Monday, January 7, 2008

Why is it so crowded in here?

All of you went to the book store with me yesterday. I went into Borders under the pretense of getting my son a copy of Huckleberry Finn, which he needs for AP U.S. History. But that task took all of two minutes, and I'm genetically incapable of leaving a book store until at least an hour has elapsed from my entrance. Sooo, browsing ensued. That's where all of you came in, as both guides and experts.

Here's an example: My husband saw about 500 copies of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and picked one up. (Ha! That cover works, even on a grownup boy.) "Why do they have so many copies of this book?" he asked. Thanks to this post at A Year of Reading, I could tell him that it was a huge classroom hit, and had started as a web comic, and there was a sequel coming out soon. We didn't buy a copy, although I offered to front for him, if he needed an excuse to read it.

Then we got into a discussion about boy books, which was prompted by my paraphrased quoting from this post by Colleen. He concurred with her, and went on to rave about the Heinlein books he'd read growing up. So I went to the shelves and pulled out Have Space Suit, Will Travel. I read the first two pages. I was hooked. I bought it. Technically, I bought it for my son, to introduce him to a classic SF books beyond the Ender saga by Orson Scott Card. But really, so that I can read it.

Oh, and Colleen, I had paraphrased your post earlier to my son, too, and asked him why he doesn't read much anymore, and he said: "I would, if someone would find the books for me." He hates searching for reading material. He hates bringing home a book, even a library book, that turns out to be terrible. Could this be the root of the guy/book dilemma? They don't like to shop or look? What if we delivered great books to them, like groceries?

Also, and I hate to say this, but my son also said that "video games are like books." Ouch. But he went on to explain that some of them have great storylines, like Call of Duty 4, and are adventures where you're never sure if you're going to survive. We even talked about the fact that Orson Scott Card wrote dialogue for the computer game, The Dig, as well as the insults for The Secret of Monkey Island.

Anyway, back to the book store, where I'm browsing with all of you at my side. Because of MotherReader, I'm fingering a copy of Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf. I'm desperately looking for Billie Standish Was Here because of Jules. I'm running out of time, but I really want to search for I am a Pencil, because of Liz and Tricia.

I wind up deciding my huge TBR pile at home is enough for me for now, except that I really have to have I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. I use, as an excuse to justify the purchase, the fact that my husband and son will want to read it too.

Hey, I realized something! I LOVE "boy books,"* and I love to browse/shop. Anybody want to hire me to buy and deliver books to the men in their lives?

*Sorry, Little Willow, I know you hate gender bias. And I agree with you that labels should not be used to prevent or hinder readers from reading what they want to. Edited to be clearer: But what do you think of my theory that at the root of the boy reading problem is that boys hate to shop? Or, to be more specific: some readers hate to browse or otherwise search for reading material, and many of those readers are boys, who thus, don't read as much.

P.S. This theory doesn't apply to my husband, who buys many, many books all on his own. Possibly more than me. Maybe he would consider guest blogging about some of them. He finished Boy Proof before I did. He recently read (and has been raving about) the adult book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. And he likes to stay in a book store as long as I do.


  1. :) I love the picture of all of the bloggers and reviewers hovering around your family at the bookstore in quasi-ghostlike fashion!

    Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf is adorable.

    I Am the Messenger is great.

    Remind me how old your son is, and I'll make a list of recs. :)

    Sure, there are boys and men who hate to shop - but there are also girls and women who hate to shop. I'm not a shopper. I'd rather dance up and down the aisles (or, better still, in a dance studio or outside) than squeal over shoes and purses. :)

  2. Sign of a good marriage, I say :)
    One of the reasons I married mine is because he recalled crying over Where the Red Fern Grows...

