Who to blame if men dont read? Why — women, of course.
“The man who doesn’t read good books,” Mark Twain said, “has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” If that’s true, then modern men are functionally illiterate: Almost all books are bought and read by women. But why? Let the backlash begin.
Last week I suggested it may be time to disband Britain’s Orange Prize, which is restricted to female authors, on the grounds that since only women buy and read books nowadays all literature is by definition “women’s literature” and the need for the prize is therefore obsolete.
I was kidding (sort of), but my larger point — men do not read — is not disputed by anyone. Study after study proves that men account for less than 20 percent of the book market in England, the U.S. and Canada. This fact no longer in dispute, the only question becomes why don’t men read? Why do they choose to forego Twain’s “advantage?”
It turns out that the whole problem is — you guessed it! — women’s fault. At least that’s the answer if you ask the few guys who actually do read books, especially if they happen to be writers themselves, or worked at some point in the publishing industry.
Take Jason Pinter, for example, writing at the Huffington Post. A thriller writer who used to work in publishing, he argues that men actually do read. The notion they don’t is a self-fulfilling prophecy: “[P]ublishers rarely publish for men and don’t market towards men,” he writes.
“Nobody can deny the fact that most editorial meetings tend to be dominated by women,” Pinder writes. “Saying the ratio is 75/25 is not overstating things. So needless to say when a male editor pitches a book aimed at men, there are perilously few men to read it and give their opinions.”
Will Weaver, who writes young adult books, goes further, blaming not only publishing but our entire culture. Also at the Huffington Post, his indictment is much the same as Pinder’s, though. He describes going to Manhattan bookstore, where the Teen Section, all flowery and fem, contained 275 books for girls and a handful of fantasy titles for boys.
“The bias against boy books in publishing has gotten so bad nowadays that my editor now reads manuscripts, he confessed, with an eye toward ‘re-gendering,’” Weaver writes. “That is, ‘I sort of like this novel but what if the main character were a girl instead of a boy?’”
I’ll grant Weaver has a point about the need for more effort to attract boys to reading, and I’ll give Pinder props for writing respectfully of women in publishing. His critique is institutional.
Still, these writers (and others before them, like Stephen King or Chris Goldberg), however sensitive and reasonable they may be, come down ultimately to this: Publishing has been feminized, nothing is marketed to men. In other words, it’s no our fault if we don’t read. It’s the women. Again.
As a man who has read all his life, I find this faintly patronizing and more than a little insulting. I have to be marketed to before I can turn off the TV or the video game and read a book? Geez, Mom, is my bottle warm yet? I’m hungry.
These arguments ignore that women not only read all the chicklit — female readers dominate the categories I would consider male-centric, like espionage/thriller (69 percent), mystery/detective (86 percent), science fiction (52 percent). That’s according to a 2000 study — the figures may be worse today.
Given the surprising note of whining in these masculine essays, I’ve come to the conclusion that men don’t read because — well, because they aren’t men. They’re spoiled little crybabies, and adolescents who refuse to grow up.
I mean, it’s not enough that Hollywood is oriented entirely toward the tastes of 14-year-old boys. The rest of society must be, too. Else, the big boys will take their balls and go home.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, or otherwise deluded, but I always thought a man was someone who knew his own mind, made his own decisions, and took responsibility for his actions. I guess I was wrong. A man, it seems, is someone who has to be catered to by the rest of the world.
And if he isnt, blame the wimmin.
Sigh. I guess I should get off my high horse and accept that the paradigm of American manhood is no longer Hemingway, or John Wayne, or Clint Eastwood. It’s Seth Rogen. With that in mind, how do we get him to read?
I suggest Maxim, or one of the other “lad” magazines, should be invited to start a book publishing imprint. And get Budweiser’s ad agency to do the campaign.
What do you suggest?