If you’re reading this right now, chances are you’re a female and you love to read YA fiction. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I think it’s wonderful. However, I do wish more guys—especially those in their late teens—would read fiction. So, if you happen to be a male reading this post…well, way to go, brother, but unfortunately you’re a rare specimen.
Which leads me to today’s question. What can we as big-time book fans do to get guys to read more? Let’s start by looking at three reasons why I think guys don’t read. Now, this isn’t exactly scientific data or anything. I’m working purely from gut feeling and personal experience, so you’re welcome to disagree.
- Younger guys don’t like exploring and sharing their emotions. Let’s face it. Guys are full of testosterone, which makes us way too competitive, and, I think, makes it very difficult for us to stay focused for extended periods of time. Staying focused, of course, is a key to being a good reader. In a way, then, our own biology works against us when it comes to reading. Puberty might turn a boy into a man, but all too often it turns a male reader into a male non-reader.
- The traditional novels assigned in schools are, for the most part, extremely boring for today’s guys. Look, I’m not against the classics, but a seventeen-year-old boy obsessed with girls and sports will find it nearly impossible to get into something written in England more than 150 years ago.
I use that example because that’s exactly what happened to me when a teacher REQUIRED me to read Wuthering Heights in eleventh grade. I never made it past page 50 and totally failed the mega-huge test the teacher gave on the book. Yes, WH is a “great work,” but I wasn’t emotionally ready for a novel like that. The story had no connection to my life. At home, however, I was devouring Stephen King novels because I connected with his stories.
There is some good news here. Many public schools now offer excellent contemporary novel choices for students, but there’s still a long way to go. Bottom line: If guys aren’t interested in what their reading in school, they’re more likely to lose the motivation to pick up books on their own in the future.
- Guys think reading fiction is a girls’ thing. Again, I think it starts in school and has a lot to do with #1 above. I had some excellent female reading and writing teachers in middle and high school, but I remember wondering why most of them were women.
I’m guessing there are more males teaching English/Language Arts classes now than ever before, which is great, of course, but it still seems like a female-dominated subject area. That trend extends into YA fiction as well. Just look at the dominance of female authors in the genre. And who buys the books? Girls mainly. What I’m saying is that I think guys need more adult male role models in school when it comes to reading and writing.
Hey, what if all of those football coaches were top-notch reading and writing teachers as well? Imagine that.
- Recommend a book you think they’ll like, not necessarily something you liked. Pushing vampire books on a fourteen-year-old boy with dreams of being a professional athlete probably isn’t the best approach. However, casually suggesting one of the many excellent sports-based novels by Mike Lupica and/or John Feinstein might do the trick.
- Take guys to bookstores. Any bookstores. I don’t care if it’s a huge Barnes and Noble or a tiny independent bookstore you can barely move around in. If you can get a non-reading guy inside, leave him alone and let him browse. I bet he’s thumbing through something within ten minutes.
- It’s all about choice. I think choice is the most important factor in getting guys to read. Start small. Thick novels might be too overwhelming for a lot of non-reading guys. If a guy likes magazines, comics, and/or graphic novels, that’s awesome. They’re reading! Yes, in a perfect world everybody would love to read what we love to read, but that’s what book clubs and Facebook fan pages are for.
So think about this: If you get to the point where you’ve worked your magic and have successfully turned a non-reading guy in your life into a “reading guy,” celebrate with a trip to your favorite bookstore and buy whatever you want.
And be sure to bring your reading guy with you, because he might blow your mind and buy a copy of Wuthering Heights.
But probably not.