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Why boys don’t read

28 June 2013

From Mad Genius Club:

[A]nother author was asking why it wasn’t enough to simply write a good story, one that entertains the reader and makes them want to finish it. This writer was tired of those who identify themselves as being “literary” looking down their noses at genre writers. You know, writers who have figured out not only how to tell a story people want to read but who have also, in many cases, figured out how to add a message to their work without having to beat the reader over the head with it.

. . . .

If a story doesn’t entertain, folks aren’t going to read it — or at least not finish it. If they don’t read it, then what good is any message we might put into it? That message will be lost because it was never read.

But that isn’t enough for the literati, for all too many editors and, unfortunately, for the boards of too many professional organizations these days. No, you have to be socially relevant and enlightened in your writing. You have to promote what is “right” — as is defined by those who have the loudest voice. Heaven help you if you write something that might offend someone else, especially if you are a male of a certain age.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned (and I know that means I have the wrong beliefs and should probably be silenced now. Sorry, I’m a loud-mouthed woman who isn’t afraid to exercise my First Amendment rights). But I still feel that the story is the thing we should be concerned with and not the message. As I said earlier, folks won’t read the message if they don’t read the story. The corollary to this is: why is publishing in trouble? Because it forgot that readers, on the whole, read to be entertained and to forget about their troubles.

Don’t believe me, ask yourself why so many in publishing are trying to convince us that boys don’t read. Oh, I think there are those who sit in their ivory towers in NYC who actually believe that. Why? Because they look at the sales for their middle grade and YA books and see that the majority of those buying their books are girls. So, therefore, boys don’t read.

No, quite the contrary. Boys don’t read, on the whole, about sparkly vampires or angsty teen problems. They want stories that speak to them. Adventure and fun and characters they can identify with. (Sound familiar?) So they turn to other options, manga being just one of them. But the publishing powers that be fail to recognize that fact.

Then we have those publishers and editors and writers who feel that we must address all of society’s ills with our writing and “educate” our readers so there will never be any racism or sexism or any other ism they don’t approve of ever again.

Link to the rest at Mad Genius Club

Children's Books

65 Comments to “Why boys don’t read”

  1. Damn skippy. I hated the books I was forced to read in middle school and high school because none of the books we had to read interest me. They were too… not sure the word I want to use, but they didn’t speak to me.

    It wasn’t until college when I discovered Rafael Sabatini’s work — “Captain Blood”, “Scaramouche”, “The Sea Hawk” — and actually read “The Three Musketeers” did I find books that interested me. Romantic swashbucklers with high action, adventure, drama, romance and a lot of fun.

    And that’s what I aim for in my own writing. In college I wrote pirate stories (spoiler: still do) and everyone in my writing class looked at me in either awe or confusion as why I would write a swashbuckler. I loved it. And one of my classmates announced to the class that she read one of my short-stories to these two 12 y/o boys she babysat and they loved it. I wasn’t writing for an audience that young, but it still captivated them.

    To this day that might be one of the best compliments I’ve received.

  2. I was poised to jump all over this article, but I waited, for once. Glad I did.

    There’s a reason that “Boy’s Life” by Robert McCammon is my favorite book, and it has a lot to do with adventure, fun, and characters that I could identify with.

    Teen me would rather cut off his own face than read most of the hot YA of today.

    • Teen Me would also.

      Best story I read that young was “The Most Dangerous Game.” Still my favorite short-story.

      • That IS a pretty awesome story. 🙂

        • Outside of some of the Robert E. Howard shorts I truly love, TMDG is somewhere in my top five shorts as well. Consider that just one short story kicked off an entire thriller sub-genre – the “men who hunt men for sport” niche that’s been in almost every long lived TV action series and at least twenty different movies.

          • After we read that we were giving a writing assignment… to fill in the gap between the final encounter and the protagonist sleeping soundly in bed. First fight scene I ever wrote. Not sure how I didn’t get kicked out of parochial school.

            Ahhh, memories.

            • Guys, I, proud possessor of two X chromosomes, hated that story for the same reasons you loved it.

              Moral? Thou shalt know thy audience.

    • Teen me 2.
      Adult me 5.

      A couple of times a year I deliberatly try a couple of books outside my preferred diet of thrillers, mysteries and non-fiction. It rarely ends well. There is nothing wrong with those books per se, except I fall asleep trying to get through them.

