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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.


  1. As a middle school English teacher, I find the same problems. Getting the boys to read, in general, is difficult. It's not to say that all boys resist reading or that all girls like it, but overall it's easier to get girls to read. Of the four novels we read, Hatchet; Running Out of Time; Number the Stars; and Maniac Magee, two of the protagonists are boys and two are girls. Fortunately, I have never heard the students say that they prefer a certain character because of gender (and we have actually had this discussion). The other thing I find interesting is that girls are more apt to complete the followup homework to the reading, which is writing. Often the boys will read, but then they will resist writing. Overall, I do agree that boys can resist reading, and it's challenging as a parent and teacher to make reading inticing enough to draw boys into it naturally, without it being forced. Parents will often ask me what to do when their boys resist reading on their own, and all I can really suggest is that they find books that interest boys (which almost always center around horror, mystery, or sports) and to understand it doesn't matter what they read as long as they are reading (they worry that graphic novels and comics don't count as reading). I think there are plenty of good choices for boys to read, but often it's not considered "cool" or "manly" to read if you are a boy, so boys resist it to fit in. So the problem to me doesn't seem to be as much about reading as it is about our boys and men in our society being worried about appearing uncool or effeminate. Thanks for your blog, Amanda. It opened up a great discussion.

  2. This is something I've considered as I write my first novel. I've previously self-published short stories and novelettes, and I think they should attract a male audience, but ironically, it appears more women read them. For my novel, I thought that I could write something that would appeal to teenage boys and girls. I'll see if that's the case when it's done and on sale, but there's no way to know. At the end of the day, I just think men read less because they'd rather watch TV or play video games.

  3. Thanks for the links Amanda and apologies for this long reply.

    I am a feminist (though definitely not anti-male; I just focus more on women's issues as they are problems I experience personally. I often end up fighting in men's corners though as mainstream feminism irritates me no end) and it pains me to say this is a far bigger problem than books or authors can fix by themselves.

    There is unfortunately a stigma in western culture about the masculine and the feminine. It isn't so much that masculinity is neutral, it's that it's seen as a positive, so it's okay for men and women to be interested in "masculine" things (action movies, physical sports, dirty jokes etc). But femininity in contrast is seen as weaker, frivolous, and inherently not as important. It is fine for women to be interested in feminine things (whatever those are) but it's not okay for men, as they are, the logic goes, lessening themselves if they do. Women however are improved by liking masculine things. It's a very insidious and subtle problem that permeates a lot of culture, not just books, in my opinion. On the other hand, people will enjoy what they will, and no amount of worrying will change that. It’s best I think to just let kids read what they want, and occasionally suggest something they may not have considered.

    I too am a big fan of Indiana Jones, action movies, gore and other "male" interests. I realise now it's because I rejected "girly stuff" as a child, because I thought it was stupid; in other words I was acting out the prejudice society unconsciously has about gender and gender roles. I’m a lot more willing to try things now, and enjoy romance in books and films a lot more than I did as a teenager. Then again, even though I know all this, I still prefer “boy stuff” as a rule. Go figure.

    The best thing writers can do is to keep writing the books they want to write, with the characters they want to write about. The reading habits of the genders can't be changed by what writers start producing or even what cover publishers put on the front of the book. The good thing is though that we live in a time when this sort of thing is talked about and where the gender roles are continually being challenged (gay marriage, and transgender rights are a growing movement that can't be stopped and I think will ultimately have a big impact on all of this). I believe it will change organically and in its own time - in the meantime parents can work to encourage their boys to try books they think they won't like. And if they don’t like it then maybe it’s just because they don’t like it – and nothing to do with sexism.

  4. I'd encourage you to consider a different definition of feminism rather than anti-male. I love the quote from Rebecca West: "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people."

    Thanks for the link and your own thoughts, Amanda!

  5. Mitchell is so wrong, it's not even funny.

    A boy not choosing to read a book that has a half naked girl laying on a bed with droplets of blood on the sheets on its cover is not because of society/stigma/peer pressure/sexism/inequality.

    Boys and girls minds work differently. Pointing the finger at external forces behind boys not reading ignores simple biology.

    You give a boy and a girl a riddle, they will use different parts of their brains to solve the problem. It's because we're different!

