I blame Oprah

“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?

That shirts comin' off, guaranteed. (His, that is.)

That shirts comin’ off, guaranteed. (His, that is.)

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!

Get Toughtoyevsky!

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.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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17 Responses to I blame Oprah

  1. rarasaur says:

    I love everything about this post and I totally want a “No Vonneguts, No Glory” tshirt. You’re right, we need to see some non Oprah books on the bestseller list again… And we need to applaud buff synapses. 🙂

  2. I avoid any book that has a movie cover, is on the NY Times bestseller list or has, at any time, been in Oprah’s grubby little paws. Forget the classics for the boy, go straight to schlock for men (which sounds like a new cologne) – Tom Clancy, Stephen King, John D. MacDonald. Good stories, barely present female characters and lots of meaty plot and action. Although Vonnegut reigns supreme and I’ll take one of those T-shirts, too.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Alistair MacLean (Guns of Navarone, etc.) was my first “manly” author. I wonder if anyone still reads him? Of course, from there it was a short leap to Robert Ludlum and so on. Oddly, I grew out of these authors, but without any disrespect.

  3. I hear you on this one. And when you run down the best-seller list that way, it does seem like reading is for women.

    Also, I read a Nicholas Sparks’ book once – well, I skimmed through it fast. I think I’d do better with the Sports Illustrated.

    Also also, my husband reads science fiction novels like they are going out of style.

  4. I think this post should be on the best seller list – made me laugh out loud – awesome! Exhibiting any emotions would probably not be seen as cool by young boys however, so perhaps counter-productive to your central thesis. Suggest scrap original idea on reflection and simply just wallow in positive feedback.

  5. Reading on the John with Uncle John’s Bathroom readers are GREAT – especially the kids’ ones. I have a bookcase in my son’s bathroom – and there are all sorts of great books to capture his imagination. But we started with comics (Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, The Far Side etc) and it helped him jump over to a host of other books. But really, who wants to read that crap that was mentioned above? There are so many excellent books out there – keep 50 shades in the garbage.

  6. Pingback: What’s a jock to do? | Drinking Tips for Teens

  7. Pingback: Basketball & Son | Drinking Tips for Teens

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