  3. Robert Muchamore writes terrific espionage/adventure books for boys, Cherub. Unfortunately they’re available mostly in the UK and not in ebook format. They’re pretty realistic. Anthony Horowitz wrote the Alex Rider series about a young man working for MI6. Also from the UK.
    Stormbreaker http://www.amazon.com/dp/0142406112

    Must be another case of American publishers doing what they do best–curating, bringing books to the audience, blah blah blah.

  4. You could take the Hardy Boys books, modern up the dialogue, change things so cell phones wouldn’t disrupt half the plot (or explain why they aren’t) and sell ’em today. Ditto any number of other classic boy’s adventure stories.

    Yes, it would make the purists’ heads explode. But if it’s that or no boy’s literature at all, I say let’s make a few heads asplode. Better still to have somebody write some new stuff, but “boys don’t read,” and that’s just one more excuse why not to take a chance on somebody unknown.

    • Funny you should bring that up. I was just about to post how I ripped through the Hardy Boys.

      More to your point, I was excited to see that they have a modern series, too.

      • Summers End by Dan Simmons has it all. A message kids can relate too, superior writing, great characters, a really scary, page-turning plot. Proof that great writing doesn’t have to be boring.

        • If you’re thinking of Summer of Night, I agree. Definitely in my Top 10.

          This is all really getting me thinking about writing a boys’ series.

          • That’s it. A terrific book. Now, I want to go read it again. Probably most kids won’t read it an articulate a theme, that it’s okay to be different, but they’ll absorb it because the characters are so wonderful.

    • Hardy Boys can also be read as is. I picked up a box set, books 1-10, as an impulse buy from Costco. My eldest son tore through them. Then my youngest son, a few years later, tore through them as well. And then checked out the rest, one by one, from the library.

  5. Boys don’t read, on the whole, about sparkly vampires or angsty teen problems. They want stories that speak to them. Adventure and fun and characters they can identify with.

    This describes me, too. I avoided any book where the main problem was buying a dress for the prom. Give me the book where you have to save the town, and I’m there. Give me the book where you have to solve your cousin’s murder, and I’m there. Give me the book where you have to cross hundreds of miles of arctic wilderness to find your father, and I’m there.

    I can’t wait for the death of the Western Union story.

    • You guys are making me feel very good about my YA fantasy series, which does not include prom dresses or sparkly vampires, but does include saving the world from evil.

  6. Amanda calls herself a hack, in a self-mocking way. I don’t think just because you write genre fiction, you’re a hack. A hack to me is someone who writes to produce, without caring about craft. A hack never writes anything original, doesn’t strive for a vivid image or simile, doesn’t work to make their characters come alive because they’re only there to advance the plot. The characters don’t have a story arc, the story lacks coherence because it doesn’t have a theme to hold the spine together, and actions occur without sufficient motivation, just because the plot needs it to happen.

    I work hard as a genre writer not to be a hack. My writers’ group looks down on romance, almost goes orgasmic over reams of description even if the plot is weak, but I try to make it hard for them to dismiss me as a romance writer because I work hard at the craft of writing. I never thought that because I wrote genre books, I had a lower threshold to reach for my craft and my effort.

    • Viva La Genre Writers!

    • If your writer’s group is loking down on you for ANY reason, you need a new group. One that is empowering and supportive and provides positive feedback. The RWA is 10,000 strong, and we don’t put up with that crap from anybody. LOL!

  7. I tried so hard to get my boys to like reading. I homeschooled them in middle school and kept a ton of books on hand from a used bookstore and we went to the library a lot. And they did read and enjoyed what they read. The problem was, once they finished the books that really got them interested, they had trouble finding similar books. For one, it was Harry Potter. This was in the late 90s and HP was still a new phenom so publishing hadn’t caught up yet. My younger son kept saying he wanted to read more books like HP, but nothing out there really came close–at least not that we could find. My oldest liked HP, but he loved the book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and a few of his other books, but didn’t really fall in love with reading.

    I didn’t dictate what they read while homeschooling, just that there was time to read every day. Some days I’d make popcorn and we’d all lounge around reading our books. Unfortunately, both went to high school and were never interested in reading again. In fact, I found out later that they used the books they read while homeschooling for their reading requirements in highschool as many were on the list.

    My younger son did read Devil in the White City a few years ago for a class and really enjoyed it. He knows that reading is enjoyable, he just prefers movies and the History Channel.