    I counter-argue that it's boys that are narrow and too specific. There usually has to be very specific elements in a book for a boy to CHOOSE to read it on his own. But you make an obvious point in the first place - girls read more than boys.

    Teaching boys to read books with female protagonists would be like trying coerce jihadists to convert to Christianity. Why can't we simply acknowledge our differences that are based on biology?

    Boys need to read more, and in a perfect world, boys would be more open about their reading choices. But I think if we accept that boys and girls are different and stop trying to treat them exactly in the same way, the more progress we'll make.

  6. When I was a high school English teacher, I assigned Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War. The girls read it, liked it. Found it gross when they got a little insight into the mind of teenage boys, but they liked it. My boy students devoured it.

    In fact as parent/teacher conferences, I learned that several of my male students had shocked their parents by dragging them to the local bookstore to read either Cormier's sequel to The Chocolate War or other Cormier books.

    Boys can be bit by the reading bug - but let's stop trying to make everything so damn equal. It's not. Pre-adolescent/adolescent boys are discriminating, and generally speaking, will never on their own read a book with female protagonists.

  7. Jim you beat me to the quote from West...So you see, Amamda you are a feminist! You simply want equality.

    I think as far as a solution goes, one thing is for men to step up and admit they like "feminine" things. The more men do this the more "normal"/acceptable it will become. I'll start: Hello, my name is Tim. I am a man (straight & married for 16 years) and I like...

    -Watching The Vampire Diaries
    -I saw the latest movie version of Jane Eyre 3 times and loved it each time
    -I love Holly Black's Tithe series
    -I'm reading The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab which (gasp) has a young woman on the cover (and bonus points for me, I bought it in the store)...

    So gentlemen what "feminine" books/movies/shows do you like?

  8. Agreed, Tim. Straight male here: enjoys the Brontës, Jane Austen, Twilight, He's Just Not That Into You, Sixteen Candles, writing stories about love. Used to pretend to be She-ra as a kid 'cause she was magic and He-man was a total bonehead.

  9. This has been a huge debate for a while, but I do agree that Sandra said it really well. It might seem easier to write "girl oriented books" because of the writer being able to know what some of the expectations might be for what constitutes "good." I think, though, that good writing will find readers in the end, regardless of who it may or may not be geared towards.

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  11. My son started to read steadily after his uncle told him how much he enjoyed reading. That his father was a reader had not impressed him much. Dad was a teacher. His uncle was from the wilds of New Hampshire, shot guns and had a big recurved bow. Dad was just Dad and had always read as had Mom. It took a look beyond the immediate household to get him started. He's never stopped.

    I think boys need multiple role models. Parents, uncles, friends, bigger kids. If they are both macho and readers, they will inspire kids to read.

    If they are not clearly male role models, that they read may be counter-incentive in our culture. Boys want to grow up to be good men, hunters, providers, strong, athletic, etc. That's the expectation of their parents and the culture, too.

    Reading, seen as a pathway to that manly future, will be desirable to a boy. Adventure books have had that history. "I could do that!" makes a book worth reading. "I would like to do that." needs to play in the mix.

  12. Boys are socialized to be more involved in sports than girls, which is not saying that girls don't enjoy and excel in sports. That is simply not the case. However, if boys are busy playing sports (basketball, baseball, hockey, football, etc.), they don't have much time left for reading. In my experience, boys less active in sports or other outside activities tend to read more. My nephews read all the time and one nephew was very involved in the whole Twilight series of books and movies. He took his brother with him to the movies and Cody said there were few guys there. He thought that was a good thing, all those girls meant a richer target environment.

    At any rate, whether or not boys read books depends on outside activities, like sports, and whether or not their peers and parents read. My brother was not active in sports and reads science fiction and fantasy almost exclusively. My boys read science fiction, although my oldest boy has more catholic tastes.

    What it boils down to, is if a book is good and reaches across gender lines, boys -- and girls -- will read. The Harry Potter phenomenon showed that.

  13. "I think that boys do like those things, but most of them aren't comfortable with admitting it"

    I don't think that's right. Those stories focus on relationships, and straight men, in general, prefer novels that are anything but. It's not that I'm hiding my taste for those works, I don't like them.

