truth be told, she has ALWAYS had an unusually vivid imagination. My son, on the other hand, a high school senior, reads only enough to get him through his classes. He would not read a book for pleasure even if I paid him! (Believe me, I tried - so my belief in Pink's theory is documented.) It isn't that he isn't a creative thinker. He is. He's also a stronger writer than his sister. But he hates to read.
Well, I will keep trying. Maybe the mere passion for literary discourse will engage a student here or there when I least suspect it. As for me, my never-ending list is calling, as is the next tome for Book Club. What are YOU reading?