    • “He knows that reading is enjoyable, he just prefers movies and the History Channel.”

      OMG, what’s next? DRUGS??? 😀

    • “My younger son kept saying he wanted to read more books like HP, but nothing out there really came close–at least not that we could find.”

      Other great fantasy series for boys:
      Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles
      C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia
      Jane Yolen’s Pit Dragon Trilogy

      Also, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, though aimed at adults, are accessible to anyone familiar with fantasy worlds.

      • The Belgariad by David Eddings was my pre-teen crack.

      • Ditto Terry Pratchett. Also Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz series is great, if a bit off the wall. Certainly adventure, excitement, saving the world, and a lot of evil librarians.

    • I’d try them on a little SF — Little Fuzzy, say (available from Project Gutenberg). I recall liking Heinlein’s Star Beast, and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. (Hope I’m remembering the names right!) Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan books (start with The Warrior’s Apprentice or the Young Miles collection). Maybe consider Andre Norton’s Breed to Come. (For younger kids, the Norton-somebody else collaboration that starts with Star Ka’ats?)

      Seconding Pratchett, and Eddings’ Belgariad.

      Just so they know there’s more out there than what they saw on the high school lists. 🙂

    • What about the Artemis Fowl series? And other books Eoin C. has written (like … I think it’s called Airborn?).

  8. So, I read the whole article, and this has extremely little to do with the issue of boys and reading.

    She has a problem with the outrage that happened in the SFWA recently about women and sexism, and the fact that the outrage was effective and led to change.

    Frankly, I find the article hard to follow; the thought process doesn’t seem to be very clear, although that might be because I’m not as familiar with the context. However, I think she is basically saying that the in-fighting shouldn’t have been made public, the outrage over sexism was wrong and gender politics are not relevant, either to the organization (?) or to the books that are written. We should all go back to focusing on the story because that’s what people really want to read, including boys.

    Well, okay. I’m not sure exactly how to respond to this. I don’t agree with her, obviously, I think what happened at SFWA was terrific. But she’s certainly entitled to a different opinion.

    However, since we’re talking about boys and books on this thread, I’ll say that I agree boys will like books that “speak to them”.

    However, I do disagree with her, in general, about message, especially for books for children. I think books for children should be wholesome and nourishing for their minds, and not carry harmful messages to young generations, including sexism and racism.

    • The trouble with wholesome and nourishing is that unless in the hands of a master storyteller the result is green beans. Sure, you can make kids eat the stuff, usually while telling them how great it is. In most cases, however, they’ll never ask for more.

      There are great books for kids, but school libraries hellbent on wholesome and nourishing have bookshelves full of bland, inoffensive to all and exciting to none volumes. Especially early reading series.

      I hope my kids will learn to love reading eventually, but healthy reading zealots pretty much ruined their formative years. After hours of mandatory reading in school I sure wasn’t ready pile on more reading time at home.

      Maybe if I hide forbidden volumes in the liqor cabinet they’ll find the good stuff one day?

      • By the time I hit twelve years old or so, I had full access to my mom’s bookshelf. Mysteries, horror, sci-fi, whatever. Her only requirement was that she knew what I was reading at the time. She treated me like an adult in that respect, and I appreciated it.

        Those books were nourishing for my mind. I developed a clear sense of right and wrong because of, not in spite of, the issues that were presented in some of those books. I don’t think a sterilized story would have had the same impact.

        • No adult supervised my reading after 10 and in retrospect i’m grateful for it.
          I can attest to books changing how I see things.

          Sometimes I think the fear of that possibility, a book changing a kids life forever, is what drives the wholesome-reading zealots to over-sanitize what kids can easily get their hands on.

          Books can be dangerous loot. Someone could read them and begin seeing the world differently from the way a parent or other adults see it. But the alternative is far more dangerous; limiting ideas and point of views.

          Personally, i think well-meaning adults should leave the libraries to the kids and let them read what interests them.

          • By the time I was ten or so, I was reading books off the family bookshelves as well as going to the library. Nobody monitored my reading to see if it was appropriate. I read The Thorn Birds in eighth grade and Roots in 7th. I also started reading James Michener in 7th. My history teacher had Reader’s Digests in his room we could read when done with class work. One had a few chapters from Centennial in it and I was hooked.

