Re: RARA-AVIS: Boys & Reading

From: prosperena (
Date: 29 Jul 2009

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    Belatedly weighing in on this topic... Having been both a middle school librarian and part-time independent bookstore bookseller I think I can say that the female-dominated professions of teaching and public /school librarianship have had a definite impact on the reading habits of boys and young adult men. Yes, some of it has been positive but there have been some negative influences as well. With boys I found it more critical to act a bit like a p.i. and employ what in library (or information science...) grad school was called the "reference question." I.E., ask a series of questions to try to determine what the guy is interested in and try to match those interests with a variety of books. If you're a woman (like me), you have to resist the impulse to give him a book you think he *should* read and give him something you think he might actually enjoy reading. For many guys, this means starting with nonfiction (my husband says he couldn't enjoy fiction for years after being "forced" to read "The Hobbit" in high school) or fiction, any kind, on subjects the guy has said he's interested in. At least one (male) reply to this topic has mentioned the importance of the cover in deciding whether or not to open a book. I saw this in evidence over and over again. Boys/men tend to be respond more immediately to visual cues than do girls/women (so studies say). So what? Learn what draws boys in and accommodate it. They also tend to prefer having narrative elements more explicitly "spelled out" -- and I don't mean just graphic violence/sex images. Today there remains a proselytizing tendency among women librarians/teachers, dating to the "fiction nuisance in public libraries" notion from the late 19th century, which has turned off many a potential male reader. And again, yes, there are many exceptions to this. A number of contributors to this group are middle-aged (incl. myself) and we did not have suffer educationists' faddish theories that dominate school reading today -- "age appropriate" being one of the more insidious ones. One of the intended or unintended artifacts of the women's movement is a real attempt to feminize boys in many classrooms today; a sort of Henry Higgins in reverse: "why can't a man be more like a woman?" Schoolboys are more likely to be medicated for "hyperactivity" (i.e. being boys) than are girls, for example. Coupled with this is the now overly exaggerated view that girl readers were "underserved" -- so we got shelves filled with books empowering young women while "underserving" young male readers. Like many of the group's men and women readers I read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys with equal pleasure, but really loved the Dana Girls' mysteries (also by Carolyn Keene) -- the boarding school setting, away from pesky parents, was among the reasons for this. As a woman, reading period hard-boiled fiction is a (guilty?) pleasure partly because the roles of men and women are less blurred and tend to have what we might now think are even stereotyped roles. What my mother would call "the days when men were men and women were glad of it."

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