Ebooks for Boys

There is an article in the Telegraph of 9 December 2015 by ‘Agency’. This article is interesting because it seems to be contradicted by and article in the same newspaper on 10 March 2021. I’ll post the latter article later in the week, so that you can decide where the truth lies.

The 2015 article says: “Reading on a tablet encourages boys to think it is “cool” and they are more likely to have their nose in a story for longer.

The study showed boys moved further ahead when reading on tablets

The study, published by the National Literary Trust is based on a survey of 468 pupils at 40 schools across the UK, who took part in an e-reading project.

Overall, youngsters taking part in the scheme saw their reading levels increase by an average of eight months – with boys improving by an average of 8.4 months, compared to 7.2 months for their female classmates.

And while just over half (51.8 per cent) of children saw reading as “cool” before the project, this rose to around two thirds (65.9 per cent) afterwards, with twice as many boys describing reading in this way (66.5 per cent compared to 34.4 per cent at the start of the initiative).

At the same time, the proportion of boys who described reading as difficult fell from 28 per cent to 15.9 per cent.

There was an 11 per cent increase in the number of boys who enjoyed reading using technology, a 25 per cent rise in the number who read daily using ebooks and a 22 per cent increase in those who read for an hour or longer.

In general, there was also a drop in the percentage of schoolchildren who said they could not find things to read that interested them (down from 31.3 per cent to 19.7 per cent).

Irene Picton, research manager at the National Literary Trust, said the study showed the impact of ebooks on reading enjoyment “goes well beyond the novelty” of reading in a new format.

‘Children who enjoy reading are more likely to do better at school and beyond, so finding ways to help children enjoy reading and to do so more often is vital to increase their literacy,’ she said.

‘It is important to recognise the increased reading opportunities that technology offers pupils and how it can help children who struggle to read, for example by giving them the option of increasing the font size of the text. This study indicates that technology has most potential to engage children, particularly boys, who do not enjoy reading.’

A Trust spokesman said it wasn’t clear why young boys were particularly attracted to ebooks but speculated it could be because ‘they can change the size of text, are able to have less or more words on a page’.

The spokesman also said ‘boys feel more comfortable with technology, and it’s an image thing because they prefer to be seen reading an e-book’.

More research on the reasons behind the uptake by boys is expected next year.

Harry Bingham
Harry Bingham

I received an email yesterday from Harry of Jericho Writers in which he quoted from George Saunders’ book A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, a book about reading and writing. Saunders wrote: “I’ve worked with so many wildly talented young writers over the years that I feel qualified to say that there are two things that separate writers who go on to publish from those who don’t.

First, a willingness to revise.

Second, the extent to which the writer has learned to make causality.”

Harry’s email is quite lengthy, so I’ll summarise the points that he and George Saunders make.

First, about revising. Harry says, “The most frustrating writers I’ve ever dealt with are ones who come to us with a really strong manuscript, which they then don’t revise. I remember one writer in particular who had a genuinely interesting and well-written manuscript. It needed a brisk haircut, three or four weeks in the workshop, and it would have been ready to meet some agents. And – it never did. It never got there.”

From my point of view, revision is essential. Painful, yes at times, but if there’ a good editor, if we’ve listened to him/her, and if we’ve taken on board her/his points it is just self-destructive not to follow the advice we’re given.

What about causality? Harry makes clear that he’s not talking about the causality that one can observe on a billiard table: predictable physics. He is talking about the events that are caused by humanity – by the characteristics, the values the hunches, the emotions, the values of individuals. This richness is what makes a story interesting. It’s when a character does something unexpected, but understandable, and that throws the plot off its expected course. Or perhaps it is the character’s surprise reaction to an expected development. This kind of causality is easy to say, but not so easy to bring to life. Our characters themselves must have real depth, uniqueness and some internal conflicts to make this kind of rich causality work.

While we’re on the subject of what differentiates writers who get published from those who don’t, there is an interesting lead article in the Spring 2021 issue of The Author entitled “Winner Take All” by Robert H Frank, who says, “Whether a book becomes a bestseller depends on many factors, perhaps the most important of which is whether it’s any good. But as millions of authors are painfully aware, many good books never achieve bestseller status. By far the strongest predictor of whether a book of given quality will become a bestseller is whether it was written by an author of earlier bestsellers. If an author’s book succeeds, they become a more attractive client for a high profile literary agent. That means their next cash advance will exceed the previous one by an even larger amount than it would have, which will create additional pressure on their publisher to publicise their new title more aggressively. And so on.”

Happy Easter