Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Boys Don't Read

As an avid reader who is the son of avid readers I am disturbed by the decline in reading among young people. Well, let's be honest, young men. According to the N.E.A., "In overall book reading, young women slipped from 63 percent to 59 percent, while young men plummeted from 55 percent to 43 percent." (At this rate there won't be enough readers to make my Wraith Novel a bestseller. Bastards!)

Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky, both with the N.E.A., sum up the situation in today's WaPo like this, "Girls read; boys don't." Ok, we get it. No need to rub it in. Why?

"Although one might expect the schools to be trying hard to make reading appealing to boys, the K-12 literature curriculum may in fact be contributing to the problem. ... According to reading interest surveys, both boys and girls are unlikely to choose books based on an "issues" approach, and children are not interested in reading about ways to reform society -- or themselves. But boys prefer adventure tales, war, sports and historical nonfiction, while girls prefer stories about personal relationships and fantasy."

At the risk of making sweeping generalizations, the above sentence is true for men and women, not just boys and girls. I am guilty as charged. I mostly read non-fiction - military, political history, science (books on parasites and diseases), and lots of volumes about jihad and terrorism. The occasional novel I choke down usually involves history, terrorism, or evil spirits. I don't like no Chick Lit or books about people talking. But I digress.

"Unfortunately, the textbooks and literature assigned in the elementary grades do not reflect the dispositions of male students. Few strong and active male role models can be found as lead characters. Gone are the inspiring biographies of the most important American presidents, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs. No military valor, no high adventure. ...

At the middle school level, the kind of quality literature that might appeal to boys has been replaced by Young Adult Literature, that is, easy-to-read, short novels about teenagers and problems such as drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, domestic violence, divorced parents and bullying. ..."


This is one of those things that is so obvious it takes a dozen PhDs to screw it up. Boys, and I suspect lots of girls, don't want to read that kind of after-school special crap. They live in a world of alcoholism, divorce, and bullying. A bullied boy doesn't want to read a story about how a bullied boy overcomes his circumstances by peaceful means and wins friends through blah-blah-blah. He wants to read a biography of a MacArthur or Augustus. He wants Tolkien. He wants tales of how the small, unsuspecting fellow kicked ass and conquered the bad guys.

As a kid I read two kinds of things: comic books (tales of teenage power) and books like Conan and Dune (tales of adventure, violence, and intrigue). I would have used the back pages of a "divorce novel" to draw sketches of Conan. What dumbasses are assigning divorce novels? Where's my broadsword?!

The N.E.A. has launched a new study that will examine how differences in theme and genre affect "the relative reading performance of boys and girls." Let's hope this leads to changes in the way reading is taught so that we don't lose another generation of boys to a life without reading. Someone has to slap down $24.95 for my novel (I promise lots of violence and dead bodies and stuff).

Update: Reader Synova, the mother of two adolescents (Rant Wraith's demographic is expanding, baby), reminded me of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who she says was great for her vocabulary. How could I forget? Tarzan is a great adventure tale. After all these years, I still remember the big ape slapping Tarzan in the chest with his open palm, taking the skin off with each blow. No alcoholism, no domestic issues, no social commentary. Just pure enjoyment. Good lord, if I was a kid today and had to "wallow in interpersonal drama," as Synova puts it, I'd avoid reading and play video games too.

1 Comments:

Blogger Synova said...

"At the middle school level, the kind of quality literature that might appeal to boys has been replaced by Young Adult Literature, that is, easy-to-read, short novels about teenagers and problems such as drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, domestic violence, divorced parents and bullying. ..."

Do *girls* like that stuff? I sure never did. I liked adventure mysteries, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys (Hardy Boys were better than Nancy, who was always rehemming her skirts to the right length,) or horse stories. I think the horse stories and adventures took me up to "virginal love in the outback" and tame category romance interspersed with Louie L'Amour westerns, more mysteries, and the discovery of Ian Flemming. Oh, and let us not neglect Edgar Rice Burroughs. (Dear Edgar was fantastic for my vocabulary.) The whole *point* of reading was escape. Why anyone would want to *voluntarily* wallow in interpersonal drama boggles the mind.

My 13 year old son is much into fantasy adventure and freely reads books with both male and female protagonists. I dug through my books and picked out a bunch for him to have on his shelf. He hasn't read any of the Tarzan yet, or Louie L'Amour. He did find the first Narnia book and begged for the rest of them... probably because I never implied that some books were "good for you." He already read all the Xanth books I could get my hands on.

My 12 year old daughter is slowly starting to read more, and she's reading... drum roll... fantasy adventure. Go figure.

For some reason neither of them are the least interested in the Hardy Boys.

3:05 PM  

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