The student news publication of Libertyville High School

Drops of Ink

The student news publication of Libertyville High School

Drops of Ink

The student news publication of Libertyville High School

Drops of Ink

Do modern books still have substance?

Amidst a newfound popularity for reading – thanks to BookTok and Booktube – corners of TikTok and YouTube where people review and recommend books – there seems to be a contradiction. Despite a surge of new readers and authors, literacy rates in the US continue to drop.

According to the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, 54% of American adults read below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level. According to the Nation’s Report Card issued by the U.S. Department of Education, the 2022 average reading score for eighth graders was lower compared to all previous assessment years going back to 1998. More than more than 60% of U.S. public and non-public school students were below grade level in reading.

This reduction in literacy is not only due to the fact that there are fewer readers (according to the 2021 Gallup Poll, 27% of adults reported that they read more than ten books, eight percentage points lower since 2016 and lower than every prior measure by at least four points), but is also due to the kinds of books people currently read.

Readers have started to lean toward easy, quick-to-read books. These books can be a great way to overcome reading slumps as well as help new readers build a habit of reading.

But when these “bingeable” books start filling up the shelves at Barnes and Noble, becoming the only thing on display, it makes you wonder: what is the appeal of the content readers are absorbing?

It seems that most new books don’t carry substance anymore. They don’t dive into difficult topics, explore the human experience, or leave readers to reflect on their experiences and the world around them.

Many books are now solely centered on being quick, fast-paced and engaging, with that overall “feel good” feeling. Characters often lack depth and development and plots frequently seem incomplete and shallow. This results in shallow books lacking a significant impact.

Although these books are taking over multiple bookstores, there are still many books with substance, incorporating elements of a good book.


– R.f. Kuang

Ranya Belabbes

“Yellowface” follows Juniper “June” Hayward, a struggling author in D.C. who, upon her bestselling friend Athena Liu’s death, steals one of her manuscripts and publishes it as her own. The manuscript, a World War I story about Chinese laborers, ends up being a bestseller and June starts facing a lot of backlash, specifically from the Asian-American community, who claim that June is unqualified to speak about Chinese history and is committing yellowface.

The book is from Juniper’s perspective, and she goes to great lengths to justify her theft of the manuscript. She blackmails people and changes her last name to “Song” in an attempt to sound more Asian.

“Yellowface” is a satire that critiques the publishing industry, the double standard readers put on white and authors of color, corrupt authors and the internet as a whole. Full of unlikeable, slightly racist characters, “Yellowface” was easy to read, engaging and still comments on the irony of the literary world, making it one of my favorite reads of 2024.


“Conversations with Friends” – Sally Rooney

Ranya Belabbes

When I first finished “Conversations with Friends”, I immediately went back to the start to re-read it. For weeks after, I found myself thinking about the book, my mind wandering away from whatever book I was reading.

I’ve read “Conversations with Friends” three times now and have had a lot of time to reflect on it. The book is about Bobbi and Frances, two friends who form complicated relationships with Nick and Melissa, a married couple.

What Sally Rooney does best is describe the human condition in a way so blunt and so honest, that it causes you to reflect on yourself and your relationships. Rooney seems to have mastered human emotions and describes her characters in a way that relates a lot to the reader, by delving into their biggest fears and repressed emotions.

Rooney writes in a frustrating yet incredible way. Her characters are always flawed and at times intolerable, but for reasons that most of us identify with. They resemble ourselves and our friends so much that it can be off-putting. Sally Rooney remains my favorite author for her ability to tell a story so plainly and candidly and have it connect to me in ways books have never.

These two books are proof that there are still many good books that carry a deeper meaning and have more substance than many books found on today’s bookshelves.

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