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Teens are still reading for fun, say media specialists

"Even with all the distractions, even with all the technology, there are books that break through," says Deborah Taylor, of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, who has worked in the trenches of teen reading for more than 35 years.

The way Taylor sees it, getting teens to read for fun has always been a challenge, but now, time is a bigger obstacle. Still, she says, technology "can also pull you together with people who like the books you like" on fan sites and in online forums, for example.

Patton, of the Young Adult Library Services Association, says sales for young adult books have outpaced adult books and that "The Hunger Games" series is now as nearly big a phenomenon as "Twilight." Teen favorites also include so-called "graphic novels," such as manga, that include illustrations or comic panels.

"No matter what teens are doing, we need to show them they need to keep reading on their radar and make time for it," Patton said.

Randi Adleberg, head of the high school English program at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax County, says that overall, she thinks the trend is positive. If reading online and in game-playing are taken into account, "I think the digital age has probably increased reading," she said.

For some students, traditional book reading for pleasure is not a first choice because they equate reading with schoolwork.

Ross Vincent, 16, wishes he had more time to read but says he's sidelined by other endeavors - homework, marching band and orchestra, a job, a girlfriend. "I find my time is spent in other places," he said. Told about an Edgar Allan Poe book event he could have attended that day, the teen lit up. "For serious?" he asked, rattling off names of Poe works he has enjoyed.

He would have gone, he said. "Oh man, I would've run my mouth."

This sort of interest is what school media specialists love to see.

Sarah Way, who works at Wootton High School in Montgomery County, says that there is a core group of students who use the library a lot and then others who do assigned reading there but don't seem to browse. "I would like to see more carry that book around for the sheer joy of it," she says.

In Arlington, a library book club for high schoolers has seen its ranks swell from 13 or 14 a couple of years ago to 26, said Maria Gentle, a youth services librarian in Arlington County. "I think we have many, many kids who still read for pleasure," she said, recalling that last spring, two teens hit the book club en route to prom, fancy dresses and all.

At Gaithersburg High School, media specialist Catharine Chenoweth sees a declining interest in nonfiction books - with so much of that material available online - while fiction still gets readers. Or, at least, certain kinds of fiction.

"Classics are not read as much as the more contemporary fiction," she said.

Then there are the Olivia Smiths of the world.

The ninth-grader at Richard Montgomery High School has been reading voraciously since she was young. Her two sisters read the same way. When Olivia really likes a book, as with the last of the "Twilight" series, she rereads - maybe 20 times.


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