    Boys do read, but seldom fiction. And when they do it is of the thriller, sci-fi, horror variety. Not a lot of hand holding there.

    It is not a matter of educating boys to like girls books, or boys not identifying with a female protagonist (I read Nancy Drew as a kid), or the quality of the fiction—it is the subject matter. For instance, Lara Croft is a female protagonist, and I bet most of the consumers of that video game are boys. What can I say? She has twin .45s.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Yes, we all should strive for equality for the genders and not for preferential treatment. Equal opportunity and not quotas.

  16. I have a trilogy set in the foxhunting world that is young adult. There is a lot of action and adventure along with the romance because frankly, that's who I am and what I like to read.

    I'm finding that readers are about 1/3 males and 2/3 females - I'm still suprised that anyone wants to read what I write and was encouraged the most by teenage boys who kept asking for more while I was using them as my "test" market.

    Boys and girls read - the challenge is finding stories that light their interest and typical English class standard books do NOT do that well. Both of my teenage boys read, but one likes Rick Riordan and the other Marcus Lutrell.

    My "reader" husband and I both make it a point to put books in front of our boys that get them to enjoy reading. They have enough to read at school that's not so fun. We also seek out others to "light" up with reading. It is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done - aside from writing novels. Keep reading!

  17. My 14-year-old son has always read at an advanced level, but that doesn't mean he actually LIKES to read. But I make him, and he usually ends up liking the books. A few months ago I gave him the Hunger Games, and he said "the main character is a Girl? I don't want to read it then." He was serious too, so that just made me more determined for him to read it. Turns out he loved it. It was the 1st book he said he LOVED and wanted to keep. So I think there are a lot of books that boys could enjoy even with a female main character. Like I pointed out to my son, he likes the Resident Evil movies, and that is a female lead. So get over the misconception of all books with female leads being nothing but romance. And it is just plain harder to get most boys to read.

  18. Boys are pushed into other things at a young age and not reading. Mostly sports and other activities involving competitions.

  19. Only 20% of readers are men? I knew it was a smaller margin but I thought it was at least 40%.

  20. I have a friend with a twelve year old son. He normally gobbles up everything he's handed but it's interesting that the covers do matter, even to a read-aholic like him. If it looks a little feminine, then he's not as apt to want to read it. It's sort of interesting that this is still happening. Blaming it on my naivete.

  21. Hi Amanda,

    I think you make some really good points in your post. The one thing I want to reply to is your take on feminism. Its a word that's heavily stigmatized and misconstrued. If you really researched the feminist movement over the years and as it is today, and tried to ignore all of the stereotypes, I think you would find that you have a lot in common with them.

    Feminism isn't about promoting women over men, but as Jim quoted, its about realizing that women are people too and should be equally respected in society. Not necessarily treated exactly the same way as men, though. Because, let's face it, men and women are very different. But you can see the need for it even in your examples. Why is it ok for boys and girls to like boy thing, but verboten for a straight boy to like a girl thing?

    This is something that concerns me as a feminist and I want it to be okay for boys and girls to express their interest in "girl" and "boy" things, tho maybe then there would ideally just be THINGS without gender specification.

    As always, love reading you blog!

  22. What I've picked up from reading on this topic is that boys do, in fact, like relationships in fiction, and even lovestories. What they don't like is 'romance', which, let's face it, tends toward the passive and cerebral and talking about emotions rather than acting on them.

    I suspect that when a boy is rejecting a book based on a female protagonist, they are expecting a book that focuses on emotions, and also on things they have little connection to, like cosmetics and clothes and sparkly things.

    And, for reference, I had trouble connecting with some of the most popular literature of my childhood because the protagonists were boys. But it often depended on the book. Because there's room for literature that is aimed at one gender or another, and literature that is about people and aimed at people. And sometimes those people are female.

    (Yes, I'm a feminist. Yes, when I was younger I had trouble identifying as a feminist because I was indoctrinated by mass media to believe feminists were raging man-hating assholes. But it turns out that's sexism, too. Ah, well. Older and wiser now.)

