How Hollywood is Inspiring the Next Generation of Bookworms

Today the movie rendition of The Giver, one of my all-time favorite books, opens in theaters nationwide. I can’t say that I’ve been waiting for it with baited breath.

I’ve been disappointed by more than enough of these Hollywood book-to-movie adaptations to be naïve enough for that (think The Golden Compass, Eragon, Ender’s Game). But—and color me an optimistic Millennial here—I’m hoping beyond hope that The Giver might stir in viewers, however slightly, those complicated feelings of empathy, wonder, frustration, and adventure that I remember from the book. Feelings that can be difficult to navigate, but also the reason The Giver is such a rich and complex story that has found a permanent home in my heart and that of many others. The real reason, though, that I want this movie to be another Hollywood blockbuster is that I hope it inspires Gen Edgers, or really anyone, to pick up a copy of the book itself. I hope it inspires them to read.

Full disclosure: in general, I am stickler for “read first, watch later.” Many a BridgeWorks colleague has received a stern scolding, courtesy of yours truly, for watching HBO’s Game of Thrones before reading Martin’s brilliant Song of Ice and Fire series. That aside, whatever helps in upping the number of teen readers is fine with me. And indeed, studies are proving that there does seem to be a symbiotic relationship between books adapted into movies/TV shows and book sales. The Hunger Games alone saw a 55% jump in sales after the release of the first movie in the series. Not too shabby.

Now it’s true that there are some studies suggesting that leisure reading—especially among teens—is on the decline. But the resurgence of the YA (young-adult) genre and the willingness of Hollywood to jump on adaptations of popular series may be turning that trend around.

Just take a look at my generation. Of the many names, other than Millennial, tossed around to label us, one of my very favorites is “the Potter Generation.” It’s undeniable that we fully embraced the story of the boy who lived. We were the ones who showed up at Barnes & Noble at midnight in our full Hogwarts regalia to pick up the latest installment in the series. It became embedded so deeply into our culture that by the time I graduated college I’d become accustomed to passing Quidditch practice on the quad every Thursday. I’ll even go so far as to admit that in hiring our BW summer intern, “Where would the Sorting Hat place you?” was one of the questions we snuck into our interview questionnaire.

Millennials fanatically devoured the Harry Potter series and later Twilight. We stood with Katniss Everdeen and District 12. And now Gen Edgers are carrying the teen reader torch, fully immersing themselves in the world of Divergent, nursing broken hearts after The Fault in Our Stars, and delighting in the misfit friendship of Eleanor & Park.

It’s not just personal joy at seeing others read that feeds my passion around this topic. Reading skills (or lack thereof) and literacy have far-reaching consequences. There is an irrefutable connection between reading proficiency and writing skills. Avid reading has been linked to everything from a better vocabulary to sharper composition and analytical thinking skills. This is incredibly important as Gen Edgers prepare for their future. Study after study shows that employers cite inadequate communication skills as one of the biggest weaknesses in young employees. And even beyond career considerations, reading has been shown to boost imagination and creativity, relieve stress, improve memory function, and open readers’ minds to new ideas, cultures, and concepts.

From what we can tell, this youth reading trend appears to be on the upswing. Earlier this year, LeVar Burton launched a Reading Rainbow Kickstarter campaign which has raised over $5 million to date. It's one more step towards ensuring that a whole new generation of kids catches the reading bug.

And as far as movies go, it’s pretty clear that they need not supplant reading and that instead, the book-to-movie trend might actually be encouraging Gen Edgers to pick up a book. As YA enthusiasm continues to gain traction, we’ll continue to see Hollywood churn out favorites, old and new, and scramble for rights to the latest YA bestseller. The Maze Runner, A Great and Terrible Beauty, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone are just a few that are already in production or set to release later this year. I'll be sure to pick up a copy of each before heading to the theater. Here's hoping Gen Edgers do too.