RARA-AVIS: Re: Boys & Reading

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 28 Jul 2009

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    Most of the reasons "boys don't read" were just as true when I was in high school, and yet most of the students at my high school were, if not, voracious readers of fiction, at least interested readers of fiction. We talked about the books we were assigned among ourselves as well as in class, and we often followed up by reading books by authors we liked to whom we had been introduced in class.

    I think this may have been because it was an all-boys high school, with a predoninatly male faculty and staff (although the school librarian was a woman). The novels chosen for classes and for between-grades reading assignments were, now that I think about it, carefully chosen to appeal to boys. I wasn't really aware of this at the time, but it seems much clearer now that I look back on it.

    Prior to my freshman year, we were required to read six novels and write book reports on them to be handed in at the beginning of the school year. The six books were Alastair Maclean's THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, H.G. Wells's THE WAR OF THE WORLDS and THE INVISIBLE MAN, Ray Bradbury's THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, Jack London's THE CALL OF THE WILD, and Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. With the possible exception of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, there's not a feminized story about childhood angst in the lot. And TKAM is certainly as much about the courtroom drama as it is about coming of age. They were all story-driven.

    Over the next four years, we were assigned books like Jack Schaeffer's SHANE, Ian Fleming's ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, C.S. Forester's SINK THE BISMARK, William Peter Blatty's THE EXORCIST, and James Dickey's DELIVERANCE. The Shakespeare plays we read were red-blooded melodramas like HENRY IV - PART ONE or MACBETH, or rollicking comedies like MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.

    Books that weren't nearly as well-liked were precisely the kind of books librarians tend to push, like J.D. Salinger's CATCHER IN THE RYE or Carson McCullers's THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, the ones about teen-aged angst.

    Maybe the problem is that most children's and YA librarians tend to be female.

    I don't want to raise the spectre of sexism here, but the Mars/Venus dichotomy is not altogether wrong, after all, and maybe people from Venus aren't the best-qualified person to recommend books to those of us from Mars.

    Just a thought.



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