“NO MORE DAMN COMIC BOOKS!”
Do Smartphones Encourage or Discourage Reading?
I thought of my dad yelling at me, “No more of these damn comic books!” when I read the opinion piece, “The death of serious reading among teens,” by high school and college social science teacher, Jeremy Adams (Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2019). Having published four novels and with a fifth soon to be published, I’ve yet to find a young person who has expressed interest in reading my stories, even though they’re “coming-of-age” romances, and are set in West Texas cowboy country—an exotic region, which I thought would excite young folks. It turns out that it’s the older crowd—well over thirty—who are reading my Once Upon a Time in the Texas Panhandle series.
My editor/publisher—who is thirty—thinks it’s a matter of marketing. That is, publicity for books for younger readers is problematic. But Jeremy Adams, who has spent the last two decades teaching in a public high school in Bakersfield, California, blames it on the smartphone: “Reading books has been sacrificed to the tyranny of texting and the dizzying array of social media platforms.” That is, the ability of young folks to read a book has been lost. It’s not just my books that they don’t read—it’s any book of any kind! (If Mr. Adams is correct.)
Back to my dad: in the 1940s and mid-1950s, he blamed comic books for the fact that I didn’t read “real” books: that is, books with hard covers, printed on paper, several hundred pages long … and no pictures! My mother was always reading, and her “real” books were all over the house. But I didn’t read them. My father blamed the comic books that I kept buying (at ten cents a copy, then fifteen cents). Whenever he found one that I had squirreled away, he would tear it up and yell at me.
But my dad was wrong, just as I think Mr. Adams is wrong. My dad’s solution to the problem was to rip to shreds the offending comic book. Mr. Adams, in the last paragraph of his article, quotes a recent Bakersfield High valedictorian for how to solve the alleged “death-of-serious-reading” problem: “I would find a cliff and throw my phone off of it.”
My dad was wrong. Actually, I was reading all the time: the Classics Illustrated comic book series, which featured adaptations of literary classics, such as Les Miserables, Moby Dick, The Iliad, and my favorites: the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. The dialogues in these comics were for the most part actual quotes from the “real” books. I was able to read almost anything from the time I was five or six, and thus I introduced myself to literary classics from the time I was little. But for my father, I didn’t read. He never even glanced into what he was tearing up and making a big show of throwing into the wastebasket of my room—while yelling at me.
And I think Mr. Adams is wrong. Actually, young folks today are reading all the time. They’re just not reading what Mr. Adams would consider “real” books: that is, hard-cover or paper-back, printed-on-paper volumes, which are eight-or-nine inches by five-or-six, and which you hold in your hand and turn actual pages with your fingers. Young folks are constantly texting and reading texts—but on their phones and not in books. Whatever they happen to be interested in, it’s there on their smartphones, in an instant. Encyclopedias are museum pieces. The most recent smartphones have more computing power than was available to the NASA scientists who sent astronauts to the moon in Apollo rockets during the 1960s and 1970s.
My mom’s solution? When my dad went to work (my mother was a stay-at-home housewife), she would give me a dime (later a nickel and a dime) and say, for example, “When I was buying groceries yesterday at the Piggly Wiggly, I noticed that there’s a new edition of Classics Illustrated that they just put on the magazine racks: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It’s a favorite of mine. Just don’t let your dad find it.” My solution for Mr. Adams? If I were him, I would start a special blog on which I would post anecdotes about the funniest things I saw last week in my classes at the high school. And I would write an e-book of funny short stories, based on true events in my life when I was growing up or in the lives of people I grew up with. The solution for my editor? She’s working on it—how to reach young folks and maybe get them to read my novels on their smartphones through Amazon—starting with a free e-book copy or several free chapters from my latest novel.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get your free ebook copy of any of my books today.