            • Nobody monitored my reading EVER. My parents never read books, never even owned them. I was left to wander at will through the library from the time I was six, and read whatever my (much) older sister sent home that she’d been required to read for her library science classes (along with a list she told me to take to the library and ask for). “Candy” books were jumbled all together with “brussels spouts” books and I never questioned any of it. My son was never censored in any way from my shelves, either. If I thought it might be too adult, we might have discussed it, but my rule was pretty much if he could climb high enough to get at it, read the words, or use the dictionary to look them up, then it was ok by me. He’s 36 now, and still calls solely to discuss some book he’s reading.

      • Anytime I told my two daughters that a book was too mature for them or beyond their reading skills, they snuck it out of the shelves like sneaking into my makeup. It didn’t take me long to learn to handle this way any book I really thought they ought to read.

        Le Momma-evilllll!

    • I actually do agree with her that it is increasingly difficult to find YA aimed at teen boys. You can usually find books for boys at middle grade level, but by the time they grow out of middle grade, it gets very difficult. I’m very happy that teen girls have so many great YA novels to choose from these days, particulary since YA fiction was terrible in my day. And while I fully agree that girls shouldn’t see themselves represented only as interchangable love interests, I don’t think boys should see themselves represented as interchagable love interests (you can either be the fiery bad boy or the sensitive best friend type and the heroine will choose one of you in the end) either.

      But she did lose me when she went into the whole SFWA uproar. First of all, the link between “There is a lack of YA for boys” (true) and “Some people are upset that the SFWA Bulletin has repeatedly published content deemed sexist” is tenuous at best. But then this is a common problem with this particular group of writers. They frequently have something useful to say, only to ruin it by blaming everything on the straw communists who have supposedly infiltrated SF, publishing and the US in general. So message stories are bad, huh? In that case, why can’t any member of this clique of libertarian SF writers even write a simple blog post without hammering everybody over the head with their “Communists are the root of all evil” message?

      Secondly, I think that women speaking up about the misogyny and sexism they have experienced at the hands of male pro writers is a good thing. IMO, the cover and articles that caused this uproar (except for the last one where Resnick and Malzberg cried censorship) weren’t all that bad. But they got people talking and women speaking out about their experiences and that’s a great thing.

      About the SFWA Twitter feed, maybe she hasn’t read the post in question (though it has been widely linked and quoted), but there was nothing potentially offending about that tweet. What happened is that an SFWA member (who ran for president in the recent SFWA election) used the official Twitter feed to promote a racist screed he had posted on his blog. Among many other things, said SFWA member called black people incapable of civilization. He also called a prominent big five editor “a fat frog” and an equally prominent male SF writer and blogger a rapist. You’d have to be a white supremacist not to find that offensive. Now the guy has the right to post whatever he likes on his private blog, but the purpose of the SFWA twitter feed is not to promote hate speech.

      • The author is correct in that a ‘non-offensive’ touchy-feely left of center viewpoint has dominated SFWA and major publishing houses over the past decade or two. Look at the fiction authors who are being published promenently by the Big 5, look at the Big 5’s editorial staff, and look at which political slant the vast majority of these people have. It includes a worldview which casts men, particularly white men, as the constant evil threat. This is not exactly endearing to boys of all colors, and certainly not to white boys. Why would they want to read a naval-gazing story which paints their male role models as evil? Of course they will gravitate toward manga– a genre which will help them aspire to be amazing and heroic. What boy have you ever met who doesn’t secretly want to be a hero?

        As for the SFWA blowup… I’m surprised you failed to mention NK Jemisin’s provocation of the author you so throughly bash. She did, in fact, blatantly lie about him. His response was well over the top, but Jemisin should be called to task for her poor behavior as well. Not that anyone will do so, mind you. She’s the ‘type of person’ the SFWA wants in their membership, while Vox Day is a bit too pale and a bit too male.

        • Seriously? “…a bit too pale and a bit too male?” If you can say in a public forum that THAT is Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day’s problem, while referring to N K Jemison’s race as making her the “…type of person…” SFWA values, I sincerely hope you never darken the doorway of this blog again.

          • Kathlena Contreras

            +1, Bridget.

          • Let’s perform an exercise:

            A white male says a black female is “a self-described misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, and a few other flavors of a******” which turns out to be a lie.

            A black female responds by saying the white male is, “an ignorant half savage.”

            In this exercise, who is wrong? The answer is, of course, both of them. *Both* people deserve an apology from the other, if we are judging them on their actions and not their gender or skin color.