  3. Well, great minds think alike. I am currently throwing around ideas for boy books to write. My son is nine and also plays video games CONSTANTLY. He is a wonderful reader, but has a hard time finding something to read. He still reads Magic Tree House because of the research guides. He LOVES the non-fiction tie-ins. I think he also doesn't want to search for another series to get into. Its just easier to grab an unread book from the stack of Magic Tree House. Easy, Peasie, Japanesie!

    I also just browsed the Barnes and Noble and the book section of Target. I love a good browse among my literary friends.

  4. You are right, as always, LW. Some women hate to shop. I don't so much love to shop as that I love to browse, to poke around and linger. Ooh and aah. That kind of thing. And yes, I'd love a list of recs. I'll email you.

    Liz, maybe you could start a matchmaking service. :)

    Amy, yes, that's the total appeal of series books---you know what you're getting. It's comforting and fun, but so hard to get past if you do want something new.

  5. LW is on to something here. I also hate shopping for clothes. It's not that I don't love a kickin' hippie dress; I just hate the process of finding it.

    I still think you'll adore Bille Standish, too.

    It sure does make bloggers happy to know that you consider our book recs, since we're nerds who put all this work into it just 'cause we think it's fun.

    Jules, 7-Imp

  6. As far as disinterested boy readers go, I agree with your shopping theory. I spent the last five years trying to convince non-engaged twelve year old boys to pick up something, ANYTHING, whenever we went to the library.

    In my experience it seemed that they didn't know how to browse. They didn't know what to look for, what keywords or summaries to hunt out, what authors they could rely on. (And don't get me started on their refusing a book based on an outdated cover!)

    The answer for me was to create a "boy pile" every library visit of books I knew other students had enjoyed. I ALWAYS read them so that I could give peeks into the plot and draw the boy's attention in. There's nothing so overwhelming to an insecure reader than hundreds of pages of text that turn out to be as boring as they fear them to be.

  7. Sara: Awesome! I'll look for the email. In the meantime, I just got the Princess - Matt Nathanson MP3 and am listening to it on repeat...

    If Liz is a romance-for-real-people matchmaker, I'd like to think I'm a people-and-interests matchmaker. I love recommending books, movies, etcetera, really matching people to things I think they'll like - even introducing friend #1 to friend #2 because I think they'd be friends. I match everything, even my socks. ;-)

    Jules: Good times, good times.

  8. The hate to shop angle is very interesting and I agree wholeheartedly with it. I have never met a guy who enjoys shopping in comparison to the number of women who do. I was never a big shopper when I was young - my mother absolutely dreaded back to school shopping as I was such a pain - but I could spend hours in the library. My brother was always good at browsing the library as well but here's the thing - it was our father who took us. Daddy went one way, we went the other and we met up about a half hour later. So my brother grew up seeing our father look for books.

    Also we were Reader's Digest Condensed book people - like a new book every other month or something wasn't it? So there was always something to read coming in the house, and it was usually kid friendly.

    I do think that it would be great if we had a place to send boys to online for suggestions. (The Boys Read site skews a bit young.) LW does a great job with reading lists so maybe she could craft some with more of a boyish tendency and I have been refocusing my column to include titles on a specific theme that I think will appeal to boys directly and girls directly. (I get girl heavy if I'm not careful - actually I think we all get girl heavy without realizing it.)

    Video games get knocked a lot but my son loves his computer games and I'm very impressed by how story oriented they are. The more I think about all this (as a generalized group, boys love games, comic books, big epic movies that are part of a larger story), the more I think they just might not be as good at finding books they would like as girls are. Also, boy books don't seem as easy to find as girl books (check out the YA section of the local bookstore for proof of this).

    Hmmm..must think more...

  9. Dee, thanks for that real world insight. I hope those boys at least occasionally thanked you. You know, like 12-year-old do all the time. Heh.

    Colleen, thanks for weighing in on my shopping/browsing theory. I think I'm going to keep on bringing my son books, just like I stock the fridge with groceries. I have to remember that he's not insulted when I "shop" at the library for him. In his mind, I'm saving him work, not depriving him of the fun of looking/choosing. But I'm not fooling myself that a book found by his mom is going to work all that often. If only I wasn't his mom, but some cool chick in a video store...

