Conversing about literature with a group of boys and girls in the third and fourth years of secondary school
On November 9, and in the framework of the European project Engage Young Producers, lead by PEN Català we visited the Institut d’Educació Secundària Viladomat, located in the Eixample neighbourhood of Barcelona. There we met with a group of students in the third and fourth years of secondary school, to participate in a focus group on literature. The leadership team of the centre made a selection of participants based on those students who like to read. For more than an hour, the boys and girls spoke with enthusiasm about books, reading habits, and cultural activities. This is the summary of what they said:
- They like to read but sometimes it is hard to find books that they like. They agree that it is important to find “your subject.”
- They accept recommendations from friends and family (parents, aunts, siblings). Some look for reviews on the internet. Others get inspired at bookstores. For some the cover of the book and its summary are very important. Others say that being introduced to an author through a talk can cause them to read his or her books.
- In general, they don’t turn to “booktubers” to know what to read. They say that it can be helpful in the beginning when you still haven’t found what you like, but not after that. At the time of the conversation none of them followed any booktubers.
- They agree that they like to read on paper rather than an electronic format. They like the book as an object and even express a certain fetishism for it. They only turn to e-books out of impatience, when they cannot access a new release on paper.
- They complain that the youth section in libraries is practically non-existent. They have the perception that libraries are conceived for child and adult audiences. The youth section is useful to them because it allows them to discover books and because it is where they find science fiction and dystopian books.
- The genres they like the most are, in order, science fiction, dystopian novels, horror, biographies, romance novels (romantic drama, romance combined with adventure), books about knights and princesses. One girl reads anything that has to do with feminism. Some boys also read essays and articles on current topics. Some began by reading comics (Tintin, manga…).
- They don’t like required reading because it’s required.
- They recognize the value of the classics of world literature, but they complain that the language is not very contemporary.
- As for required reading that is not literary classics, they think it might be useful for non-readers but since they already read, they should be allowed to choose.
- On average, they read more than ten books a year, mostly during vacation.
- Some read in peaceful moments, generally at home. Others read on public transportation. A few read out loud in order to concentrate.
- Above all, they read international authors, also some Spanish authors. They say the ones “from here” are those they like the least.
- They like to read about characters who are approximately their age. They can’t stand novels where the adult author tries to imitate the language of young people, or writes naïvely about their mobile phone use or subjects such as sex. They say they don’t talk like that, or use mobile phones like that, so it’s forced and they don’t feel recognized. The authors they like portray mature teen characters and don’t fall into this trap.
- When speaking of cultural activities related to literature in which they have participated, they refer to going to the theatre and cinema. To a lesser degree they also speak of some activities related to writing, whether on their own initiative or by taking a writing course. They also speak of books presentations and book clubs.
- Their ideal literary activity would be meeting their favourite authors. They don’t like book clubs because they don’t want to feel obliged to stick to a reading calendar. They prefer informal conversations about books with their friends. In any case, a book club would have to be very small, maximum ten people and best if it’s a chat about books they have already read.
- They believe that literature will help them in their personal development: “I know that I’ll have a career that has something to do with what I read”, “you have more vocabulary and capacity to understand than someone who doesn’t read”, “it’s helpful for opening the mind, accepting new ideas”, “a book always leaves you a message”, “it gives you knowledge”, “it enriches you, it makes you more generally cultured”, “it facilitates reading and writing skills”, “characters inspire you”.
This study group has been possible thanks to the boys and girls who participated and to the leadership team of the Viladomat IES. Many thanks to all!
During the conversation, these were the titles and authors mentioned by the students:
Books they have read:
Buenos días, princesa
The Hunger Games
The Darkest Minds
The Catcher in the Rye
Books read as required reading:
The Diary of Anne Frank
El mussol i la forca
Pride and Prejudice
EL lazarillo de Tormes
Authors they read:
J. K. Rowling