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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why boys don't read

Novelist Robert Lipsyte writes in the NY Times:
boys’ aversion to reading, let alone to novels, has been worsening for years. ...

If we’re to counter this tendency and encourage reading among boys who may collectively resist it, boys need to be approached individually with books about their fears, choices, possibilities and relationships — the kind of reading that will prick their dormant empathy, involve them with fictional characters and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives. This is what turns boys into readers. ...

“The important question is why aren’t boys reading the good books being published?”

He ticked off the standard answers: Boys gravitate toward nonfiction. Schools favor classics over contemporary fiction to satisfy testing standards and avoid challenges from parents. And teachers don’t always know what’s out there for boys. All true, in my opinion.

There are other theories. On his Web site, guysread.com, the teacher and author Jon Scieszka writes that boys “don’t feel comfortable exploring the emotions and feelings found in fiction. . . . Boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids’ reading are women, boys might not see reading as a masculine activity.”

But I think it’s also about the books being published. Michael Cart, a past president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, agrees. “We need more good works of realistic fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, on- or ­offline, that invite boys to reflect on what kinds of men they want to become,” he told me. “In a commercially driven publishing environment, the emphasis is currently on young women.” And then some. At the 2007 A.L.A. conference, a Harper executive said at least three-­quarters of her target audience were girls, and they wanted to read about mean girls, gossip girls, frenemies and vampires.
This is pathetic. Our books have been feminized. Boys don't want to "prick their dormant empathy". Some better suggestions are here:
I have three boys, mostly grown now. Not a one of them ever needed to be led into “deeper engagement” with his life. Had you asked my wife about it at the time, she would have told you that they were all way too engaged in their own lives and that they needed to think about something else—like cleaning their rooms or mowing the lawn. And I hate to think of what would have happened if anyone had tried to “prick their dormant empathy.” To any healthy boy, those are fighting words.

Boys, though they cannot articulate it, can usually see right through the modern psychobabble. In fact, say what you will about the Harry Potter books (and plenty has been said), they at least betray a consciousness of the old adventure ideal, and are light on the psychological reflexiveness—at least in the early books in the series, although I am told (I have not read them) that the later books portray a more effeminate Harry.

We have the mistaken impression that it was traditional children’s literature that was preachy. This is not only untrue, but it is almost the exact opposite of the truth. It is precisely the preachiness of politically correct modern literature that offends their innate sense of honesty and justice—a human instinct that we do our best to educate out of them.

Boys are not interested in getting in touch with themselves, and it is particularly off-putting when they are told that it is good for them. The minute the politically correct schoolmarms approach, they head for the woods, where they are free to pick up sticks and pretend they are swords and fight monsters and hunt frogs and swing from trees—anything but to be preached at by people whose sermons consist of high-minded meaninglessness.

Most boys are born cynics and are rightly suspicious of moralistic platitudes. They respect words only to the extent that they see them followed by actions. Tell them (in mere words) what the right thing to do is, and they will look at you suspiciously and walk away. Do the right thing—preferably at the risk of your own person or reputation, and they will follow you in zealous allegiance.

The older authors of books for boys knew this: they forsook the sermonizing for the story of men in action.
There are more good comments here.

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