Monday, August 22, 2011

Is it the Books?

I read this blog the other day: The Problem Isn't the Books

I really think you should read it, mostly because it's interesting, but also because I don't want to rehash it. The main bullet points are this:

A NY Times article came out basically saying that teenage boys aren't reading books anymore, and they (the author of said article) think it's because of how few books are marketed toward teenage boys.

The blog I linked to is a rebuttle to that, but what they're really rebutting is this quote:

“We need more good works of realistic fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, on- or ­offline, that invite boys to reflect on what kinds of men they want to become.”

The blog author is Sandra Mitchell, an author of several YA novels. (Full disclosure: I was not familiar with her or her work before reading this blog, which I discovered via a tweet).

Sandra makes the counterpoint that these books already exist - they simply have a female protagonist.

Look, you really need to go read the whole article, so I don't have to copy and paste the whole thing. Go read the blog. Hurry. Go.

Before I go any further, I want to clarify a point:

"News flash: the only markets in which women dominate literature are romance and YA. All the rest of it is predominately male and male-oriented. Somehow, though, James Patterson and John Grisham still manage to be bestsellers– because women are reading their novels."

She's referring to women characters. Women read far more books than men, in all markets. According to my brief internet research, in fiction books, men are 20% of the reading population. So the fact that boys are reading less isn't just a teenage problem - males in general don't read as much.

I find this blog and this whole idea really interesting. I don't want to turn this into a marketing debate, though - where it becomes "market books to boys and they will read them" vs "we don't market books to boys because they won't read them either way so we market to the readers we have - girls."

What I find interesting is the valid points that Sandra made. Here are some of my favorite things: Batman. Fight Club. Star Wars. Bret Easton Ellis. Stephen King. Zombies. American Psycho. Goodfellas. Documentaries about WWII. Pulp Fiction.

I genuinely enjoy all of those things, and not one of them is marketed towards ladies. In fact, some of them - like Fight Club and American Psycho - I would say were marketed specifically against ladies. But I managed to find them and enjoy them just the same. And I got absolutely no flack from my lady friends for liking them.

In turn, I love When Harry Met Sally, the Vampire Academy series, Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, Jane Austen, Lifetime movies, and musicals. And I think that boys do like those things, but most of them aren't comfortable with admitting it, especially if they're straight. Because they would get flack for it.

That's the point that I really find interesting. It's something I've been thinking about for awhile but hadn't found the right words for, but Sandra said it perfectly: "Male is neutral, female is specific."

Anyone can like Batman. Girls and gay guys can like Sex and the City.

I don't know what this means, exactly, or what the answer to the problem is. Why teenage boys aren't reading is actually a multifacted problem, and this answer isn't as simple as changing the cover of a book. But Jo Rowling had to go by J. K. Rowling because the publisher didn't think boys would read a book written by a girl.

What does this say about society? I don't know. I am not a feminist. I find the term annoying. To me, saying I'm a feminist sounds like I'm saying I'm pro-female, which is essentially anti-male, and I'm not. Some of my favorite people are boys.

But I am for equality, and I do think it's a shame that predominantly male interests are held in higher regard than predominately female interests.

Is there a solution to any of this? I don't know. I'm just saying that I find the conversation interesting. And some of it disheartening. And whether we come up with an answer or not, its a good conversation to be having.