Who says today's kids don't read?

Lately it’s been a lament among my friends that our kids don’t read. For pleasure, that is; there’s plenty of assigned reading from school to go around – forced reading, that pretty quickly takes the joy out of the exercise. Imagine reading “Lord of the flies” with a mandate to find a useful quote from each section read and apply it to your own life. It’s not surprising that my 12-year old rebels when he is offered a book.

There’s also the irresistible lure of the video game, the computer and the hand-held electronic device – with so much instant visual and auditory gratification, why on earth would a child spend time on something that takes much longer to scan and which doesn’t have images or sound to supplement the experience? I was very afraid that a whole generation was growing up that did not enjoy the simple pleasure of reading a book.

Till I read this interesting article in the New Yorker titled “I ? novels”. In Japan, a new genre of books has emerged – the cell-phone novel.

Mone was depressed. It was the winter of 2006, and she was twenty-one, a onetime beauty-school student and a college dropout…. she went to stay with her mother, in the country town where she had grown up. Back in her old bedroom, she nursed her malaise, and for weeks she barely left the house…One day, at the end of March, she pulled out all her old photo albums and diaries, and decided to write a novel about her life. She curled up on her side in bed and began typing on her mobile phone. Mone started posting her novel straight from her phone to a media-sharing site called Maho i-Land.

By the third day of posting, she started receiving reader comments and responses. She typed out thousands of words a day on that tiny screen and eventually, bolstered by positive comments, finished her novel in nineteen days. The book was picked up by a publisher and converted into a hardback version. Inspired by Mone, other writers started writing on their cell phones and at the end of 2007, four out of the five top selling hardcover titles in Japan were “cell-phone” novels.

I guess there will always be a demand for stories – it is just the medium that has changed. Just as we could not read Dickens without grimacing, kids today cannot cope with our way of reading. They will figure out their own medium and their own language and hopefully the love of reading will simply find a generationally appropriate outlet. Life lessons may be learnt from comic books and who knows, the classic of this century may be penned all in SMS!

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