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Books are for Girls?

Dearly Beloved YOU GUYS:

In my hometown there was a genre bookseller named Future Fantasy. Small store, off the beaten path, beside a coin collector and a funky, old taquería. When I finally learned how to read at thirteen, I used watch their author signing schedule and bike my fantasy paperbacks over to get signed by the likes of Robert Jordan, Ray Feist, Tad Williams, and Robin Hobb. The booksellers, noticing what I read, would point me toward other books. Recently I had cause to think back to who was attending those signings. Certainly there were “adults” (anyone over eighteen), but there were also a fair number of people my age, specifically a fair number of boys my age.

I’ve been thinking about this because at the past few reading events I’ve given I haven’t noticed _any_ young men. True, I have read at schools and visited an 8th grade boys’ book club (organized by a mom and resulted in playing stickball in the backyard with the author, which, I have to say, was rad).  However, in my experience if I don’t go out of my way to find younger male readers, I will not see them. That might be a function of what I write (but I hope not), or function of being yet a smaller fish in the SFF pond. But when I recently began asking around about young men reading I was struck by a wave of pessimism.

Let’s embed a watchable example of what I perceive to be the prevailing attitude. The video below is an illustrated lecture of Phil Zimbardo, famous psych guru who ran the “Stanford Prison Experiment” back in the day. Much of the lecture focuses on the label’s Zimbardo applies to psychological orientation within time. The slice pertinent to this blog starts around 5:40 and continues to about 7:11.

I’m not a fan of Zimbardo’s reasoning. Casting whole cultures into time-centered labels based on metrics such as “speed walked in a cafeteria” or “what people complain about” seems arbitrary and anecdotal, without proof of causation. I have the same complaint of Zimbardo’s fear of video games as the destruction of boys. He has data (kinda) illustrating that boys play a lot of it, but he has no proof that it is related to the dropout rates. Many generations have declared that the next generation of men is growing up spoiled by the luxuries of the day: before the internet, it was TV; before TV, it was comic books; before comics it was pool halls or jazz music or dance halls or whatever. There always has been and will be hedonistic temptations to have fun. It hasn’t ended civilization yet.

What has struck me is the perceived division in how boys and girls want to be entertained. Namely that henceforth boys will play video games and girls will read. I don’t know if this is true; however, I am quite sure that we have allowed for the establishment of a marketing system that _tries_ to make it true.

Witness the overwhelming male orientation of the video game industry. Blizzard’s recent “Real ID Snafu” is a good example. Witness also “booth babes.” And here’s a bit of evidence that you can find by yourself. Google the phrase “video games girls.” The first hit I got took me to a website entitled “GameGirl” the leading post of which read “Game Over” and explained how the site had gone defunct. The second hit lead to a website entitled “Hottest Girls in Games” with the sub-heading “These girls are some of the hottest digital vixens we’ve ever seen.” Not. So. Classy.

What about the other side of the pool: boys and books? Things are better, I think. Google  “books for boys” and there are plenty of admirable websites like booksforboys.com and guysread.com and guyslitwire.com (this last pointed out to me by the witty Steven Berman).  And yet these sites also express pessimism about the publishing industry’s stance toward boys.  To quote Colleen Mondor on guyslitwire.com:

“There seems to be a perception that boys don’t read as much as girls, especially teenage boys. As the YA Columnist for Bookslut it has been especially clear to me that whether or not boys want to read more, finding books for boys is not so easy. There are so many more books targeted toward female readers than male that it is really quite amazing – and also very disturbing.”

When I asked a group of friends in the publishing industry about young men reading, I got an interesting response: boys are willing to spend money on games, girls on books. This is one of the  modern explanations for why the world is as it is: the market made it so. And I have no doubt that it is true that boys spend more cash on games, girls on paperbacks.  But should we let this be so? We’ve created an entire industry, the marketing industry, that sets about creating markets. And boys certainly will read: witness Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Ender’s Game, etc. Though the Twilight books might be at the current apex of the books-in-the-public-consciousness world, there’s no reason why the next set of books couldn’t appeal to boys or to both genders.

