Researchers at University College London’s Institute of Education recently reported that teens who read novels rather than non-fiction are six months ahead of their peers in reading skills.
After analyzing data from 250,000 teens in 35 Western countries, they concluded that the 15-year-olds had significantly stronger reading skills than those who read non-fiction, magazines, comics, or newspapers for pleasure. The lead researcher pointed out that fiction requires a person to focus on long, continuous text, which improves not only reading skills but learning to avoid distractions.
This apparently holds true even when a novel is poorly written.
Recently, my friend N sent me a collection of letters I’d written to her the summer we were 14. Talk about cringe-worthy!
Note: Bob the postman played along; our correspondence continued all summer!
One thing I learned was that my writing style hasn’t evolved much since my teens. That was a bit scary. Also, that I was completely boy-crazy, which did not come as a shock.
These were my major interests:
Trying to sort out what appealed to boys and which girls they liked.
The Mets baseball team (I had no memory of being such a fan) and the Beatles, especially George. (I was obsessed.)
Sailing and tennis lessons. I never got very good at either, but apparently had fun: “Sailing is terrific, but I almost capsized last lesson! It was a panic – I turned too far & we almost turned over. Boy! Was my sailing instructor MAD!”
Trying to ascertain whether a 16 year old could possibly be interested in a 14 year old. (Spoiler: We did get together the next summer.)
Bad boys in general: “Last year, K got stoned once on the golf course with O, & also got picked up (with O) for trying to steal a car!!!!” I had a major crush on K, who was gorgeous. (I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty face. But a guy who got stoned at 13? That was a surprise.)
Obsessing over whether I should say Happy Birthday to K: “Will he think I went to a lot of trouble to find out when it is? Or should I forget it? (We’ve known each other for 13 years.) I really don’t know. He might think I’m chasing him. And I’m not positive that’s his birthday. If it isn’t, he’ll think I like him (which I do, but he shouldn’t know, exactly.) If I don’t, he may think I’m stuck-up, or a snob. If I do, he might think I’m chasing him. What to do?????”
I wasn’t a complete airhead. I read a lot (in one letter, I recommend Huxley’s Brave New World) and played chamber music (cello) and chess. And I loved my summer science classes, especially when K and I were paired for dissection and swapped different fish parts on purpose to create two new species. OK, maybe that was less about science and more about the cute boy, but still….
Money went a lot further in the 60’s. I was paid $2.50 for 4 hours of babysitting three little kids.
I was a staunch Democrat: “J is such a jerk. He swears like anything. p.s. He’s for Goldwater!!!” (I was outraged.)
Boy-girl parties were a washout. Most of the boys wouldn’t dance.
As I was laughing, I developed a deep affection for this young teenager:
I was enthusiastic.
I was a good sport.
I was a loyal friend.
I had a sense of humor.
I loved to write.
Dear 14-year-old Me:
You are a great kid. Some boys will like you. Some won’t. It will all work out; you have nothing to worry about. Develop your talents, try lots of new things, keep making friends, and enjoy the next few decades.
Oh, and you will always be obsessive; try to channel it constructively!