Some folks aren’t in the market for a long-term relationship. No matter how many introductions, they’re quickly bored and just not interested in more than a quick rendezvous.

I’m talking about the young people that cannot read further than a couple of chapters, sometimes even a couple of pages, of  any book they’ve been given. Some of them claim to dislike reading completely, and approach the shelves with trepidation, if not outright hostility. While these reluctant readers are a major challenge, they’re not the group I’m thinking about right now.

The species I’m considering display many of the same characteristics, going through a dozen books without managing to reach beyond a dozen pages, but they’re not literary xenophobes. Often they are concerned and frustrated at not being able to find a book they want to complete, and will keep trying, getting more and more disheartened as they go.

So how do we deal with such a breed?

Well, first of all, you have to find out if they have ever liked a book. Often, this sort of reader has decided that they like Genre X, and only Genre X, and as a result will not even attempt Genres Y or Z. This could be a result of

  • the cool factor: trying to read the same books as everyone else to fit in, when in fact, they’re not personally appealing;
  • the nostalgia factor:  they read one like it when they was wee and haven’t tried anything else since;
  • the fear factor: what if I choose badly and it’s disappointing?
  • the vocabulary factor: they don’t actually understand the genre they need or get mixed up when trying to explain

Often these particular sub-species benefit from an alternative environment, also known as getting different types of book into their hands. Many of the activities planned for 1st year demand they look at different books, whether for classification, identifying captions or having a book chosen for them. Leaving books lying around casually on tables is also a great tool for getting people to pick up volumes they’d never remove from a shelf.

Take Reader A: this girl spent her first two years at the school telling me how much she disliked romance and wanted to read exciting fantasy books based in reality. Nothing I suggested worked, until in 3rd year she had to choose something from the Catalyst longlist. She chose and devoured Mary Hooper‘s Velvet, a tale of a laundress who gets caught up with a medium in the Victorian era. I wouldn’t describe this as reality-based-fantasy but maybe what she was actually trying to say was “weird stuff set in real life”. Difficult to guess.

For those who’ve never really liked reading much, I often find it’s got a lot to do with the Starters Effect. (With apologies for another metaphor) they’ve been told to read, but never get past the opening chapters, just like someone who only eats hors d’oevres. The soup may be lovely, but it’s designed as part of a whole event, not a solo performance. These pupils never get to the rich main course ingredients of the plot or character traits and completely miss out on the tempting dessert delights of the climax. A library for them is a banquet of foods they’ve never tasted, and assume they won’t like.

For these poor souls, tempting them into “trying just a little bit” can work wonders, so books which get to the action really quickly are ideal, but so is showing them exciting set pieces from a variety of novels. Pointing out the obvious helps too:

What’s your favourite food? And what food do you dislike the most?

Well, when you discovered you didn’t like sprouts, did you give up eating chocolate?

For many more, it comes as a complete shock that it’s ok to not like particular books, and that myself and whatever teachers are around can have completely dissimilar tastes in reading. For some reason, this is taken for granted with film or television, but as a reader, you’re supposed to like everything!

The serial monogamists of reading do try hard, but are usually convinced that they just won’t find a book they like. When you finally see them matched with an understanding partner, it’s a wonderful feeling.

Librarians as matchmakers.