So, Dearly Beloved YOU GUYS, what do you think about all this? Am I getting my boxers in a bunch for no good reason? Are video games really the undoing of boys? Should we be trying harder to get books in boy’s hands?

Comments

53 Responses to “Books are for Girls?”

  • Well first of all, boxers are dumb. You should be wearing boxer-briefs like a normal human.

    But yes, I think you hit the nail on the head. Marketing is a self-perpetuating cycle. They create the markets that they then become slaves to. I have absolutely no idea how to change it though. Good luck with that. :-)

    • well, guess we know you answer ‘yes’ to the question “boxers or briefs?” ;-)

      the more i read of comments like those below the more i wonder about the cyclical nature of such markets. women consumers of all types were ignored for years and years, and then patronized by marketers. there’s a great malcolm gladwell article about the history of hair color marketing that i’m thinking of. i’m sure at one point a bunch of marketers realized that there was an ‘untapped market’ of female readers out there. i wonder/hope there’ll come a day when publishers feel like there’s an ‘untapped’ market of young male readers out there.

  • Greg Smith MD

    1:43 pm Jul-18-2010

    Reply

    Hi Blake,

    Liked your piece. As a guy who grew up reading everything I could get my hands on, including the back of cereal boxes during breakfast each morning, I bemoan the perceived lack of enthusiasm that boys have for reading. I think that the market does drive it, for better or worse. On the flip side, I have raised three girls, and only the eldest started reading young and often and still does to this day. The youngest, now nineteen and a sophomore in college, reads only what she must. She is one with her Blackberry and texts to the moon and back each day. It drives my wife crazy.
    Don’t know the answer to this. I just hope we continue to put out the message that it is through books, in all their modern forms, that we learn, that we are transported to other worlds and that we are encouraged to dream big dreams that will change the world.

    Later,

    Greg

    • Hi Greg, thanks so much for stopping by and putting in your two cents. I think you bring up a bigger point of increasing readership in general–rather than blocking it out into boys and girls.

  • Matthew V. Jacobson

    2:16 pm Jul-18-2010

    Reply

    Great post. Being from the apparently “exclusive” demographic of young male readers, I can safely say that, until I read your blog post, I wasn’t aware that there was any such problem. In fact, I know from experience that games like World of Warcraft are home to a large chunk of bookish boys. Everyone I know that plays these sorts of games–MMORPGs, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games–is an avid reader, especially in the science fiction/ fantasy genre. Despite all the digital bells and whistles, these games are, at their core, text driven, much like the paper and pen RPGs of old. In order to advance your character through “quests” (the term itself ringing of the heroic journey archetype), a large amount of reading is involved. You have to “speak” to the NPCs (non player characters), and read the directions that they give to you. Furthermore, a significant aspect of the game is social. The server you are on at any given time is home to hundreds or thousands of other living, breathing players, all interacting with each other in some way. There are in game auction houses that power the player created economy, group adventures that require either verbal or written coordination, or even something as simple as asking for directions. (If you help someone out, they usually say “thank you” in some way.)

    Some statistics you may find surprising: there are only about 5 or 6 million active World of Warcraft accounts in the United States; most WoW accounts are in Asia. That’s a pretty small number. The most successful console of all time (excluding computers which are multifunctional) is the Nintendo DS (a hand-held device for on the go playing–think killing time on the subway), followed by the Nintendo Wii, which promotes face to face interaction between players. Far less sales are made up by the XBOX 360 or the Playstation 3, whose marketing is geared towards online play where people each have their own consoles in order to play together. A lot of the popular games, like Guitar Hero and Rockband, are only fun in a group setting.

    FPS, or first person [viewpoint] shooters, on the other hand, don’t require much social interaction or face to face playtime. That being said, Halo has a successful book series spawned off of it, so I really don’t know where experts draw the line at “games that kids play instead of reading.”