  23. Hmmm.... I know that where as I enjoy a hot, steamy romance novel, I also enjoy a gory zombie book also. But I normally don't fall under any specific category of reader which generally irritates people. Mainly other book reviewers (ha!) but I think there are plenty of books for male readers if you're willing to LOOK.

    I agree that more feminine books are easier to come by, but as you said- there are more female readers than there are male readers.

  24. Being pro-female does not have to equal being anti-male. But if male is neutral and female is specific, being a feminist can seem like an attack on men because if the male narrative does not accommodate the female, the belief is that the a focus on the female will be unable to accommodate the male. I don't think it has to be that way.

  25. Boys these days are narcissistic. As attention-seekers, they do not have time to read. Attention-seeking behavior is a full-time job.

  26. My boyfriend had never read a book in his life (and I mean that literally)until I coerced him into reading the Harry Potter series. He'd read car magazines and the sports section in the paper, but that was about it. And he'd usually only skim the articles. He had never even read a book for school. He would just half-ass all of his assignments. This is from the horses mouth.

    It took months and months to get through the series with him. I did a variety of nagging, begging, and even had to bribe him with sex a couple times to keep him going.

    Now, I know you expect me to tell you that once he got into it, he couldn't put it down or is now an avid reader. But he is niether.

    Don't misunderstand me. He LOVED those books. He laughed, was inspired, felt for the characters... But at any point, if I had allowed him, he would have put the book he was currently on down and never picked it back up again.

    It wasn't because it was written by a female. It wasn't because he thinks reading is girlie. It wasn't even because he didn't find it interesting and entertaining.

    He's just not a reader.

    Most men are not readers.

    I could tell my boyfriend that I just read a fantastic book that was just one fight scene after the other, full of blood, guts and mystery, written by this awesome male writer, and do you know what he would say?

    "That's nice," and never even consider opening the cover.

    Men prefer to be hands on; they want to be in control. That's why they like video games and not books.

    In my boyfriends case, he's also not that imaginitive or patient. Why read a book, where he has trouble picturing everything, and that takes three-hundred pages to tell you who the serial killer is? If I was him, I'd probably convert to video games as well.

    Am I saying this is the case with all men?

    No, but definitely the majority. I know I'm stereotyping, but I'm okay with that.

    Because it's true.

    Just like boys will always play more video games. Girls will always read more books.

    Stop trying to change it.

  27. "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."

    That is the definition of feminist. You don't like the word because some anti-female types have demonized it and you are letting them poison a perfectly good word! Take this word back! Feminism is a good thing!

    Boys not reading books by girls says that society is still profoundly misogynist. Boys don't think girls have anything interesting to say. Grown men don't read adult women authors much, either. Now, boys are reading less and less and reading itself is becoming uninteresting to them because it is associated with girls, and women teachers.

    I'm also glad to have this conversation.

  28. Thanks for mentioning the Mitchell article! I was aware of the NYT one (grrrr), but did not realize that there was a rebuttal.

    I have to disagree, though: it is a feminist issue when the male is considered universal and the female is considered specific. I learned how to empathize with male characters at an early age because if I didn't, I would have no entertainment. Why can't a male reader learn to empathize with female characters, except for the way that female things are constantly framed as weak and wrong? (I'm no fan of Twilight, but I absolutely hate that people think "oh, it's girly" is all that there is to say about it.) It's not misandry to expect boys to have the same empathy skills as girls.

  29. Why is the Stieg Larsson series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) so hugely popular with males?

    Why is Nicholas Sparks works (Notebook, etc.) so hugely popular with females? (Male writer with mostly female audience)

    Maybe it's because male interests are biologically driven away from the emotional, and yet a male author like Nicholas Sparks can consistently appeal to a female audience, and a female author like Mary Shelly will consistently appeal to a male audience.

    So whether the author is a female or male doesn't seem to be the problem with why boys don't read as much as girls. Whether the protagonist is a male or female doesn't appear to be the problem as well, since boys can choose what to read, and avoid content they don't like. Statistically, boys/men are a lower percentage of the mainstream reader audience, however, I'll bet that males make up a higher percentage of readers of trade journals, computer and sports material, car literature, etc. Not the same as readers of lengthy novels, I know, but if a clear-cut solution existed, wouldn't the percenatge of mainstream male readers have increased by now?