            Unfortunately, that’s not what we have here. If Vox Day and NK Jemisin go back in time and switch statements, the SFWA and their supporters would say that Day was in the wrong but Jemisin was in the right. It is a double standard based on gender and race.

            Once again, *both* people involved should be ashamed of themselves. And we should all discourage this kind of behavior from supposed professionals.

        • I don’t know what books you’re reading, Phyllis, but I don’t see a whole lot of SFF or other books where white men are automatically described as evil. Yes, some white men may be villains, but there usually also are white men who are good guys.

          And while N.K. Jemisin’s GoH speech may have been a bit harshly worded with regard to Theodore Beale, he’s been known to harbour problematic fringe views for years, plus he did write an aggressive reply to female authors complaining about being marginalized just days before. And even Ms. Jemisin’s strongly worded speech does not excuse the sheer racism and misogyny (after all, he did not attack only Jemisin, but John Scalzi and the Nielsen Haydens as well) of Beale’s post.

          Where I do agree with you is that a certain political viewpoint seems to be dominant in SFF publishing and trad publishing in general. However, this is not a case of “leftwingers get published, rightwingers don’t”. Because a lot of people on the left of the political spectrum have problems at well, if they don’t perfectly fit into what I’ll call “Manhattan/Seattle/Portland liberalism” for ease.

          • I probably worded my response poorly, Cora. Let me try to rephrase. In SFF literature, a white male is almost always the antagonist and is generally some flavor of evil. I will agree, however, that there are many examples of white men as protagonists… but I think you’ll agree that the number is dropping and traditional ‘boys books’ are published less and less. This naturally decreases the number of boys who are reading.

            Beale is what he is. Listen to him, debate him publicly, or ignore him. The more people complain about him, the more people know he exists and the more his readership grows.

            Thank you for agreeing with me on the political viewpoint we most often see in SFF from mainstream publishers. Thank goodness for Baen, who could care less about politics.

  9. [quote] I think books for children should be wholesome and nourishing for their minds, and not carry harmful messages to young generations, including sexism and racism.[/quote]

    I don’t know abut the wholesome and nourishing part – that can get a little preachy – but it shouldn’t be that hard to write solid adventure novels where girls have brains too, and aren’t just arm candy.

    • I think part of what the article was trying to convey was non-arm-candy girls != all boys are evil oppressors who oppress evilly. I wouldn’t want to read books where I was the villain by definition either.

      Message, like garlic, shouldn’t be the main ingredient. When you have Moral Improving Tales that have no connection to reality a) kids tune out, since they aren’t dumb and b) they don’t really learn anything if they do read all the way to the end because Life Isn’t Like That. If you write a good story with real characters with real motivations and real consequences, you don’t need THE MESSAGE being sung like the company song. The message emerges all by itself, the writer doesn’t need to help it along.

      • There are whole groups of people who inevitably are the villain by definition. Try being German, Russian or Arab or even someone from the Southern US and pretty much the only time you’ll ever see people like yourself in international pop culture is as villains. And if you dare to speak up and say “Actually, I find this rather offensive”, you’re either met with resounding silence or a “Shut up! It’s just pop culture” even from people who would be calling bloody murder (and rightfully so) if blacks or gays were portrayed that way.

  10. The rest of the article is political and prickly. And absolutely crammed with the author’s personal sorts of messages.

    • Yes this. Actually, this is quite typical of this group of writers. They sometimes have something useful to say, but their political message is so shrill and exaggerated that what good points they have to make are lost among the noise.

  11. In my early teen years, I read every Hardy boys book in our public library, twice. Later I collected most of them and read them again as an adult. The whitewashed, politically correct reprints couldn’t match the originals for sheer storytelling and adventure. So when I was writing the single contemporary teen boy novel in my repertoire, in 7-page weekly segments for a website a friend ran at the time (he needed content, he said), I allowed nothing that resembled a message to get in my way; I was along for the ride [pun: it’s a “runaway road story”], and have had one adult male reader tell me it’s better than my Cordero saga. No intentional messages in those, either.

  12. Kathlena Contreras

    I had the opposite problem growing up. This was pre-Tolkien, so the only fantasy available was for children (not teens– little kids). SF, which was the next best thing, was pretty much invariably inhabited by male protagonists. I remember being greatly annoyed that girls never got to do anything interesting, so I made up my own stories (highly derivative, of course), where a GIRL got to have the adventures and meet the aliens and so forth. But just because I couldn’t find stories like that to read, didn’t keep me from reading.