    And cough, many off-topic video game forum threads are devoted to favorite books, cough. If you were to go into a fantasy video game world and chat “George R. R. Martin,” “The Sword of Truth,” or at least “Drizzt the dark elf,” you’d probably be bombarded by a textual chorus of fans of those authors/ books. (I don’t know what would happen if you said that while shooting someone in the face during a Halo death match, but it could merit looking into.)

    Personally, I think the best way to get a book into a guy’s hand is to mention something cool that happens in the book. This might even be greater than the writing. Take Eragon, for instance. Tremendously successful, and mostly because it took the excitement of high fantasy and put it in a place that was reachable for adolescents. Yes, adult writers may be more interested in the protagonist being in their late twenties or mid thirties, but younger protagonists really capture the imaginations of younger readers. Eragon can be summed up as “boy finds dragon egg, dragon hatches, he learns to ride dragon and magic . . . how are you not reading this already?” I’m not saying the books have to be devoid of interesting older men/ women. Brom in that series was an intriguing character, the same as the first warder Rand Al’Thor meets in The Eye of the World is. (Note that Rand verges on the young side, too). I was sold on Lord of the Rings when my friend handed me the book in the school library and said “A guy in here has a magic ring that makes him invincible, so someone cuts his finger off and then kills him.” What?! That’s way better than Boxcar Children.

    As far as book signings go, I think boys are a little less likely to seek those things out. I haven’t been to one yet, and I may never go to one. This may be a foundation-less generalization, but girls may get more excited about meeting authors. I think the boys want to meet the characters. Or, we may just be more easily intimidated.

    I think one of the reasons more girls don’t play video games is because of the social stigma attached to it, but that’s a post for a different day. I’d also wager that girls discuss the characters more than the action or plot, using Twilight as my example. Then again, I’m talking out of my ass here and only using a few memories of conversation to go on, which I apologize for.

    The library that I volunteer at seems to have an equal number of boys and girls at any given time. Although, I am the only guy my age volunteering in my position, and beyond me there are only two or three other gentlemen working there, I believe. It’s run by the ladies! I digress.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t place too much stock in a video that says an overabundance of porn and online playing are killing our youth, especially since it probably came from someone out of the acid dropping generation.

    Hopefully I didn’t take up too much space! My points are a little scattered by maybe there is something in here to think about.

    • yo, MVJ! first off, bitching reply. i’m slow replying to all of these. but you chimed in with exactly the points i wanted to make but wasn’t qualified to make. hope you don’t think i’m against gamers, was trying to make the point above that i think the alarmists are freaking out in the same way that the really old school alarmists freaked out about jazz music etc.

      • agreed, bitching reply. i agree with the reflection of “it (the video’s perspective) probably came from someone out of the acid dropping generation.”
        i myself am certainly a skeptic of video games – for some of the reasons stated in the video (lack of “normal” social interaction) but also because of a lack of physical stimulation and movement (sitting all day / most of the day is bad). but these things are generalizations of what i think is a rather small population and the blanket statements regarding readership in young men (or women) is a) not applicable to every person under the age of 18 (approx 25% of US population!) b) has many factors going into it.
        PLUS a lot of this has to depend on the CONTENT of the book / books in question. is it a fiction book? find something that you’re interested in … you’ll probably read a lot more (if you have the leisure time to do so). is it a non-fiction book? again, you’ll probably want to stick to something interesting to the individual but i also often find myself thinking: “you could have said this in either a 10 page essay with the same or better effect or an interesting youtube video that would have received much more attention.” :)
        my point here can also be viewed in the “time” debate, and why not? we only have so many hours per day and days per week and weeks in our lives… so if an author isn’t going to make a great point or tell a great story then why am i going to spend my time there? that’s a digression to a different topic.
        all that to say – really interesting points and perspectives here. makes me want to read more… of the blog :)
        p.s. my favorite is actually hearing you read it – so much more comes out of the text!

        • E! Wonderful points as always. I do think you’re on to something regarding the proliferation of ideas and the selection of the most cogent. i’m reminded of all the criticism the commercial theater in London got around 1500–how it was corrupting the population and making them think about sex and violence and goofing off. good thing shakespeare didn’t listen too them :)

  • ashley, coffee thief

    2:25 pm Jul-18-2010

    Reply

    Yargh. I think you have it here, Blake: “What has struck me is the perceived division in how boys and girls want to be entertained.”