  30. I am not reading any of the previous comments, but I wanted to weigh in on my own.
    My oldest is a boy, and still young, but we read all the time. He loves chapter books about boys and girls. We spend copious amounts of time at the local library. Last week he chose Anne of Green Gables as our read aloud book.
    Maybe more parents need to read to their kids, boys and girls, and read all manner of things. Books are an incredible gift that we can give to our kids.

  31. Excellent thoughts on the male reading situation. Male roles as a whole are extremely tightly defined. I see this on a daily basis as a teacher. We take it for granted that a woman can wear men's clothing, but the reverse is definitely not true. This attitude leaks into all behaviors, almost all of which are formed early on. If we want male readers, we have to find some male reader role models.

  32. I am a 15 year old boy and I have to argue with ther statements. I absolutly love to read yound adult, paranormal, paranormal romance, and mystery. Currently I am in the middle of Well over 5+ open series that are currently being written and that is not evean including all of the finnished series i am reading or the short stories and novels. I honestly read more than anything. During highschool and the bus ride to and from, rather than talk to people, I pick up a good book and continue where I left of preveously. My kindle currently is overflowing with books I really want to read but find an evean better book and add more to the never ending list. When I am at home I will read hours at a time rather than get on the computer text and or whatch tv and video games.

  33. It's a shame that men/boys don't read as much. I wonder what changed? Because I'm willing to bet that in the days of Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and the like, men were possibly the predominent readers. Years ago literature (fiction or otherwise) was the sign of a scholar, an intellectual. Again, I wonder what changed to make men/boys stop reading so much...?

  34. It sounds like the issue is reading. My brother is turning into a bigger Jane Austen fan than me, but will he read one of her books? Noooo. My husband is an online news junkie and loves sci-fi – so long as it’s on NetFlix. He doesn’t read books, let alone Twilight, but he enjoyed the movie and couldn’t give a rats ass whether the book was written by a female, male or extraterrestrial so long as it’s entertaining.

    Women, in general, are better at visualization. Books play like movies in our heads as we read them. A lot of guys don’t read that way.

    It’s also about starting good reading habits. I was all but illiterate in grade school. My mom had to bribe me with little rewards to read aloud to her. We moved around a lot and she used to take off on these business trips. She started to leave books under my pillow for me to find after she’d gone (to keep me “company” while she was away) and that’s when my great love of reading began.

  35. I love and agree with what you said about the word "feminist" connotating an anti-male feeling. I have always thought that, even as I marched with my NOW activist family against the inequality that women were suffering. The word has to be updated because in itself there is inequality. This is the age where we should be marching as "humanists".

  36. Well, I do consider myself a feminist. In the words of one famous feminist: "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." (Rebecca West). The word's negative connotation was deliberately created by those who wanted to maintain the status quo.

    With that disclaimer about my particular beliefs, it is quite true that in our culture, whatever appeals to girls is disparaged (witness Taylor Swift, Twilight, and Justin Bieber). Sexism is alive and well.

    It's also worth noting that women now outnumber men at every level in college, even with colleges giving preference to male applicants to such a degree that OCR is investigating for discrimination. Studies prove that females have superior innate language capacities. And they are more social. With these factors at play, it seems inevitable that women (and girls) will continue to be the sizable majority of readers.

    These factors won't go away

  37. "it is quite true that in our culture, whatever appeals to girls is disparaged"

    I don't think that statement above is completely true, especially in the writing world. Many writers (women and men) go to great pains to try to predict what the next topical wave will appeal to young female audiences and carry its author to blockbuster status. Why? Because the smart writer wants to be read and since the percentage of female readers outnumber men, the likelihood of being read is far greater with female audiences.

    Even outside the writing world, women continue to excel in virtually every sector of modern society.

