I wasn’t trying to do that. I just wanted to be the well-read, literary one in my family, and I figured my kids were my most advantageous point of comparison. For a long time, it worked. Damn Herrick to hell.
Of course, I could point out that my daughter spends more hours than I would have thought physiologically possible on her laptop and her phone. I could make the case that she is part of a distracted millennial generation that doesn’t read, that prefers virtual life to the hardcover version. I would like to say that, but it isn’t true.
In fact, people today are reading more. In 2002, the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts revealed that half the country had not read a single book in the preceding year. Ten years on, according to a large survey conducted less than a month ago by the Pew Research Center, three-quarters of Americans read a book last year. That might seem paltry, but it’s a jump of 50 per cent.
Among the readers, the average number of books absorbed in a year was an impressive 15; the median was six. But older people are reading less. About 90 per cent of 16-year-olds are readers, the Pew study found, compared with only 67 per cent of those aged 65 and up.
Technology seems to enhance this trend. The number of 16– and 17-year-old readers who read at least one e-book last year rose 16 per cent from the year before, a huge number. Among people my own age, in their 50s, the number was 4 per cent. I’m not surprised. While my daughter hacks her way through Herrick, I have been rewatching 78 hours’ worth of The Sopranos. It’s brilliant TV, but as a cortical workout it doesn’t make the intellectual demands of close textual analysis.
Had I been competing against the academic likes of my daughter today – a ridiculous comparison, but tell me you haven’t considered it – I wouldn’t have won a spot in university. That makes sense: A generation that has grown up texting and typing (that is, writing), and looking and learning through one device or another for hours a day, is bound to be more nimbly literate.
The proof of this is the abundance of first-rate magazine writing available online today. Read Grantland, or n+1, or The Believer – the best of them can compete with The New Yorker. Three New Yorkers in one generation? That’s a lot of good writing.
Among the best of these is the online magazine Rookie, which I found while rambling around the Facebook pages of my daughter and her friends. It describes itself as “a website for teenage girls,” but that’s like saying The Sopranos is about waste management.
It’s also a website for young feminists (though Rookie’s writers have a lot to say about what that word implies) who are interested in everything.
A partial list of random tags from a recent edition: twilight,winona ryder, tim burton, self-care, m.i.a., friendship breakups, global warming, willy wonka and the chocolate factory, nighttime, ella, pens, the greg kihn band, samuel johnson, valley girls, snobs, (500) days of summer, i.u.d, cornrows, prom dresses, betseyville, dangerous angels, the pool, aphex twin, the winchester brothers, zora neale hurston, glamazon, equality, keurig elite 40 brewing system, talking animals, deceit, drunk history, analytical engine, olivia bee, belief, church camp …
I learn at least 10 new words an issue. The writing is raw, but often hopeful, and thus surprisingly refreshing.
Rookie’s founding editor, Tavi Gevinson, is 16. She first became famous as a 12-year-old fashion blogger in the Chicago suburbs whose eccentric but quietly confident sense of style soon made her the muse of any number of designers.
She’s not an attention junkie: She said she was too busy to be interviewed for this story because she had homework. She admits to wracking doubt as easily as she talks about things she loves, of which there are tons.