World Book Day: FGV professor points out digital influencers’ potential in promoting reading
From printed to digital newspapers, from books to e-books, from letters to emails, from stories to social media “stories,” reading has reinvented itself and changed people’s daily lives over the years. Therefore, cultivating this habit across so many technological devices has become a daily challenge for young people who are starting at school and, in future, college.
In this interview with FGV News to mark World Book Day, April 23, Marieta Ferreira, director of FGV Press, historian and FGV professor, says that digital influencers can potentially help encourage reading. “We need digital influencers, who are currently idolized by many young people, to be part of a movement that promotes interest in reading,” she says.
She stresses that reading is an important habit that ought to be encouraged from early childhood, in everyday life, to instill the habit of reading books for pleasure before starting school.
What is the relevance of reading in today’s context, in which most young people do not like reading and are not interested in it?
Reading and learning are essential for the formation of conscious adults. This habit should be encouraged in all people, from childhood. Parents and guardians should set an example at home and not leave it solely to schools to encourage reading.
We need digital influencers, who are currently idolized by many young people, to be part of a movement that promotes interest in reading. However, we should pay attention to what is presented to these young people as a source of reading and learning. We have seen some cases of book bans, or attempts at book bans, in Brazil and other countries, for ideological or sometimes racist reasons, as recently happened at a school in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
So, it isn’t enough to encourage young people to pick up books. We should also help them choose them.
How can reading become attractive to young people?
As suggested in my previous answer, perhaps one option is for prominent digital influencers to bring together the world of literature and the world of social media. In fact, there are many examples of people dedicated to reading and literature on social networks, but it might now be interesting to see the creation of a movement of influencers in other areas, not directly linked to literature, to encourage reading.
How can we cultivate the habit of reading?
Introducing the world of books to children, even before they know how to read, is very important. Setting an example of reading at home, going on cultural outings and reading at schools are all essential to create a new generation of readers. (It’s a good idea to start with simpler and more modern books, to lay the groundwork for children to subsequently move on to the classics).
And we should always encourage critical reading. This skill needs to be taught, especially given the prevalence of fake news and the growing use of ChatGPT to write books. (As of February, two months after this artificial intelligence tool was launched, there were over 200 e-books in Amazon’s Kindle store listing ChatGPT as an author or co-author.) So, it is not enough to see young people reading. The most important thing, in these times, is to know what they are reading, who wrote it and what research gave rise to this book.
What factors do you believe have contributed to the decline in reading, especially among young people?
That’s a pretty tough question. We have many examples of community or public libraries that attract dozens of young people every day who are fascinated by books. The Rio International Book Festival is the third largest event in the city of Rio de Janeiro, behind only the New Year’s Eve celebrations and carnival, and it receives a huge audience of young readers. This is an optimistic sign for reading in Brazil.
On the other hand, people are spending more time interacting on the internet and social networks, posting and liking content, so they are reading fewer books. However, it is not possible to identify a specific reason for this decrease, not least because the phenomenon of social networks is worldwide and is not only happening in Brazil or in other countries with low levels of reading. Some scientific studies indicate causes related to changes in cognitive processes due to growing screen time in recent years. Thus, it is not possible to identify just one factor behind increases or decreases in the habit of reading.
Due to the pandemic, book sales rose around 30% between 2020 and 2021. What is the situation like now?
Some large bookstore chains have closed, but at the same time, dozens of independent bookstores open every month throughout Brazil. The return to normality imposed the resumption of a different rhythm and the movement of people on the streets may also have replaced the time that was dedicated to reading at the height of the pandemic. Book sales last year continued to rise, despite market difficulties, and it is only this year, 2023, that bookstores are resuming their activities fully, keeping their doors open and reinventing themselves to attract more frequent visits. We will have to wait and see how bookstores will perform in the coming years.
How important is reading in the education system, from early childhood to higher education?
Young readers certainly acquire broader knowledge and this can allow them to become critical adults capable of making decisions with greater autonomy. This will benefit them all the way to higher education. However, on its own, reading does not turn out critical and capable adults, even if they read good books. Education and a support network are also essential at all stages of education.
How can teachers encourage reading today?
As I said before, it is necessary to present attractive books to today’s generation of children and young people. I don’t think it’s appropriate to present dense books to young people who haven’t yet discovered themselves as readers. Handing a 300-page book to a teenager and demanding that they read it and then summarize the work, as was the practice a few years ago, doesn’t seem to me to be the best way to encourage reading in today’s world. Children and young people who start to enjoy reading will be able to attentively read deeper works once their habit and taste for reading are developed.
Do you consider new reading formats, like e-books, phones and tablets, to be attractive?
The most important thing is to please readers and deliver the content in the way they feel is best to enjoy reading. Having different formats is important to attract all reader profiles.
Can you recommend some books that you think are important for young people?
As a historian, I obviously like to recommend books that refer to the history of Brazil. The great national classics, such as the works of Machado de Assis, and international ones, such as those of José Saramago, are indispensable on a reader’s shelf. However, as I said before, the trajectory that leads readers to arrive at these works should be gradual and satisfying.