  38. I am going to go read the article now, but I have no idea what the solution is to this problem. I have two daughters myself.
    But I think that it isn't that the male is gender neutral and female specific. I think we live in a world were women constantly are forced to see things from the male perspective. So women form a young age learn about the male psyche. We feel comfortable conversing with them and their heroes. While Young boys are not as exposed to that as often. So they associate female characters with something foreign.
    It is kind of like being a lefty. You have to adapt to the right handed world. You must learn how a right handed person does it and then adapt it to your dominate hand.
    Women in my opinion are the same way we adapt and make adjustment and make it work for us. We can read a book like Ender Games and relate because we can find bits pieces of ourselves in him and nobody ridicules us for relating. However if young man can relate to Clary from the Mortal Instrument series their manhood is called into question. Boys are taught from a you age to be a man is to reject the feminine. Which I think is sad. ( I am talking in general I know that there are tons of men out there who get us ladies.)That is my two cents.
    I would like to say that the comment about feminism is ignorant sorry . . . i know you are not ignorant. I just think it was misguided and false. If you believe that women deserve equality than you are a feminist. Sorry I know I am not the only person to pick up on this. But it is kind of like saying if you are pro-choice you are pro-abrtion. They are not the same issue. FYI The author Nicole Peeler wrote a really good blog on this issue. She used the series Mad Men as her launching point. In case you are interested.

  39. It doesn't matter if I had a son or a daughter that liked Taylor Swift, Twilight or Justin Bieber.

    Irrespective of gender, I would put them in a burlap sack and toss it in the river.

  40. Amanda, your entry proves you're a feminist, even if you hate the word. The more people (male AND female) who "admit" to being feminists, the more the term will stop implying what you fear it does. It's about egalitarianism, plain and simple, and not just about making sure women are treated fairly but to destigmatize traditional gender roles and interests. Maybe it would help to think of the "femi" part of "feminist" as not meaning "female" but "feminine."

  41. I, woman with son & daughter, read the NYT article and, God help me, I find Saundra's rebuttal both stereotypical and ignorant.
    I posted this on her blog because the most important point of the NYT article is lost:

    Look around. 'Men is the neutral, women is the specific' is a paradigm that is quickly becoming obsolete. It might define my generation, and yours, but it does not, and WILL not define my son's. Times are changing, and they are changing fast.

    The paradigm still rules many areas, (female writers reach a wider readership if they use only initials as a pen name for example), but ladies and gentlemen, wake up! Women OWN the literary scene. Women already dominates fields like early learning, libraries, independent book stores, book clubs. Women read more books than men. Women BUY more books than men. And that's just reading.

    Girls do better in school. For every 5 female college graduates today, there are 3 males. In 20 years time, that means the majority in pretty much any field will be female. The gender gap is flipping on its head --> the female is the neutral, man is the specific.

    After 2000+ years of male dominance, I don't want that. We have a window of opportunity right now to actually fine tune for balance, for gender equilibrium.

    But it won't happen if we don't acknowledge that men and women are biologically different. "The Female Brain" by Louann Brizendine M.D. should be mandatory reading for both genders (It would probably sell better as "The Sex Wired Brain" by L. Brizendine M.D., but that's beside the point).

    The 'Girls have no problem identifying with boy protagonists in books, so why can't boys do the same?"-argument above is symptomatic of the men-as-villains feminism that won't serve us one bit in coming decades.

    The fact is, most boys can't identify with a girl as protagonist. It's not that boys are not emphatic, they just don't get a thrill out of figuring out motivations and feelings the way most girls do.

    So let's deal with it. Let's help boys find books that speaks to them and help them figure out what kind of man they want to be.

  42. Responding to Beige's comment:

    "The fact is, most boys can't identify with a girl as protagonist. It's not that boys are not emphatic, they just don't get a thrill out of figuring out motivations and feelings the way most girls do."

    EXACTLY!!! Most teenage boys simply don't like the 'let's figure out why he/she is doing this' side of many female protagonists. They prefer characters like Dana Scully, Lara Croft or La Femme Nikita. Simple. Direct. And to the point.

  43. Are you shitting me? I think teenage boys don't read because they don't have to. They have MOVIES& video games. I just went to see Cowboys &Aliens ( female feminist, queer, actor/writer here) and of 6 movies previewed 4 were geared towards men, and the other 2 were The Lion King & Jessica Sarah Parker's upcoming movie.

