Monday, January 5, 2015

The Real Reason Teenagers Don't Read by Randall Barnes, author of 'The Diary of Aaliyah Anderson'

The Real Reason Why Many Teenagers Don’t Read

As an author, I’ve come across an overwhelming amount of people that just flat out don’t like reading. They see it as a chore. Many individuals still consider something that “nerds” do instead of leaders and higher minded individuals that ultimately end up achieving maximum wealth in the world. However, I’ve single-handedly been able to turn skeptics of readings into loyal fans of my work. The Diary Of Aaliyah Anderson recently hit the 47,000 reads mark with hundreds of positive comments. In addition to my work in the social media realm for my novel, I’ve also been doing ground work at my high school. And I can confidently say that I haven’t met a person that has had the chance to read my work that didn’t love it or at least feel where Aaliyah was coming from in the compelling narrative. 

Experts tend to think differently. Some of the reasons behind the reasons why literature doesn’t connect with the millennial generation is insane and asinine. A teacher once even conceded to me in the middle of a heated debate that the mental capacities of children born after the 1990s are the reasons why literature is despised amongst my generation, She had no information, statistics or even testimonials to back up her claim, just irrational reasoning and the unmitigated gall to say that stupid comment. I’ve set out to shut up our detractors and skeptics once and for all. So, I decided to dedicate a few pages in my debut novel The Diary Of Aaliyah Anderson to the insane comments and rhetoric surrounding why teenagers don’t read.

“So what’s up with this book report? How far have you gotten in it?” I asked as I looked in the room. There were posters and pictures of Chris Brown everywhere. I guess we have something in common.  
“I haven’t started,” she replied nonchalantly as she continued to play on her phone. 
“When is it due?” 
“At the end of the week.” 
I nodded. “You have a lot of time. But don’t you think you should go on and start on it?” 
She shrugged. “I don’t feel like doing it right now.” 
“Why not?” 
“Why do you care? It’s my project; you don’t have to worry about it.” 
I sighed, trying to hold back from going off on this girl. She really was testing me! “Well, I think you should go on and start so I can help you out if you have any problems.” 
She put down her phone and said, “Why are we still talking about this? I told you I don’t feel like doing that report. Are your ears working? You’re really annoying me right now!” 
I just couldn’t let that slide. It was obvious she was testing me. I had to tell her about herself. 
“Listen, Theresa, I’ve gotten tired of all those li’l disrespectful comments. You really need to chill. I don’t know what your problem is, but you need to solve it because I’m not about to put up with it for the rest of the night. You understand me?” 
She sighed and replied, “Fine.” 
“Now, why don’t you wanna do this book report? Projects are a big part of your grade. If you get a zero for this assignment, it’ll be hard to bring it back up. That’s a lot of hard work. Then your parents will be on your case. Why would you even wanna invite all that drama into your life?” 
She smacked her lips as she sat up on her bed. “I’ma be real with you: I hate reading. Then we gotta present this report to the class? I can’t do it.” 
I was surprised. I’ve honestly never heard any female say that they don’t like reading. You’ll even catch a girl that you thought didn’t even know how to read with an urban book - you know, the ones that are usually about drugs, drama, or the hood? I’m not trying to crack on, disrespect, or stereotype anybody. I’m just telling it like it is. In this city, the guys are the ones that tend to hate reading, mainly the black ones. It’s real messed up too. But, I guess you can never say never. 
“Why do you hate reading? Most of these movies coming out nowadays are based off books. Do you hate going to the movies?” 
“Of course not! I just hate reading. It’s a waste of time and it’s boring. Why read when you can watch it when it comes out on TV or in the movies?” 
“Well, have you picked out a book you were planning to do the report on or did they assign you one?” 
“She gave us a choice of what book to pick. She just said that it can’t have any explicit sex scenes in it. We went to the school library to pick out some books.” She hopped up out of her bed and took two heavy books out of her pink bookbag. 
I smiled and shook my head. “You really picked out these thick textbooks from the library? That’s the problem! You haven’t picked up any books that are worth reading.” 
Fortunately for her, I stay with interesting books. I went to my bookbag and pulled out “Drama High: The Fight” by L. Divine that I had bought from Books-a-Million on the eastside a few days ago. I’d just finished it. I then walked over and sat beside her on the edge of the bed. 
“See, the first way you can tell that a book is gonna be good is by how the cover looks. That’s what makes you at least pick up the book. Then you read the back and see what the book is about. If it’s good, you buy it. If you still aren’t sold on the book, you read the first few pages.” 
She looked at the cover of the book. “So this book is all about fights?” 
I handed it over to her, “Not really. It’s more about drama than it is about fights. It’s like That’s So Raven in the hood.” 
“Did you like it?”“It was great! I like to read books that I can relate to. This story could happen in real life. I swear, this book would be great for your report. Just read the first few pages and see if you like it. If you don’t, we’ll have to find you another book because you have to do this assignment.” Theresa sighed as she reluctantly opened the book. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt.” 
I grinned. Finally we were on the same page!

This exact scene was inspired by many interactions that I had with reluctant readers at my high school as I was in the process of writing The Diary Of Aaliyah Anderson. The main problem that many teenagers face is the connotation that is placed on reading. In school, it’s seen as work. Many folks read only to get a satisfactory grade on a book report or test. So, basically, reading is proverbially forced upon them.

