sábado, 14 de marzo de 2015

Some observations on the reading lists before and after the turn of the century

The young people who participated in our survey were between 12 and 15 years old, that is, they are the daughters and sons of the new century, of the milennium. The production of books for children and young adults has grown alongside them and, together with the educational programmes related to reading promotion during these years, this means that this generation of Mexicans has had the most books within their reach. It is ironic that it is also the generation that has had the most access to electronic activities which probably distract them from reading (although we are only just glimpsing what these activities could really mean for their literacy practices), however, it seems this does not mean that they have stopped reading. 

In this blog post we will comment on the list of titles obtained from the survey and also on the differences and similarities between 1992 and 2014 in terms of what the market offers and reading preferences. Athough some of the 2014 survey’s questions were changed due to practical reasons, we believe that the list allows us to make some tentative observations about the changes in the last 25 years, changes that take us from a time in which Harry Potter was totally unknown (perhaps even to his creator) to a time in which he is a character familiar to millions of readers around the world; therefore, an alternative title for this blog could well be “Reading in Mexico pre- and post- Harry Potter”.

In the survey we applied in September 2014 to 209 second and third year secondary students, we asked them to write down the names of the books that they remembered reading when they were “very little”; “in primary school” and “in the last two months”. The result was a total list of about 350 different titles. They mentioned stories as well as books and we don’t know how many they actually finished reading  but despite this and some questionable responses (Fifty Shades of Grey when they were “very young”?), the list of titles is revealing in many ways.

The great variety of these titles is what is immediately apparent; although some titles are repeated, these are fewer than those which appear only once. The most frequently repeated titles were “The Three Little Pigs and the Wolf” (70); “Little Red Riding Hood” (57) and The Little Prince by Saint-Exupéry (44).  The rest belong to various literary genres: fables, fairy tales, traditional stories (myths and legends), non-fiction, picturebooks, graphic novels, comics, classic and contemporary children’s and young adult literature and books “for adults”, both classic and contemporary.

If we concentrate only on the list of 130 titles that the adolescents said they had read in the two months before the survey (that is, during the summer of 2014), we can see that they continue to read this variety of genres, in particular, non-fiction (especially historical), “self-help”, comic strips, traditional stories and legends. However, the books that predominate are those that we could classify as “children’s literature” or “YA literature”, together with literary “classics” and “best-sellers” for adults. Among the classics there are clearly books that were required as school reading but there are also signs of a growing interest in novels and poetry.

In the questionnaire from 1992 (92 students), if we set aside the required school reading, there was also a prevalence of non-fiction and self-help books but the titles that stood out were novels of “social-realism” (sex, drugs, abuse, relationships) with young protagonists, for example, Born Innocent, Go Ask Alice and Sara T – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic. A few other books were based on human development or “spiritual” themes, such as Jonathan Livingston Seagull. (It is worth noting that this questionnaire was carried out a few years before the appearance of the extraordinarily successful books by Carlos Cuauhtémoc Sánchez, which provide conservative self-help messages within overly dramatic narratives involving young people; these were the most read titles in a similar survey carried out with a similar age group a few years later in 1996). The only two books that could be classified as “children’s literature” were Little Women and Tom Sawyer.

Fast-forward to 2014 and the most popular books are: The Fault in our Stars (29), Around the World in Eighty Days (12), The Hunger Games (11), Harry Potter (volume not always specified) (7), Fifty Shades of Grey (6), Twilight (6), The Boy in the Striped Pijamas (5), Catching Fire (5), Ghostgirl (5) and Three Metres above the Sky (5).  Several trends are immediately apparent: first, the number of readers for John Green’s novel; second, that among these first ten titles, six are marketed specifically for “young adults” (while The Boy with the Stripped Pyjamas can be considered a “cross-over” book). Eight of these books had also been made into films (Fifty Shades had not yet been released). Among the rest of the titles there are many other books that are marketed as “children’s or YA literature”, including Divergent, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Momo, and  Percy Jackson among others. While most are translations, a few books by Mexican authors appear, such as La panza del Tepozteco [The Belly of the Tepozteco] by José Agustín and Siete cadáveres decapitados [Seven decapitated cadavers] by Antonio Malpica. Finally, graphic novels make an appearance, which they did not do in the list from 1992.

A few books seem to have survived the transition into the new century (perhaps it is because they were reccommended to the readers by their parents’ generation?). Among the books that were mentioned in 1992 and appear again in 2014, are The Diary of Anne Frank, Go ask Alice, Alice in Wonderland, Tom Sawyer, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and The Little Prince. There are also several books by Cuauhtémoc Sanchez (Un grito desesperado, Juventud en éxtasis and Los ojos de mi princesa).

From this initial view of the survey results, we can conclude that young people ARE reading, and that ‘post- Harry Potter”, they read more books and within a greater variety of genres. The results also suggest that the reading of children’s and YA literature has greatly increased, and that, in spite of or perhaps because of film, interent and social media, young people continue both to find pleasure and to look for answers in books.