  44. Somebody has to write the scripts for the movies and the video games geared towards men. Who's doing that ?

  45. I'm always trying to get my little brother to read books, and he rarely does. He's not openly object to it, but he's always to busy using the computer or whatever else he's doing that he just doesn't think to read them. Once I get him to read it, though, he normally will stick with it until he finishes it. So sometimes it's just the fact of getting them to really think about it.

    P.S. My brother's in fourth grade, so don't take this as something from the teenage boy issue.

  46. I love your view on the word feminist. It matches my own.

    I grew up with the title of tomboy. I also grew up scrounging for good books to read that weren’t chic lit or written for boys - most of the time I had to settle. Fortunately due to today’s ever expanding young adult section, I no longer have to scrounge. (For the record I am no longer a young adult)

    I don’t believe a lack of books is the problem. Boys and girls do think differently. Anyone with a child can see that. So in general what drives a girl to read will be different than what drives a boy to. That said, I still think society is the biggest problem preventing males from reading. There's still a stigmatism against males doing anything that could be viewed as less than masculine. Unfortunately, reading fictions books is not considered masculine. Can you see a teenage boy bringing a novel into school, even one that had a guy on the cover, and not getting teased? One more positive side to the growth of ebooks – you can buy books and read them without anyone ever seeing the cover.
    Here's an interesting article by Terri Giuliano Long. It addresses gender stereotypes.

    Also to argue the other side - go to the Lego website and find a building block set that's clearly made for a girl and not an insult to their intelligence. I dare you.

  47. Amanda, do you have a Pottermore account?

  48. Unbelievably enlightening--and true.

  49. Just read a goodreads link that asks for YA male novels.

  50. I think you should read W. Anton's book "The Manual" (even though it may seem a bit off-topic since it's a dating guide for guys). However, it actually has the best explanation for the feminine/masculine dynamic in society and why things are the way they are.

  51. Hi. I am a first time commenter on your blog, but I've followed it for a few months and like it. And I want to add something (hopefully intelligent) to the conversation.
    I read a lot as a kid and in high school. My mom was a big part of this as she encouraged me to read. And I was homeschooled for several grades (2-5) so 1) I had to take up time with something and 2) there was no pressure to "not waste my time". Reading as a waste of time is something I think is spread around - it's okay for women to do, but not men. Men have stuff to do. It sucks for both sexes. Why read when you can do something/anything else? Wouldn't it be a better use of time? This, I found later, was the common attitude.
    To the first commenter: it's great that you encourage kids to read whatever they can (or want). Most adults don't. Most adults try to get a kid to read what they think of as "good" - for most English teachers, I've found this to be classics. In high school, the closest we got to interesting was the Count of Monte Cristo, and I think that was an accident. Contemporary authors were nonexistent. There are a lot of things stacked against kids who want to read - not the least of which, I think, is trying to make the kid read.

  52. I personally only just started reading. I'm a guy aged 16 and pretty much since I read the Trylle Trilogy I have been hooked to reading. It just depends on what their interests are and If they read a bad book at first, us guys probably won't give any others a go. I do think one big mistake in school is that we never get a choice in the book. It's always older classic books. Don't get me wrong. Most are extremely well written, but just don't capture young males minds.

  53. As a writer, I honestly don't think I would even know how to write something directed to guys. They're intrests and genre preferences span just as wide as girls. The problem is over time, reading seems to have become a feminine pass time and it seems lately, unless it's in a romantic comedy or something, that men are portrayed as more simple creatures and don't need details. When the tv show Glee started airing, the amount of students signing up for theatre clubs and show choirs skyrocketed. This includes guys and girls. I don't know how everyone elses high school was, but my choir teacher was to the point the was ready to beg guys to join choir. This is what we need for guys to read, something to come along to make it appear cool! Then again, this is just my opinion.

  54. My opinion is that even I've got a problem with stomaching the contemporary YA fiction. Wait, I don't read it. I sometimes have a doubting pleasure watch it on a big screen. Reading pages and pages of female protagonist's emotions and deep analysis of those as well as the ever buggering questions whether she will be able to be with her werewolf/vampire/fairy/zombie/ghost/particularly any other supernatural-like boyfriend have always successfully discouraged me from reading such a book. And they whine that young teen men don't read these books?
    I am aware of the fact that I am generalising a lot here but it does not mean there's no truth in this.