    And to get all English teacher-y like for a minute, the key phrase within that is “perceived division.” I don’t know whether it’s a failure of marketing or culture (or both) — but boys who read don’t get the press. I don’t think that’s to say that boys who read don’t *exist*… by a long shot.

    I wonder what this has to do, too, with how we [generally speaking] assign certain genres by gender. When my classes are assigned mythology and science fiction reading, they often wonder if they’ve ended up in the wrong place, because “this isn’t what you read in English classes!” Who in the name of all that’s unholy did English that disservice?

    I think boxers in a bunch are probably painful. Seriously, though — an active effort to get the right kind of books in the hands of boys is not a bad idea.

    All the websites you mentioned are all very well, but how many 14 year olds are going to search those down? *Give* them a copy of one of the Percy Jackson books. *Give* them a copy of Little Brother. I think the only way that they are going to know that stuff is out there that’s not criminally boring is if we tell them.

    There will be kids (and parents) who go buy your book because you played stickball in the backyard with them. Guerilla marketing, if you will.

    All this to say that I think that boys are interested in reading. I think it’s just going to take a pretty different approach than the one American society currently takes to get them to show it more openly. [What have we done when we have to pretty much talk about kids coming out of the closet regarding liking reading?]

    Excuse me while I just put up the soapbox…

    • no please be as much as an English teacher as you want :) i no longer stand in front of a class but for a long time there i was a sophomore english lit and composition teacher. still miss those days :)

  • Hey there,

    We see a lot of young boys reading stuff like Rangers Apprentice by John Flanagan or the Cherub Series by Robert Muchamore. The younger ones go for Zac Power or Geronimo Stilton.

    The mums think that it is generally harder to get boys to read than girls though.

  • As an aspiring author–someone who’s always been an AVID reader; still am–I find reading not only good for boys, but essential. Books are my life, and I know (or at least believe) that boys ARE starting to scour the shelves a lot more in search of that next great adventure! However, it’s true, the industry–particularly YA/Teen fiction–mostly markets to female readers. I hope to God that this soon changes, or the millions of male readers garnered by successful series like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and the Pendragon books will lose hope in reading.

    Which would be a true travesty indeed.

  • As a parent I’m doing everything I can to make sure my son knows that reading is fun. He already has a book shelf filled with books and he’s only 5. But the biggest part is giving him fun stuff right from the start. Picture books like Aliens Love Underpants, Commotion in the Ocean, and the Snail and the Whale are some of our favourites. Growing up, my brothers would spend whole days with their heads stuck in a book, and they weren’t “bookish” guys, trust me. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but the one thing our mother splurged on was books – good ones that took us to other worlds and stretched our imaginations. So I think it starts early.

    By the way, I’m hoping there will be a whole slew of Blake Charlton books for my son to read when he’s older :)

  • Admittedly, I didn’t watch that particular video. Apologies, Blake, I’m just not that into this fellow as much as you are.

    In general, I dislike the whole idea of “studying” generations. Such “research” inevitably become adversarial because of the perceived threat the older generation feels from the younger (“in MY day…”). You don’t need a lot of tests and studies. You just need to go look at a bookstore to see that the gender lines are blurring more than ever.

    Do girls read more than boys? At the moment, probably. But be certain to put more emphasis on the phrase “at the moment.” Trends flux all the time. And, at the moment, fantasy in particular is experiencing some growing pains due to the fact that it’s in its own state of flux.

    I liked Lord of the Rings, like all good, Tolkien-fearing fantasy fans do. But did I like it as much as my dad, who grew up with it? Probably not. But I grew up with A Song of Fire and Ice. Will the kid down the street growing up with Eragon like it as much?

    Books are as generational as anything else. Granted, the allure of books is their immortality: any generation can read them, but some will speak more to certain people than others.

