‘It’s like watching a movie in my head’

During the January school holidays we ran a short range of focus groups with teenagers in South Australia and regional and urban Victoria. We asked participants about sources of book recommendations, where they access books and how their reading habits are changing.

Family members and school librarians overwhelmingly stand out as the main sources of recommendations (‘… my school librarian: she’s really nice and she sort of picks up what kind of book you might like’). The school library is also the main source for teenagers to get their hands on books. Most participants also share their views of the books they are reading in their local communities – with extended family members, school friends, and familiar adults.

Participants talked about reading in order to take ‘a break for my brain’, to relax and unwind before sleep, but also to fulfil their curiosity about the world, using examples of historical and political events that feature in fiction. They also read non-fiction, such as mechanical engineering and environmental science, in order to be better informed to do something. ‘It’s so I can improve the environment, my interactions with others, and the outcome of my life’. Some told us they only read when they were bored and ‘that’s the only thing I have got to do’.

But no matter their motivation for reading, what participants look for in a book was quite consistent. For fiction, it’s a compelling narrative, with a plot twist, and ideally some humour. For non-fiction, it’s books that tap into and help them to develop existing interests.