  55. Getting a child to read, any child, is a struggle. As a parent of a son, he's nine, unless it's about some secret code for a video game, he's not reading it. I agree that there needs to be more books geared for boys, but I wonder if publishers would even buy them.

  56. Some publishers are definitely looking for books geared for boys. This summer, Clarion Books (part of Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt) published my debut novel, MY FAVORITE BAND DOES NOT EXIST, which is definitely boy-oriented. BAND stars two teenage boys in alternate realities...boys who are dedicated readers, by the way. They're both reading the same epic fantasy novel, FIRESKULL'S REVENANT, and they end up drawn together into the world of the novel. So there'a an example of at least one book geared to boys, a book that's doing well enough to warrant a paperback edition in the Spring. It's a mind-bending book, too, featuring parallel worlds, time travel, and lots of metafiction elements. (One character believes he's living in the world of a book and will die when he reaches Chapter 64.) It was my effort to reach out to young male readers with something of a genre-crossing, sophisticated narrative. On the other hand, my self-published Kindle/Nook/Apple chapter book, TOMMY PUKE AND THE BOY WITH THE GOLDEN BARF, is a bit more blatantly boy-geared and goofy. So I think the genre is alive and well, but maybe we authors have to work harder to come up with crazy ways to get boys' attention in this world of video games and online pursuits.

  57. This comment has been removed by the author.

  58. Interesting article. My book BEHIND THE HOOD has a large amount of teenage characters, and a Harper Collin's reviewer told me that it's geared towards males, which I think is mainly due to the violence, the sex, and the strong males in the story. But, I put my first name on there: Marita. At the moment it has only been reviewed by females, so after reading your article I'm now wondering whether I made a big mistake in relation to your J.K.Rowling point: that guys don't like reading books by girls. Anyway, it's not a YA book, but I still think I made a big mistake with my author name. Damn.

  59. I checked out Saundra's article too and it seems to me that everyone is missing the point. Boys have one and only one motivation, to attract girls. Everything they do is geared to that end. That includes dress, conduct and, yes, even the literature they read. Boys are trying to be boyfriend material, and girls set the standard for what qualifies as boyfriend material.

    I was fourteen way back in 1964 and the girls were into the clean-cut, jock type. So, I played the role. We all did. By 1968 girls were into the long-haired, poet type and I was free to be myself. Suddenly all the boys were wearing their hair long and listening to Dylan and Baez.

    There's nothing that writers, publishers or society in general can do about the fact that adolescent boys don't read much. When adolescent girls start getting weak-kneed and starry-eyed over boys who read a lot, boys will start reading a lot.

    G.R. Bretz

  60. "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."

    That is not what feminist means. It just isn't. Some of my favourite people are boys too. I have six brothers. I have a boyfriend. I have many male friends. I am a feminist because I believe in equality for men and women, in a world where many women in many countries have a fraction of the opportunity men do.
    Pro-female does not make you anti-male. I am pro-male and pro-female. Pro-people. Anyone who can comment on gender issues and advocate gender equality in a sane, sensible way is a sane, sensible feminist - like you. Feminism needs sane, sensible feminists - don't disown it.

  61. Being a feminist does not mean you're pro-female. (And being pro-female doesn't mean you're anti-male.) I'm male, and I'm as much a feminist as you'll ever see a guy be. It just means that you see that your society is decidedly biased against females, and you think that's unfair. And as a high school English teacher, I can tell you definitively that high school boys don't read anywhere near as often as girls. Ten percent of my overall grade is based on independent reading, and I see this every single day.

  62. Not sure if someone already commented on it, but it's 'Saundra' Mitchell, not 'Sandra.' Love her books! :)

    Thanks for the discussion.

  63. It would be interesting to see statistics for reading material other than fiction. e.g. I wonder if there is a larger percentage of males reading technical material.

    Regarding "the publisher thinking boys won't read books written by girls" - I think the subject matter is the dominant factor, not the gender of the author.

  64. If you want boys to read any type of book, you gotta spark their interests like how to get girls, something music related, or movie related. Teenagers don't really like to read if they don't have to unless it's something that is entertaining. This is why teenagers are so well educated in the latest song, latest trends, etc.