    At the risk of totally destroying any credibility anyone might have in my opinion, you only need to look at South Park’s episode “The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs.” Catcher in the Rye was a BIG DEAL many years ago, enough to be blamed for the death of a famous celebrity and cause serious controversy in a school. Yet when a bunch of fourth graders of 2010 read it, they’re not that impressed. It’s not that kids have gotten dumber or less attentive, it’s just that they’re *gasp* different from their parents’ generation.

    Do girls read more than boys? Probably, at the moment. Because, at the moment, there are more books out there that speak to girls, likely thanks to a huge rise of female authors in fantasy and YA we’ve seen lately. At the moment, boys are having a harder time finding what speaks to them.

    This, too, will change. And in twenty years, we’ll complain that kids are too distracted to get all up in A Song of Ice and Fire and isn’t a shame and in my day we had to drive in a CAR that exhumes fossil fuels to get the bookstore none of this fancy-schmancy teleportation and hey Blake can you go ask the nurse for my pills they won’t let me near her anymore no I’m not going to tell you why just go get them goddamnit.

  • My thoughts on this are colored heavily by Paolo Bacigalupi’s discussion of it here:

    http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/01/the-geeks-guide-to-the-galaxy-podcast-episode-2-bacigalupilooza

    He talks about “boys’ narrative”, the things that appeal to boys, that fire their imaginations: adventure, discovery, power, war, sex, good vs. evil. (That is second-hand, since I’ve never been a boy and can’t speak with any real authority on what boys like.) Right now video games deliver those things. There seems to be no reason that books *can’t* serve that narrative–I believe there’s a series of Halo books that are quite popular, and the Star Wars franchise continues to do well–but maybe there aren’t enough, and video games might just be doing it better.

    I’ve thought about it a lot since I heard that podcast. Until then it seemed to be a problem but I had no clue *why.* When the men my age were boys there was no Halo, no Left 4 Dead, no Grand Theft Auto to serve their inner narrative, so they read, and the books that were available at the time delivered. Are we delivering something different now, something that is less satisfying?

    If it’s true that there is a shortage of fiction that meets the inner needs of boys, if we’re not giving them what they want, what can we do to fix it?

  • Ugh. Don’t get me started on girls and women and video games. We are what our parents make us, and if you encourage kids to have a wide variety of interests, then they will. The marketing world have told kids – and more importantly, parents – that video games aren’t for girls that aren’t pixelated, and that video games are all boys can think about. Of course, give a girl a video game system and she’ll be all over it. My dad got me an atari and I loved it, my daughter has all the toys her gamer parents have been collecting over the years (and spent her own money on a Nintendo DS and games for it) and plays as long as we will allow her to (it’s limited; she reads most of the time.)

    I’m a woman, and I have a daughter, so I can’t speak to the other side, the real question you’re asking about boys and books, but a friend of mine is writing books for “reluctant middle grade boy readers” (The Danny Dragonbreath books) so take what you will of that. (is that positive or negative?)

    I still think parents can be a huge influence, we shouldn’t discount ourselves. Get kids reading early, and don’t push them into reading things they’re not interested in (been guilty of this… I’m still learning this parenting thing.)

    • mightymur! i’ve been neglecting the internet for a few days, but thanks so much for weighing in on this! the points i made above about women and gaming are made from observation. i was big into games until med school started, then i had to rather ruthlessly cut out everything that wasn’t medicine or writing. everytime i think of WoW or Mass Effect, or Dragon Age, i cry a little. don’t even tell me if there are cooler games than that, bc i cannot have them. anyway, back to the real point, which is your point: that ‘culture’ comes from the word that means ‘grow,’ and if we make a decision to, we can cultivate a new culture.

  • You are at the crux of the issue that I face on a daily basis as a HS English teacher. I wish there was a simple answer, but I don’t think that there is.

  • Francesca Myman

    11:57 pm Jul-18-2010

    Reply

    Hi there! Thought-provoking. I must say that, in my experience, higher education in the humanities is also dominated by women.

