Amanda Hocking

Is it the Books?

August 22nd, 2011 by
This post currently has 64 comments

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.

Leave a Reply

  • 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.

  • Buy Books says:

    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.

  • Not sure if someone already commented on it, but it’s ‘Saundra’ Mitchell, not ‘Sandra.’ Love her books! 🙂

    Thanks for the discussion.

  • 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.

  • LEF says:

    “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.

  • 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

  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • 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.