A case for hitting the books

By Nafina Raha

Reading as a hobby has slowly but surely fallen out of fashion over the past few decades in response to the advent of new kinds of media entertainment. Many people prefer to spend time on the Internet, watch T.V. shows, and scroll through social media as a pastime. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, only about 20 percent of teens read for fun, whereas 80 percent use social media every day. 

Despite the decreasing reading rates, it is an important and useful hobby that can help teenagers in a multitude of ways. At its most basic, reading expands your vocabulary and increases your knowledge. Reading can also improve writing and public speaking skills. Many novels introduce their readers to new phrases and ways of speaking, thus allowing them to assimilate them and use them in their own speech and writing. 

Novels also introduce their readers to new things, whether that be specific experiences, histories, or cultures, thus making readers more worldly. Many novels can increase readers’ cultural literacy, exposing them to traditions and ideas they wouldn’t have otherwise known. 

Reading can also help people learn to handle and analyze complex ideas. Those ideas represent skills necessary for teenagers who are soon to be integrated into adult life and the workforce. Understanding how different plot lines tie together can engage the reader’s critical thinking skills. 

Reading physical books is also much better for your health than staring at screens all day. It’s true; we do live in an increasingly digital world, and more and more aspects of our lives occur through a screen. Even so, it’s important to take into account the health impacts of spending hours looking at a screen each day. It’s important to take breaks from online work or recreation, and reading physical books can stand in as an engaging activity. 

Many teenagers don’t realize that almost all of their favorite movies and T.V. shows are actually based on novels. From “The Fault in Our Stars” to “The 100” to “The Hunger Games,” the majority of film and television that teenagers consume comes from books. However, novels typically explore their key topics with more depth than movies. Many concepts, such as the evolution of a character’s inner thoughts, cannot be communicated well through television in the way that they can through the written word. Due to this, books provide more complex, intriguing plotlines and present greater growth and development within their characters and stories. 

Young Adult (YA) novels are generally marketed to readers aged anywhere between 12 and 18, although the genre has readers of all age groups. These novels are typically centered around things that most teens deal with on an everyday basis, such as finding oneself, learning to be comfortable with your identity, and encountering the world through a new and particular lens. Other more specific issues that many teens face and that we as a society should be talking about also serve as the focus of many YA novels, such as police brutality (“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas), mass incarceration (“Dear Martin” by Nic Stone), immigration restrictions in the U.S. (“The Sun is Also a Star” by Nicola Yoon), and rape culture (“The Female of the Species” by Mindy McGinnis).

Latinx, Black, Asian, Muslim, and LGBTQIA+ identities are amplified in a multitude of contemporary YA books. “Felix Ever After” by Kacen Callender tells the story of Felix Love, a Black, transgender, queer protagonist, and explores the intersectionality of different aspects of one’s identity. “The Henna Wars” by Abida Jaigirdar touches upon queer identities within South Asian and Latinx cultures, and the main character Nishat explores the overlapping of her Muslim faith and her sexual orientation. “Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas is a paranormal contemporary, exploring the story of a young trans Latino boy and giving a new spin to traditional ghost stories.A Very Large Expanse of Sea” by Tahereh Mafi tells the story of a hijabi teenage girl in America in 2002, the year after 9/11, and delves into the discriminatory experiences many Muslim-Americans faced during the time period. 

Popular fantasy YA novels have also served as important beacons within popular culture. The hugely popular Harry Potter universe by J. K. Rowling has shown that YA stories are loved by just about any demographic. Rick Riordan’s plethora of series, including “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” “The Heroes of Olympus,” “The Kane Chronicles,” and “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard,” have become staples within many literary circles, and drawn huge audiences with their modern take on ancient mythological traditions from all over the world and their demigod protagonists. 

Meanwhile, Leigh Bardugo’s “Grishaverse,” found in “The Shadow and Bone” trilogy, the “Six of Crows” duology, and the “King of Scars” duology, explores a fantasy world full of magic, mystery, and allure while touching upon many heavy issues that teenagers, and many people overall, deal with every day. With everything from morally grey protagonists to magic-wielding thieves to seemingly-impossible heists, these series have found great popularity amongst many audiences. Bardugo’s “Grishaverse” is being turned into a Netflix original series called “Shadow and Bone,” set to stream on April 23 of this year. 

Many YA fantasies include retellings of the common fairy tales we all hear growing up. For example, Marissa Meyer’s “The Lunar Chronicles” imagines the stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White in a futuristic, dystopian world in which humans have colonized the moon and cyborgs and androids are a staple in ordinary life. Meanwhile, her standalone novel “Heartless” tells the backstory of Wonderland’s infamous Queen of Hearts, going into the events that turned her into a monster and tyrant. 

Other YA novels take the well-known and widely-loved stories of superheroes and add new spins and twists to them. The DC Icons Series reimagines the stories of Wonder Woman, Batman, Catwoman, Superman, and Black Canary, and each story is told by a different popular YA author, setting these characters in new and vividly-imagined storylines. 

“The Illuminae Files” by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have pioneered an entirely new way of storytelling, telling the story of a futuristic world in which humans have expanded into galaxies beyond the Milky Way, having invented a way to travel through wormholes in space. The series combines science with fiction, drawing on research on psychology, viral disease, space travel, and artificial intelligence to tell the story of teenagers living 500 years in the future. The three books are told via a dossier of files, including images, interviews, transcripts of audio recordings, emails, medical reports, and more, creating a new way to tell stories. 

Overall, books have tons of intriguing, vivid stories to tell, with depth and complexity that allow their readers to grow intellectually while being immersed into entertaining and enjoyable stories. If there was any era perfect for becoming a new reader and integrating oneself into the world of stories that await in the pages right at our fingertips, now, with our current quarantine, would be it.