  10. And that's where we come back to needing some cool site that recommends books for teenage boys. They aren't finding all of our sites where we already do this - and if you told your son the recs were coming from "cool books for guys site" then they wouldn't be just from Mom (perish the thought!)

    Still thinking.....

  11. Next time, you HAVE to get Diary of a Wimpy Kid. So funny. And great for boys!

  12. Just wanted to say: what a fun post! I love the idea of all of those bloggers hovering around you virtually while you're in the bookstore. This is one of those posts that makes me wonder: how on earth did I manage before I had my blog friends?

    I just ordered Billie Standish.

  13. I'm with LW. I really like I Am the Messenger. So different from The Book Thief.

    Other great "boy" reads, The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan and The Alfred Kropp books by Rick Yancey. The Alfred Kropp books are very visual and teens that like video games will probably enjoy this series.

    Jon Scieszka has a Guys Read website.

  14. From a bookseller's perspective let me point out an observational bit that keys in with your son's wanting books picked out for him.

    Go to the bookstore and look at the people working with kids books (go to a children's bookstore if you can). Tell me, how many male booksellers do you see? Same at the library, how many male librarians are there?

    Wait, I'm not done: how many men are with their sons in the library or bookstores, together and not with wives/mothers/sisters?

    I'm beginning to suspect that the reason boys don't get into reading has as much to do with their perception of their being a feminine pursuit. Like standing in the aisles while their mothers buy them underwear, boys are uncomfortable with the browsing and shopping process, they don't get a lot solid role models for how to do it, and in the end feel like it's all a crapshoot if they are handed something they like.

    I deal with 7 and 8 year old girls who come into my store and know what they want. They can tell me the like realistic fiction, what degree of girliness they will accept, and even specific formats (diary, chapter, long or short). I've asked 12 year old boys what they like and it's "Idunno, I guess anything with, like, things happening in it."

    Don't get me started about the number of times each week I hear a mother refuse a book for their son because they disapprove of the book, usually for not being "literature" enough (read: not the kind of book SHE'D like, though she has no intention of reading any book she purchases for hr son). Is it any wonder boys are disinterested? The moment they reveal themselves their spirits are crushed into a box marked "wrong."

    Because the get handed books they don't like, because they aren't taught how to articulate what they like, because they are allowed to be passive they tend to see books as something foisted upon them. Shopping, browsing, even library visits become a chore as a result.

    I can't tell you how happy I am to have two girls who read so much they are actually worried about how much they contribute to deforestation.

  15. David that ties in exactly with what I think happened with my brother. Our very blue collar "man's man" father loved the library. He went every week and was always checking out 7 day books as he read so fast. (He also had subscriptions to numerous magazines include Good Housekeeping which he loved for the recipes. He was quite a guy.)

    It never would have occured to my brother or I to see reading as feminine but I know we were different that way. My father is the only man I know (other than my brother and later some cousins) who read books for pure pleasure.

  16. Sara & Colleen, lots of agreement from me! Great post. However, I don't think generic shopping-aversion is the biggest problem. Put yourself in the shoes of a teenage boy in most bookstores: how cool is it to look for a book when you're surrounded by shelves of mostly princess-that, fairy-this, girlfriend here, chick lit there, drama and romance everywhere?

    Sure, most guys find shopping-for-shopping's sake utterly incomprehensible! But boys rock at finding things: we'd forget eating over the challenge of a good treasure hunt; we've got "hunter-gatherer" embedded all over our DNA! Give us a mission, we're THERE!

    But if shopping for boy books feels like hanging out in the women's fashion floor of the department store, we'll mow the grass in freezing weather in socks and shorts first. So I think the problem remains too few really adventurous, heroic - heck, manly! - titles and series for teen boys. And next, if stores want more teenage male customers, the shopping environment needs to buck up too!

