“Reading,” said my 17-year-old son, “is for women.”
He grinned when he said it because he knew. He knew!
“Really?” I said. “You just said that out loud? Really?”
He’s never been a big reader. We tried Captain Underpants and Harry Potter. We recently purchased him a subscription to Sports Illustrated, but they arrive in the mail faster than he can pretend to read them.
It never occurred to me that he balked at books because he thinks reading is unmanly. Boring, yes, but girly?
If the bestsellers list is any indication, it’s no wonder young men have this perception. The current Number 1 book in the New York Times is Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks. I’ve never read any Nicholas Sparks but I know his novels are turned into movies starring actors who take their shirts off, and that’s all I need to know.
Next is a book called Hopeless, whose description includes the phrase “he terrifies her and captivates her all in the span of just one encounter.” This never happens anywhere but romance novels. Terrify and repulse, yes, but never captivate.
Gone Girl. I’ve read this. My son shouldn’t read this or he will never get married. Or date. Or leave the house. Of course, he never will read it because it has the word “girl” in the title.
The Coincidence of Callie and Hayden: The cover has a photo of a couple kissing in the rain. Is this another Nicholas Sparks book?
Number 5: Fifty Shades of Grey. WHEN WILL THIS MADNESS END!!!!
With such a list, no wonder young men think there’s nothing out there for them. It doesn’t help that there are so many novels by sad middle-aged men about sad middle-aged men for sad middle-aged men. Young male readers, though, aren’t asking themselves “What’s it all about?” but “Where is the remote?”
Directing boys to the right books is one thing, but reading itself needs a perception makeover. (Don’t’ say “makeover!”) Reading needs to be seen as an accomplishment, a skill, not just something to pass time on the toilet.
If people unfathomably list on their job résumés that they run 10K races (as if sweating profusely was a valuable skill in chartered accounting), why not boast that they’ve successfully completed Finnegan’s Wake – not just purchased it to look impressive on their bookshelf but actually read it!
Look how active reading is: flipping through pages, pulling apart metaphors, wrestling with themes. “Man,” people should say, “check out those synapses! His brain is buff!”
No Kurt Vonneguts, no glory!
Who gives a Faulkner?
What, are you too chicken for Chekov? Scared of a Little Women?
Yes, taunting! Taunting is good! It takes tough love to get boys reading. For instance, if my son is so convinced that reading is for women, I may have to cancel his Sports Illustrated just before the swimsuit issue comes out.