    I was just listening to some of the greats of the SF field talk at HQ t’other day, and SF&F readership, according to these gentlemen (who shall not be named just yet, because it is not for me to do the naming till their talk shows up in print) started out as 99.8% male. The female reader, or writer, at least in genre, was almost nowhere to be found. Heck, it’s new for women to receive an education. Maybe The New Thing is the valued thing. Men have been receiving educations for centuries. Who knows. But I do think it goes deeper than that. . . the “genius” archetype, for one thing, has been very much masculinized, even in my lifetime. I’ve been heartened by shifts in the media, depicting female mad scientists and loopy nerds.

    At any rate, must sign off. But these are important questions.

    • it is funny how things swing back and forth. i remember being a HS English teacher and looking for a book to teach with a young female narrator. the vast majority of the ‘classroom classics’: A Separate Piece, A Catcher in the Rye, The Lord of Flies, are written by men and told through a boys PoV. i wonder if that will be reversed in future generations. it would be nicer if we could split it down the middle, of course.

  • Thanks for the wonderful comments everyone! First up over on my LJ mirror, the wonderful Mary Victoria posted the following link to a 1950′s advice column about writing for boys and girls: . Here’s a quotation “Activities that keep boys inside like reading, writing or thinking are not suitable role models for young men. Those are girl activities.”

    Also, after reading through these comments I began to wonder if perhaps the pessimism about young men reading isn’t also about men reading. There is, for example, no male equivalent of ‘chick lit.’ I wonder if this is in part a function of how social we are when we read. When I read with the glamorous Gail Carriger at SFinSF, her readers would show up in small groups, often with a few books between them which they would hand off to each other. Whereas the men all had their own books. I wonder if, whether or not we read, is almost less important to whether or not we share our reading with others, something men do not encourage each other to do…

    • Blake, of course there’s a male equivalent of “chick lit” although I’m including male romance novels. Think the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald. Think of every paperback best seller written by a man. Think James Bond. That’s all “male lit” but most people (literary types)just think of it as mainstream paperbacks, they are the equivalent of upscale romances and “chick lit.”

  • [...] Blake Charlton writes that boys aren’t as into sci-fi/fantasy anymore, and while I have some disagreements with some of his points, I can’t aggressively [...]

  • I think that there’s a real divide between the readers and gender, although I don’t know if it’s as broad as someone saying: boys just play video games and girls just read books. (Which isn’t what you’re saying, I understand that). I think that boys like what they see in video games, and books are marketed towards boys. I used to work at a Boy’s summer camp at the height of the Harry Potter years, and the number of boys who were reading those books was astounding. But they also brought along a number of other reads: I saw a lot of copies of Lord of the Rings, and other books as well. It was something that I tried to encourage, often.

    More than anything, I think what you’re observing is marketing playing out. There’s a lot of vampire books, and by extension, fantasy, that have been marketed towards girl teens, but there really isn’t anything that fills that void for their gender counterparts, save for the usual standbys of tie-in fiction, of which there’s a lot of choices: Star Trek, Star Wars, Halo, Gears of War, etc. I think that the guys who are into those stories, because it appeals to them, will seek out things that are of interest. But, there are those who will just be satisfied with what they have, and what’s easiest to get to, and the big question becomes: how do you instill that passion in boys for reading science fiction / fantasy stories?

    • interesting. above, sam makes a similar point: that interest and marketing expansions are cyclical. vampires certainly are all the rage now. and it strikes me now (of course after i hit publish) that i’m missing a critical piece of evidence above–some data that would indicate how much boys really are reading. i’ve no doubt that they are playing more video games, but that doesn’t mean they’ve spent less time reading. i’ll have to look into that…later…much later…

      as for how to make young ppl interested in SFF, i personally think it’s a mater of connecting the world they are inheriting to the speculative phenomenon important to the world they’ll be inheriting. i can understand why the cold war generations were fascinated by stories of space-race-like exploration beyond earth, or nuclear holocaust, but i don’t see young men feeling all that engaged about such stories now. more likely prospects would climate change, biotech, radical political and religious division.

      also it is possibly too late for me to be answering intelligently replying to blog posts.

      possibly way too late.

      thoughts?

