Monday, August 22, 2011

Thoughts on Boys, Reading, & Boy Books

Over the weekend the New York Times published an article on boys and reading. To me, the gist was that teenage boys aren't really reading, and that is in part because there aren't really books targeted at them.

Well, some people voiced their frustration with the article. They took it differently than I did. I felt the main idea from this counter-post was that boys should learn to see themselves in books with female characters.

And then I read this post on Novel Novice, and this is exactly why I like her blog. And I felt like her main point was: the goal is to get boys to read, and if marketing books specifically to boys gets them to read, that isn't a bad thing.

Since I read a bunch of boy books this summer, I feel like I'm obviously an expert in this area. (please note my sarcasm) I've got to agree with Novel Novice, that the goal is to get boys to read. And I don't think the current YA market is targeting reluctant male readers.

Like, not at all.

So my two cents:
1. Books written by men, and targeted at boys, are very different from books written by women. And I'm devoting a ginormous post to the differences I noted, just by reading a few boy books.

2. I think one of the best ways to get a reluctant reader into reading is to give them a book where they can see themselves in the story. Whether that's by identifying with the character, or being interested in the conflict, or enjoying the subject matter, something has to speak to you.

I wasn't a reader until that happened for me. And it's so great to read a book that feels like your favorite pjs and shoes that have molded to your feet. I'd never found that in a book until I felt like I was reading about me. And then I read a whole bunch of other books and found myself in a dozen different characters. And then I could branch out and see bits and pieces of myself in characters or situations that were nothing like me.

So, if we want boys to read, we should give them a chance to read about stuff that matters to them. That's specifically for them. Of course it's great to have readers (of any gender/race/orientation/etc) identify with characters who are seemingly an "other," but that's not where to start. I think all readers need to learn to find themselves in books like them, so that they can learn to identify the similarities
in characters and stories that are not.

Thoughts? Do you prefer reading about characters that you think are like you?


  1. I thought similar things too! I agree that it would be nice for boys to like girl books, but honestly, I'd rather get them reading. So, yeah, let's get some more boy friendly YA out there. I'm for it!

  2. I teach English and it's always a struggle to get the boys to read. But more and more of my pre-AP sophomores are picking up books like The Book Thief and the Gone series by Michael Grant. Sometimes there's a stigma with reading for boys, not necessarily a positive one. Also, they already have enough homework and video games have more instant gratification. If you figure out how to solve this problem, let us know. I'll keep trying to find boy books to push in my classroom (Chris Crutcher is a great author for guys!).

  3. I'm totally fine reading about characters I can't relate to but it's fun when you can. There are so many great books out there that young boys would love...only sometimes I think boys just don't really like reading and if they do it's non-fiction. That's just boring, but to each their own.

  4. Thanks for sharing this info. There are a few good YA books for boys like the young James Bond and Sherlock Holmes series but you do have to really hunt more. I agree we need more books to capture the interests!

  5. Fantastic argument! I agree with you 100%! I don't see what's wrong with catering a little to boys who are reluctant to read. The industry is currently catering to girls, why can't the opposite be true? Boys want to read about themselves, just as much as we girls want to read about ourselves.

  6. As to your question, sometimes yes, sometimes no, but mostly no. My life is BORING so why would I want to read about that? Yucky.

    As for the boy thing, I think it's true lots of books tend to be more for girls, BUT there's still SO MANY that boys would/should/can/do like. They've just got to try stuff. My 16 year old son is right here in the middle of this right now, and it's been interesting to see what he'll read and what he won't. I can never ever predict it.

  7. Melissa, yay! I wish there would be more buzz for the boy books that do come out.

    Jenna, I wish I knew. I have a 14 y/o nephew who loves to read, but he's totally embraced the "smart kid" persona. So it's almost expected for him to like reading. Sometimes I forget that's not true for most boys!

    Jenny, I hadn't even really thought about non-fiction. But it's true that science-y or mechanical books are socially acceptable for boys to read, too.

  8. Christy, I didn't know there was a young James Bond series. I'll have to remember those when my son gets older.

    Penelope, thanks! At least I would think boys would want to read about themselves. I asked my husband about it and he didn't seem to get what I meant. Maybe I'm wrong to assume boys want the same thing out of books that I do!

    Suey, lol. I guess I don't really want to read about my life (unless it's told in a funny way) but I do like reading about characters who act how I would in their crazy, more interesting circumstances. :)
    That's interesting about your son, too. My husband is in the Young Men's in our ward and several of his recent reads have been suggestions from the boys. But it's almost always the 12-14 y/o who read. The older boys usually aren't into it.

  9. Yes! To foster a reader the reader must first relate.