A recent article in the New Yorker’s “Book Bench” blog features a panel discussion of a young adult novel, while repeating some common (but wrong) assumptions about the form and also taking time to say that teen boys “apparently” don’t read at all, and explicitly discounting those who do:
All the boys in my life read as teens, which begs the question: why do I surround myself with such wimps?
Even though that’s obviously a half-ironic jest, the comment adds curious emphasis to the point that teen boys “apparently” don’t read. After all, if guys who read are seen as wimps, then it’s no wonder that guys don’t read or keep their reading a shameful secret. I was an avid reader as a kid, and while I was no stranger to the pervasive bookworm/nerd/sissy myth, it didn’t daunt me. I’m sure other kids read less because of it, or (like me) felt they occupied some kind of provisional male space, like we were boys on probation. No wonder I liked Raiders of the Lost Ark so much — I’d never seen an action hero with a library.
There are many people who are trying to help guys see reading as pastime that doesn’t compromise their manhood, just as there are many people who are trying to help girls see math and science as a great interest that doesn’t compromise their femininity. The figurehead of the former movement is Jon Scieszka, founder of Guys Read. There’s good information at the second link on how to start a Guys Read program or connecting boys to books boys like. The reading list hasn’t been updated for a while, but there are some good boy/book blogs that keep up their lists of recommendations and give boys a chance to weigh in, such as Boys Rule Boys Read by three youth librarians, or SMS Guys Read, which is unaffiliated with Scieszka’s organization but in the same spirit.
Finding boy books is only part of the problem. The main thing, as Mr. Scieszka says, is for older guys to be role models, for boys to see men reading makes all the difference. If you’re a guy, give books to the boys in your life for the holidays (even used books) and if they look at you in confusion or say they hate reading, you have a teachable moment. I’ve done that and just said, “really? I love reading,” or “that was my favorite thing to do when I was your age.” Seriously, kids will often give the whole thing another thought. I’ve seen it happen.
And if that doesn’t work, pop Raiders of the Lost Ark into the DVD player.