The Power of Pleasure Reading: What We Can Learn from the Secret Reading Lives of Teens

Thursday, March 12th, 2020

By Odelia Caliz

Who determines the genres of books adolescents most read?

There are many worries about some of the reading selections students have made, hence the reluctance to embrace pleasure as a goal of instruction, or of pleasure reading as an end to itself. However, there is evidence of profound joy and zeal displayed by many of the readers of texts so often marginalized and worry-inducing, such as romances, vampire stories, horror novels, dystopian fiction, and fantasy. Many students spend hours reading outside school, even as they often reject the reading they are asked to do inside school (Wilhelm & Smith, 2016).

These marginalized genres are said to bring their readers four distinct kinds of pleasure: Pleasure of play, intellectual pleasure, social pleasure and the pleasure of work – both functional work and psychological inner work.

Pleasure has enormous power in:
1. Fostering reading engagement and development
2. Leveraging and developing student reading
3. Helping students grow as readers and as human beings

If we want students to become competent citizens, if we want to cultivate and engage lifelong readers, we must make the cultivation of all these pleasures central to our teaching. We name them, actively model them, and then assist students to experience them. If we want adolescents to read more, then they should be allowed to make their own selection or have a say in the type of genres most read. They must “read because they love to, not because they have to” (Wilhelm & Smith, 2016.p.26).

Additional Resource:

How does reading for pleasure help prepare students for their future?

Odelia Caliz is an Education Officer and a doctoral student in the Language, Literacy, and Culture Program at Oklahoma State University.


Wilhelm, J., & Smith, M. (2016). The Power of Pleasure Reading: The Case of Dystopias. Voices From the Middle, 23(4), 55-61.

Wilhelm, J., & Smith, M. (2016). The Power of Pleasure Reading: What We Can Learn from the Secret Reading Lives of Teens. English Journal, 105(6), 25-30.


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