  17. GREAT point, Mac. My son does treat any shopping trip like a mission: you go in, you get what you came for, you leave. More points for doing it in under 20 minutes. Seriously. I once watched my husband and son buy pants, shirts and socks in one of the hugest outlet malls in the country and be ready to leave in under 20 minutes.

    And you are so right about the shopping environment. I may love the smell of coffee and the lovely book displays, but most boys would not. In fact, when I suggested a local bookstore as an inexpensive place for him to hang out with a date, he looked at me like I was certifiable.

    Also, two things that Colleen and I discussed off-line, but I'll put out here, for others to comment on:

    1.Tying books to music. Music is big, very big with teen boys. Guitar Hero and Rock Band and iPods and ringtones have just made it that much bigger. Can we tie books into music? Like if you love Led Zeppelin, you'll love this title?

    2. Using Facebook. Making an "ap" (computer application) that delivers book recs and discussion to a Facebook-wide audience. Aps like FunWall and Scrabbulous are very popular. (Not with teen boys, I don't think, but those are the two examples I know of as an old mom.) So how hard would it be to make a cool ap that you could add to your Facebook page?

  18. Sara,
    I am glad to finally read your blog. I kept seeing it listed on different blog rolls near my blog name, so I thought I would take a look. Little did I know it was going to turn out to be the blog of the author I am currently reading. I recently had a poll on my blog and your book came in a close second place to another book as book I should next read. I finished the other book and hurried on to your book. I am loving it!
    Megan Germano
    Read, Read, Read!

  19. Welcome, Megan! It's a small blog world, isn't it? We "G's" and "H's" should get to know each other. :)

    So glad you're enjoying Letters From Rapunzel.

  20. ...(W)hen I suggested a local bookstore as an inexpensive place for him to hang out with a date, he looked at me like I was certifiable.

    You did WHAT? Sara, Sara, Sara, boys don't want to hang out with their dates in a bookstore! Bookstores invite intellectual conversation and awkward opinions and, at best, suggest that they aren't interested in anything but their MINDS! Unless the bookstore has some nice nooks for necking...

    Music is big, very big with teen boys. Guitar Hero and Rock Band and iPods and ringtones have just made it that much bigger. Can we tie books into music? Like if you love Led Zeppelin, you'll love this title?

    A co-worker has a son, 14, into drumming. He spends his afternoons listening to Led Zep and Pink Floyd and all th 70's heavy hitters. You know what he requested? A book about this bands, written for him, not an adult book with a lot of gossip and factoids but information about the music. You know, there's a HUGE void in this particular market. I'd be all for helping fill this gap. Maybe I will. Eventually. Down the road.

    So how hard would it be to make a cool ap that you could add to your Facebook page?

    Facebook? What is this Facebook? We do not know this word.

    Actually, I am still trying to get a grip on how technology and books can (or should) intersect. I think first we need to understand more about what makes a boy seek out a book before we can address how to best get them in his face. He, Perhaps a site called Bookface.

    Hope I'm not overstaying my welcome here, Sara.

  21. Not a bit, David. BookFace. Yeah. I'm loving it. Oh, no. Is that a bad sign?

    We had fun at dinner tonight, imagining what a boy-centered bookstore would look like. The funny thing was, I couldn't quite tell which things were real suggestions and which ones they were just putting me on with. My son rubbed his hands together and said slyly: climbing wall. Joking, right? Or not?

  22. Wow. All I was going to say was, "It was more fun being with you at the bookstore than jumping back into the raging river of the school year." And then I read all these comments. David, as I read your comment, I was thinking about the boy readers in my classroom and feeling glad that at least a dozen or so boys in the world ARE handed books they like and CAN articulate what they want in a book. I'm not sure how much they love browsing in a bookstore, but at least I've done all I can!


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