I was visiting the Passive Voice blog, as I usually do, and there was a post about why boys don’t read. Or, better put, why publishers think boys don’t read. It’s actually a post with an excerpt from another post… but I digress…
Maybe I’m old-fashioned (and I know that means I have the wrong beliefs and should probably be silenced now. Sorry, I’m a loud-mouthed woman who isn’t afraid to exercise my First Amendment rights). But I still feel that the story is the thing we should be concerned with and not the message. As I said earlier, folks won’t read the message if they don’t read the story. The corollary to this is: why is publishing in trouble? Because it forgot that readers, on the whole, read to be entertained and to forget about their troubles.
Don’t believe me, ask yourself why so many in publishing are trying to convince us that boys don’t read. Oh, I think there are those who sit in their ivory towers in NYC who actually believe that. Why? Because they look at the sales for their middle grade and YA books and see that the majority of those buying their books are girls. So, therefore, boys don’t read.
No, quite the contrary. Boys don’t read, on the whole, about sparkly vampires or angsty teen problems. They want stories that speak to them. Adventure and fun and characters they can identify with. (Sound familiar?) So they turn to other options, manga being just one of them. But the publishing powers that be fail to recognize that fact.
I’m not really hip on the YA books since I don’t read them but the popular ones that come to mind are Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Twilight, and only one of them (Potter) probably really interests 12-year-old boys. Hunger Games, maybe, since it’s got some action involved, but I’d imagine most boys that age want a protagonist they can really relate to.
Look at the current Top 5 YA Best-Sellers. 80% of them have a female lead and that fifth book has a male lead but is a YA romance book. The rest of the Top 10 isn’t much better if you’re a YA boy.
I know when I was that young I had trouble finding books that I liked. I hated the crap I was forced to read in school and by the time I finished required reading I didn’t want to suffer to find something that interested me. I did try Hardy Boys but those stories were too out-of-date for when I was a kid and I couldn’t really relate with the characters or stories. The Matt Christopher books were one of my favorites, but reading sports books got repetitive after a while. Goosebumps was high on my list that I enjoyed reading but I was sent to a Catholic school and they outlawed those books for reasons that are still beyond me. Maybe because Catholicism hates fun but that’s a different post for another time…
Point is, it was hard to find books that interested young-me.
It wasn’t until college when I discovered Rafael Sabatini’s work — Captain Blood, Scaramouche, The Sea Hawk — and actually read The Three Musketeers did I find books that interested me. Romantic swashbucklers with high action, adventure, drama, romance, and a lot of fun. Kinda wish I knew that when I was younger but there’s a good chance my taste in stories were different, too.
But that’s what I aim for in my own writing — action, adventure, and fun. In college I wrote pirate stories (spoiler: still do) and everyone in my writing class looked at me in either awe or confusion as why I would write a swashbuckler. I loved it. And one of my classmates announced to the class that she read one of my short-stories to these two 12-year-old boys she babysat and they loved it. I wasn’t writing for an audience that young, but it still captivated them.
To this day that might be one of the best compliments I’ve received.
There are two stories that I was forced to read in school that I enjoyed — The Giver and “The Most Dangerous Game.” To this day “The Most Dangerous Game” sits as my favorite short-story I’ve ever read. And it was full of action and suspense. It also had a message that wasn’t beaten over our heads like some literature does.
Alas, the publishing industry isn’t one to take chances. They’re like modern TV stations. They want to keep printing what they know will sell and is hot until people get tired of it and move on. How many Harry Potter-like books came out after that series made it big? A ton. Now vampires/werewolves are all the rage because of Twilight but they’re not the type of monster stories that’s going to capture your average YA male. When I worked in a book store we sold more Halo books (based off the video game) to young boys than any other particular title or series. Action. Adventure. Explosions. Not saying all boys want to read that but it definitely is more in line with their interests than what’s out there. Alas, modern publishing companies don’t want to take a risk on stories that might interest boys because it’s been decided that they don’t read.
Not true. They just read different stories.
But they’ll never find out what works for young boys if they keep looking for the next-Twilight and not the first XYZ.