    Sure, boys likely have zero interest in reading about some girl obsessed with her sparkly vampire, but I find it difficult to believe that there aren’t other stories that might appeal to boys who enjoy reading, even if the protagonist happens to be female.

    • I had that problem as well. Then I discovered Patricia McKillip. She has the best characters, period. Men and women play important roles and nobody blinks at women ruling nations or playing those major roles. She just went for story and interesting characters, and succeeded every time.

      If you are a fantasy fan and don’t read McKillip, you are missing one of the best writers out there. I like all of her work, but Alphabet of Thorn is her pinnacle, to date. (IMHO, of course.)

      She’s Guest of Honor at Readercon in July. Alas, I cannot be there.

      • Kathlena Contreras

        Oh, yes, Patricia McKillip is one of my favorites– although I lean toward The Forgotten Beasts of Eld as the book I find most appealing (Sybel rocks! My ’80’s copy of the book, which I bought new, is pretty well-worn.). But I didn’t discover McKillip until I was an adult, and by then, more adult fantasy (with female protagonists) was becoming available.

    • I wonder if a facet of this seeming dearth of stories is that a lot of the stories we remember reading (or our dads read) are now out of print, or considered a lot more “literary” (read: boring) than they actually are? A lot of those “classic adventure stories for boys” now get lumped in with much more yawn-worthy classic fiction, and therefore passed over.

      When I was a kid, I read a pair of short novels, “Snowshoe Trek to Otter River” and “Bones on Black Spruce Mountain” by David Budbill. They were really solid young men’s outdoor adventure stories, and I read them probably a dozen times apiece. I lost them for a number of years but bought used copies recently, but I’m sure they’ve been out of print since the 80’s. On the other hand, any young boy who likes being outdoors, hunting, fishing, hiking, etc. would really enjoy them.

    • I find it difficult to believe that there aren’t other stories that might appeal to boys who enjoy reading, even if the protagonist happens to be female.

      I’m suddenly thinking of the follow-on series to the Avatar: the Last Airbender TV series*. The Legend of Korra has a… buff, somewhat hot-headed teenage girl who spends her spare time practicing to beat up other people in an athletic sport (with protective padding). (And there are some pretty awesome adults!) If I recall correctly, there were reports that the “focus groups” of boy-type kids… didn’t care. She was ruff, tuff, and awesome! Go, go, Team Avatar!

      So it’s possible to have a female protagonist who doesn’t get the “bleah” face from boys, I’d say…

      (*There is no Airbender movie. It does not exist. Just like there is only one Highlander movie. Perhaps in another universe, there was a movie. THERE IS NO MOVIE. MOVE ALONG, CITIZEN.)

  13. In fourth grade I forged my mother’s signature on a library form that gave me permission to borrow from the adult section. A whole new world opened up. That solved all the problems of finding good stuff to read.

  14. The Writing Excuses team just did a podcast on middle grade fiction. Their consensus was that boys read in middle grade, but when they get too old to go to the kids’ section of the library, they go straight to the adult section. (Unless they stop reading because they’re too busy with sports and video games.)

    I guess that is what happened to me. I stayed out of the “Young Adult” section because I thought you had to be 18 to read those books. So I read Heinlein, Asimov, Orwell, B. F. Skinner, Anne McCaffrey, Tolkien, Douglas Adams, and Douglas Hofstadter.

    • YA is an interesting category because it sometimes bleeds over into adult fiction and vice versa. I mean, how many adults read Harry Potter and that was aimed for YA. And plenty of “adult” books can be enjoyed by YA.

      Sometimes I think we don’t give young adults enough credit they deserve. I mean, “adult” is in there. They might get something out of the story that’s a little different than someone a couple decades older, but — depending on the individual — they can probably handle it.

      Maybe I’m optimistic about the maturity level of teenagers. 🙂

      • “Maybe I’m optimistic about the maturity level of teenagers.”

        Maybe a lot of condescending adults are just vastly underestimating them…

        • Maybe a lot of condescending adults are just vastly underestimating them…

          Thunderbirds is an interesting example. For those who didn’t grow up in 1970s Britain, it’s a TV show about a family of puppets who live on a remote tropical island and fly around in super-advanced rockets and aircraft saving the idiots of the world when they decide to move the Empire State Building and it topples over into a swamp of genetically-engineered giant alligators.