Look at the literary works that are presented in Literature classrooms around the nation. They are usually bland and centuries old with vernacular that takes days to finally get a grasp of to understand what’s even going on in the piece of work you’re required to master. Do you blame many teenagers from shying away from reading with how it’s presented in school. Where are the books that personally resonate with teenagers? Where are the stories that cause healthy discussions amongst the divisive and opinionated teenagers that parents, teachers and administrators desperately want to reach? When you find these great books, you will find the passion for reading that changes a child’s life.

Look at what Aaliyah did to get Theresa’s attention. First, she had to check her disrespect. Theresa really was on one that night! Then, she stressed how important the project was. Theresa then conceded that she didn’t like reading because she felt as if it was boring. She then pulls out two massive tomes that look like reference books that she happened to sneak out the library! 

Aaliyah then knew what the problem was. She didn’t know how to pick out books that were worth her spending her time to finish. She pulls out Drama High: The Fight by author L. Divine, a book that I personally enjoyed, and proceeds to run down how to an attention-grabbing book. 

1. Glance to see if the book has an attention-grabbing cover.

2. If the cover is beautifully done, nice or at least salvageable, look to the back and read the synopsis and see if it’s something that would grab your attention. 

3. If you still need some more convincing that the book is for you, read the first few pages. 

Aaliyah gives Theresa the book to at least attempt to read. A couple of chapters later, we see what Theresa feels about the novel and reading altogether.

When I went back up to check on Theresa, she was done with the book. She had just started doing her report. I was extremely surprised! I’d only been gone for about forty-five minutes!  
“Theresa, you’re finished with the book that quick?” I said as I walked through her room door. 
She smiled at me. “Yup! It was so good that I couldn’t put it down! Jayd and her friends are really cool, her Momma puts roots and spells on people, Trecee’s crazy, KJ’s fine but arrogant, and Misty got what was coming to her in the end. That girl was hating on Jayd like crazy! I’m halfway done with the report.” 
“I thought you didn’t like to read? You read that book faster than me.” 
“You were right. I haven’t really tried to search for good books. After doing all that reading we do in school, I just get tired of it. The books they assign to us are always boring! I just assumed every book was lame and uninteresting. But now I know that’s not true! I have to get the second book in the series. Do you have it?” 
“I don’t have it right now, but here’s what I’ll do. If you finish your book report and get a one hundred, I’ll take you to the bookstore on Saturday and get you some more good books. We can talk and hang out too. You cool with that?”  
She smiled. “Yeah, that’ll be great! I’ll ask my mom if she can take us.” 
“You gotta pass though.”  
“Aaliyah, I swear I’ma pass. You gave me a reason to do my best.”  
I smiled, feeling so accomplished.

After seeing the idea in action, does any more need to be said? Get teenagers books that actually are interesting and attention-grabbing. Teach them how to spot a premium quality book and you’ll cause them to cultivate a love for reading that they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives. I’ll give you a perfect book to start in this process: The Diary Of Aaliyah Anderson!


Meet Aaliyah Anderson, a beautiful, intelligent, ambitious thirteen-year-old young woman ready to take over the world. With her mom being a superstar broadcast journalist and her older brother Damon being an acclaimed writer and star sports player. Aaliyah lives a fantastic life. Aaliyah quickly learns that her good life, doesn't separate her from life's problems. She has to deal with tons of hardships and avoid many obstacles along her path to achieving her short term goal of finally making it to high school and what she feels will bring her closer to her dreams of being a CEO of a company.

Aaliyah has to deal with overwhelming family issues such as the divorce of her parents and the result of her "father's" unfaithfulness, infidelity, and a family secret that turns her world upside down. As if her family wasn't messed up enough, her eleven-year old brother turns to the streets and joins the Eastside Rydahz, one of the most notorious gangs in the city. Her eldest brother Jeffery, or high-ranked Rydah 808, hates everything about Aaliyah and she doesn't understand it. All Aaliyah wants is to have the ideal loving, united family and it hurts her that their situation is seemingly fractured beyond repair.

To make things even more pressing, she lives in the ruthless city of Willowsfield, statistically the #1 most dangerous city in America, where senseless community violence is the norm and life expectancy is low. With the pressure to succeed and make it out of the ditch that Aaliyah calls her hometown, she still has to deal with more problems that test her patience.

With its realistic characters, life-like setting and dynamic message, The Diary of Aaliyah Anderson is entertaining and a sure fire conversation starter on what we need to do as a generation.

~~Read another excerpt here~~

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About the author:

Randall Barnes is an eighteen year old author, internet radio personality, public speaker and mentor who currently resides in Macon, GA. Randall is already renowned for his positive, realistic, moral driven writings. His first novel The Diary of Aaliyah Anderson has garnered over 46,000 reads on and universal acclaim. He writes for the popular news website Urban Intellectuals, the relationship blog Courting Her and literary blog Straight, No Chaser. Randall is also the author of the eShort Riverview High: Circumstances, which hit number #2 on the Amazon charts in the week of its debut.

Randall is currently a senior at William S. Hutchings College & Career Academy. Along with being a talented writer, Randall also has the gift of public speaking. He won first place in the FBLA Region 5 Public Speaking Competition in January of 2013. Randall also was also the first student in history to represent Hutchings in the Rotary Club Speech Contest. The best has yet to come for this young man. Look out!

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