On this Smart Bitches Day I think we should give some thought to men. Male readers that is. AOL has an article up from Business Week Online about the secrets of the male shopper, apparently advertisers have been missing up to one half of the male buying public in their campaign to get us to all spend, spend, spend! Whether new selling tactics can be applied to draw in this other half of male shoppers and turn in them into readers, I don’t know. The politics and gender biases (when it comes to male readers) start so young that I’m not sure a simple change in advertising would make a difference.
At Least He’s Reading
Over and over again in my years of bookselling, I’ve heard the same refrain from mothers about their sons: “At least he’s reading.”
I hear it when they hand over ten dollars for the latest Naruto manga or car magazine. I hear it even as they make a face at the Star Wars tie in or any book that does not have the award of approval glittering on its surface. Even as they praise the child for trying, they denigrate his reading choices. The subtext is clear, “Thank God he’s reading, but does he have to be reading that?”
First of all, there is no “at least” about it. Reading, even if it advertisements on a cereal box or the articles in Playboy, is reading. You are actively engaged in comprehending the meaning of words and how they affect the meaning of a sentence. You are absorbing sentence structure and word choice and you might even be learning a thing or two.
Yes, some writing might be less complex than others, but complex does not necessarily mean better. The Da Vinci Code might not have been top rate literature, but it managed to get a lot of people—specifically in this instance male people—to enjoy a book where previous they found reading for pleasure an oxymoron. For some of these people the Da Vinci Code acted like a gateway drug to other books, ones with more complex structures or mysteries. Suddenly these guys who before might have simply played a video game or watched television found they could enjoy the written word and discovered that it could be just as exciting as a visual stimulus.
But why did they lose this ability in the first place?
He’s Just Not a Reader
Time and again this scenario plays out the same: a mother enters the store with her two children, a boy and a girl. The girl heads to one fiction section or another with the mom, while the boy loiters around the video game magazines. Mom and daughter will eventually wander back up to the counter with a stack of books, complaining that they would have found more, but the boy has expressed his boredom and wants to leave. Why is he bored?
“Well, he’s just not a reader.”
Why not? Is this just a male thing? Surely not. Every day half of my customers are business men buying business books, fiction, or Scifi; men in their forties or older who enjoy the written word and what it can teach them. I have men in their sixties and seventies stopping in to buy books while their wives shop, so they have something to do while sitting on the bench out in the mall. My own father, while not much of a fiction reader, sits down with the newspaper every day and has been known to be irrational fond of fact books (like the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series).
Maybe it’s a generational thing. My brother dislikes reading except for the occasional magazine (or Bathroom Reader, it’s an addiction—this thirst for trivial facts). To my knowledge, his only voluntary book reading has been with the Harry Potter series, and even then he stopped at book five and has shown no interest in continuing. Part of this may stem from the fact that he learned to read late. In third grade we learned he was reading at barely a first grade level and that his teachers didn’t notice because he wasn’t a problem child. This could have been my fate as well had I not had so much one on one reading time as a child: being the first born I benefited from my mother’s full attention, I went to a co-op kindergarten that was heavily reading based, and I had an excellent volunteer in my grade school who spent time reading with individual children each day. Basically I was given the best of that reading and reading comprehension teaching had to offer.
My brother didn’t experience any of this, and when his reading problem was discovered everyone blamed it on development issues instead of falling through the educational cracks. He had hand/eye tracking problems (something my mother realized was bull shit when she looked at how well he preformed with video games and sports) we were told. He just needs tutoring that needs to be paid for out of pocket and on his own time. Reading became something he had to work out, something he was told he was not good at.
Reading became the enemy because it was hard and it was work. Reading for enjoyment did not exist for my bro, it was something he had to do so that he could later play video games or go outside and play. The concept of choosing a book over Mario or taking one along with him into the fields did not occur to him, even though this was something that he saw my mother and I do constantly. Obviously he observed that we got enjoyment out of the process, but he that didn’t mean he wanted to give it a try.
The rant continued in SB Day: The Guy Edition (Part Two).