Why Boys Don’t Read

i_hate_readingAs an educator of adolescents, I’ve noticed a troubling trend:

Boys don’t read.

Mind you, it’s not that they can’t read, most would simply prefer not to. Reading is seen as an acceptable female past time, but the only boys I see openly reading at the school where I teach are outcasts sitting alone at lunch. There are a few reasons for this:

First, video games have become the dominant storytelling platform for most adolescent males. People can run them down all they want, but modern video games contain some of the best adolescent storytelling out there. A majority of these games are basically just interactive movies rather than the 2D “hop on that enemy and jump on that flagpole” games I grew up playing. A video game is much more exciting than a book, no imagination is necessary, and (best of all) it’s easier. Reading is work. You have to create the action of a book in your own head. A video game shows you what’s happening.

Next, reading is for smart people and being smart isn’t cool or manly. This is the mindset of young teenage males everywhere. I’ve seen it dozens of times. The kid who failed the test stands up and proudly announces his failure to the class while the kid who aced it quickly shoves the test into his book bag. Our modern-day society does not value intelligence. Watch TV. Who do we glorify? The Kardashians. Honey Boo-Boo. The cast of Jersey Shore. These are the people we put on television, and, whether we like it or not, just being on television makes someone a role model. These people are seen as successful, wealthy, and famous. The only intelligent people on television are the nerds on Big Bang Theory and they’re portrayed as undatable losers, figures for us to ridicule and laugh at. Being smart won’t get you a date to the prom; it won’t get you laid. There is no value in reading for a young man…so why do it?

And finally, because high school age boys don’t read, no one writes books for them anymore. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy: Teenage boys don’t read because there aren’t any books for them and there aren’t any books for them because they don’t read. It’s a dead demographic. Think about it: there’s an entire genre now for women (Chick Lit) because women read in much higher numbers than men. Of course, that might also be why women far outnumber men applying and being accepted for college. The most popular book series for older teens right now is Hunger Games. There’s a reason why the protagonist is a female. It’s catering to female readers with the cliché “strong female protagonist.” Then they cast a hot chick in the title role for the movie to get the males into the theaters.

As an intelligent adult male with a young son, this trend troubles me. That’s why I’ve started writing a “boy book” aimed at older teenage males. It’s a book about a high school junior who discovers he is a cross-dimensional warrior, forcing him to balance his responsibilities as a student, part-time employee, and defender of the dimension. It’s funny and violent (two qualities I remember being drawn to as a young man).

Boys will read again. That’s right. I’m going to make reading KICK ASS! Booya.

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~ by themoderntranscendentalist on December 9, 2013.

2 Responses to “Why Boys Don’t Read”

  1. Great post, Doug. Giving voice to many of my own views on the male place in both writing and reading literature nowadays. Maybe this is why my book centers around what has become a female protagonist…hmm.

    One thing, though. That “outcast” at lunch might be reading alone because there’s really not a better way to read. Unless you institute the system of reading partners. People who get together in groups of twos and threes and pass a book around at lunch to read aloud to each other.

    Seriously, though, great insight into the world of young male readers. As a writer, I am somewhat relieved to see that video games and movies and television shows have become more novelistic in their storytelling. However, as you point out, the mediums of video games, movies, and television do most of the imagination for the audience. They tap into a different part of the brain than books. The downside to more novelistic video games, movies and tv shows is that unless a novel can translate to all or a combination of the two, it is deemed “literary”, therefore nerdy. See also “less than manly”, a.k.a. pussies and cottonheaded ninny muggins.

    I hope you tap into that young adult male audience (though mysteries and thrillers and superhero comics and detective serials could be argued as young male material). Make reading manly, again. I can see the ad campaigns now: “A book is not just good, imaginative fun, it can also be thrown like a shuriken at bullies.

  2. A book that can also be used as a weapon…that certainly puts a new spin on the ‘ole “Sticks and stones cliché…” Ha!

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