I’ve been a voracious reader my whole life. Reading was my refuge as a young girl who often felt like an outsider—an immigrant kid, unsporty, artsy… Books connected me to characters with similar experiences, exposed me to new adventures, and provided the perfect escape. Television and the playground never stood a chance next to a good book.
However, does being a lifelong bookworm and working writer breed readers?
I regularly read to my young children, made family inspo trips to the bookstore, and gifted books for birthdays and holidays. Not to mention publishing three novels where they were mentioned in the acknowledgments, including one dedicated to them! But once the smartphone era kicked in, I faced heavy competition from social media, YouTube, and Netflix. My kids' interests seemed more visual than literary. They loved book-to-screen adaptations like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Percy Jackson but did not seek out the source material. Along with their rigorous high school courseloads and reading assignments, I understood they might want to detox with sports, music, or a series. Nevertheless, I did wonder if I had given birth to bibliophobes? Did my writerly moodiness turn them off books? Surely, I wasn’t alone in observing that Gen Z (those born in the mid-90s to early-mid 2000s) seemed to have a lukewarm relationship with reading.
I was surprised to learn that what I had noticed in my children—and heard anecdotally from other parents—did not correspond with the data. According to a December 2022 Wattpad report, 55% of Gen Z respondents read once a week or more, 40% read every day, and 79% choose books based on diversity and representation. While 67% read for fun on their phones, they still have a romantic affinity to physical print books and proudly support independent bookstores, libraries, and indie authors. Add BookTok, where they discover and share new titles—generating bestsellers by Colleen Hoover and Emily Henry—and Gen Z put my critique to shame.
Scratching my head, I wondered what was going on with my kids.
Well, it seems like it was a question of timing.
My daughter, Yasmine, graduated from college last year. She studied at a university with an intense Core Curriculum and wholeheartedly embraced the literary and philosophical texts, producing essays and reflections on everything from The Odyssey to The Souls of Black Folk. Once Yasmine began working full-time, she realized she missed the intellectual stimulation. She also wanted relief from her devices and sought a diversion besides screen scrolling for her daily subway ride and lunch break. Following a friend’s suggestion, she read My Year of Rest and Relaxation and then followed up with Nightbitch.
I’ve read neither, but I enjoyed hearing her impassioned take on these buzzy titles. It was obvious to me she had caught the book bug, so I lent her one of my recent favorites, Yellowface. She tore through it, and I wanted to do a happy dance when she remarked that she finally understood my author angst. It took a work of fiction for my struggles to be finally seen! I passed along The Idea of You, and we obsessed over this steamy love story. I couldn’t stop—wouldn’t stop— pressing a new book between her palms or secretly packing The Guest and Cleopatra and Frankenstein into her suitcase. For Christmas, I went into full library-mom mode and curated a gift set with contemporary titles from Zadie Smith and Sally Rooney, among other stellar authors. Many of these novels center on young adults (Gen Zs like Yasmine and millennials) finding their way in life. I love it when Yasmine sends me photos of herself with a book or tells me about her progress. I even sent her to a recent launch event for Tia Williams’ A Love Song for Ricki Wilde and wasn’t surprised when she came back gushing after sharing a few words and a photo with the author. That’s the wondrous alchemy of books.
I encouraged Yasmine to form a Book Club with her college friends; she loved the idea. Who doesn’t like talking over wine and cheese? But more importantly, a reading group fosters candor and connection. Over the years, I’ve had some of the most profound conversations at my various book clubs. Our enthusiasm for reading and a desire for deeper discussions outside the quotidian cracked our protective shells, enabling us to open up in a safe literary space.
I'm relishing this new book bond with my daughter. It has added another dimension to our close relationship, and we can discuss these stories from different perspectives based on our ages and personal experiences. I also think it will make her a stronger beta reader for my future novels, haha! Kidding aside, books are magic because they are not judgemental. They patiently wait for us to come to them. They don’t care if it takes months or years. Books can be the most powerful when they’re read when we need them most, not when we are pressured to read them. Reading invites us to slow down and absorb rather than mindlessly devour content. Words on a page spark our imagination and let us join the story as we interpret the characters and themes.
As for my son, he’s busy with statistics and finance classes, but I couldn’t help gifting him narrative non-fiction books by Michael Lewis, Walter Isaacson, Ben Mezrich, and Daymond John. The complicated characters and business drama sometimes surpass fiction! But there’s no obligation; he may read them now, later, or discover other titles. However, I’m confident that the magnetic pull of reading-for-pleasure will subtly work its spell...