          As kids, we wanted to grow up to be the guys in that show. When Hollywood made a movie version a few years ago, they trapped all the adult characters in space while a couple of teenage characters tried to save them, because obviously teenage boys don’t want to watch adults doing things in their movies. It was one of the biggest cinematic flops in years.

          • This.

            I started reading Analog magazine when I was 12. I’d already been reading Robert E. Howard, Asimov, Andre Norton, Clarke, Poul Anderson, etc, etc for a year or so by then. (For some reason I didn’t discover Heinlein until a few years later.)

            And yes, Thunderbirds (originally, mid-late 60s) rocked. Interestingly, the Gerry & Sylvia Anderson show that I liked least was the one with the boy hero, Joe 90.

  15. I am grateful I didn’t have a SuperMom trying to control my reading. My own mother was too busy reading the books she loved and was happy I was reading. Same with my father, who was always reading something. I read all the James Bond books, about every adult fantasy in the Ballantine series (find those in used book stores for the Harry Potter lovers) and lots of science fiction.
    In the end I am a functioning adult who can also think and act for myself. Isn’t that what parents want?

  16. You know, it’s perfectly possible for a “good” book to not be a green-bean-and-brussels-sprouts book. I hated the message books too when I was a kid/teen — the ones where they spray-paint a message onto an anvil and drop it on the reader’s head? — but books can be good and wholesome (whatever your definition of that might be) without being anvil books. How about if the books just aren’t strychnine and botulism? 😛 There’s a lot of territory between not-poison and beans-and-brussels-sprouts.

    A good book doesn’t have to specifically have an anti-racist message so long as it doesn’t have a clearly racist one. If there are people of different races who are fully realized, three-dimensional people with their own motivations, then that works. A book doesn’t have to be “about” misogyny, but it still qualifies as good IMO if there are female characters who are doing interesting things, who have agency, who aren’t just supporting the boys or being reward objects for the triumphant male characters. Even a book with no girl characters at all is preferable to a book with a bitchy or whiny girl, a helpless girl, a reward-object girl, and no other girls to balance out the negative one. Johnny Protag doesn’t have to learn an important lesson about girls being equal; just show a world where girls are equal, or at least aren’t unequal. You don’t have to make a production out of it, or have it be a major plot or subplot.

    A book can be a burgers-and-fries book and be perfectly good, so long as nobody squirts a dollop of anti-freeze in with the ketchup.


  17. I read voraciously from when I was a child up through now (have toned it down some now) and if anything, message stories/books would turn me completely off.

    Reading should be either escapism (fiction) or acquiring/confirming knowledge (non-fiction), not being preached at/whined at/big-brother threatened at.

    Personally, I would rather see a book accurately reflect all the warts that society/history has to offer than read revisionist PC crap that passes for literature these days.

  18. What a GREAT article! Having gone head-to-head with the publishing aristocracy in New York before finally starting a publishing company, I know all too well the politics that go on dictating what boys “will or will not” read.

    Thank God the days of the “Good-ol’-Gal” gatekeepers of children’s literacy and their antiquated publishing and distribution paradigms are finally going away, getting fired or retiring. It’s no wonder we have a huge problem with boys growing up functionally illiterate.

    Boys will read what they LIKE reading, and for the last 50 years that’s usually NOT what they are presented with by the educational powers-that-be.

    The greatest advocate for children’s literacy, ESPECIALLY when it came to boys is the great Stan Lee, who is responsible for getting more boys to read than all the gatekeepers in their ivory towers combined. What did he write? COMICS. Yeah, comics. Does any boy NOT know who Spider-Man is? And given a comic, do ya think he might just open it up and READ it?

    Damn right he will. And once he gets into the habit of reading, because he’s actually ENJOYING the process, he reads another, and then moves into books with less pictures and more words. It’s a process. It takes practice. And above all, it involves an understanding of the way a boy’s brain WORKS…

    You ENGAGE a boy’s mind VISUALLY. Add great story content written with a voice that a boy can identify with and you have a good start. Stan Lee always said “never write down to your audience…they’ll figure it out.” And that’s what boys/men do…they figure it out.

    As Amanda says in her post, “folks won’t read the message if they don’t read the story.” This woman is so right-on.

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