  • Blake – I hope you don’t think Guys Lit Wire is pessimistic! We started the site because we feel like plenty of boys do read (and want to read more) but just want some ideas about great books. I think the problem lies more with the books being published (and publisher perception) and less about boys wanting to read themselves.

    • Hi Collen, No, not in the least! I meant to refer to the pessimism of the “the publishing industry’s marketing orientation away from boys” or something like that. I found all the sites i linked to admirable! (And now will tweak the post to reflect that.) Keep up the great work!

  • Interesting. There is a similar discussion going on at The Enchanted Inkpot. I think you’ll find it interesting.

    http://community.livejournal.com/enchantedinkpot/62614.html

  • “He talks about “boys’ narrative”, the things that appeal to boys, that fire their imaginations: adventure, discovery, power, war, sex, good vs. evil.”

    I haven’t listened to the podcast, so I don’t want to jump on Paolo who likely has said something very nuanced, but omg when I see “adventure, discovery, power, war, sex, good vs evil” described as “boys’ narrative” I want to smash something. Because, you know, not a boy.

    Also, on the larger topic of YA, my sons, who both are readers, moved from middle grade straight into epic fantasy by their early teens. They read very little YA shelved fiction, but I don’t see how epic fantasy (which, I might note, often contains a paucity of decent female characters) doesn’t count. And I agree with the comment above about WoW.

    • i think you should jump on paolo. not because i’ve listened to the podcast either (i haven’t), but because i’m just generally a fan of giving paolo a hard time. and, more importantly, you make a great point! :)

  • Interesting post, and to some degree, largely true. I have 3 nephews aged between 10 and 12. All 3 love books, but their tastes vary widely. One will only read non-fiction, science encyclopedias being the default setting (he does have Aspergers though, which may account for him not getting on with fiction). Another has been through the Harry Potter/Percy Jackson/Deltora Quest phase and has now moved on to the warhammer-type books (he will be a full-on SFF geek in a few years!) and the third reads all the junior James Bond and spy-type novels he can find.

    All 3 have been read to from a very early age, and this I think is the key. If kids of any gender are read to by their parents from day one, they grow up with a love of books and story telling.

    But when shopping for birthday presents for them I am acutely aware of the limited choice available for boys, as compared to girls. A large majority of books for age 8 upwards have pink and sparkly covers and are clearly aimed at girls. Certainly in the UK the marketing is skewed towards girls, from what I can see. This is not doing boys any favours and I think that boys would read more if there were a wider range of books for them. In this respect I think that the marketing is cutting boys out of the loop somewhat, which is a real shame. I’m sure there are plenty of authors out there who would love to write for boys, but are not getting picked up by the publishers who have the ‘only girls and geeky boys read books’ mindset.

    • Hi Murf! Thanks for weighing in from the other side of the pond; though i’m saddened by the news. was hoping the marketing was splitting up better over there. alas for that.

  • Hm, and here I always thought I was in a minority, cos if boys don’t read books, but girls do, then who reads more fantasy books…I do wonder. Cos fantasy sure is directed towards boys, while we get fantasy romance, no thanks.

    Btw, that book of yours sound great

    • hi blodeuedd! thanks so much for stopping by and apologies for the slow response. was on the road for a while there. thanks for your thoughts! it is a bit ironic, i remember in the 80s hearing a lot about ho SFF was overwhelmingly male, and now ppl are complaining that the reverse seems to be true. in any case, if you do check out spellwright (and i hope you do *grin*) do let me know what you think! :)

  • I had never really thought about this at all until I read this, however now that I think about it, I do tend to see more girls reading books than boys (even if it seems to ALWAYS be the Twilight books), but I do know a few boys who read a lot of books, some of them are my mates at University.

    Myself, I tend to read sporadically…where I get really into reading and read several books, and then don’t read again for a long time. It does depend on the type of book as well, as I generally tend to just read fantasy books, which I think is my dad’s influence, as he got me into authors like David Gemmel and Pratchett etc, which then led me to pick up your book (which coincidentally I have now given to my dad to read :P).

    Still, I don’t really see a huge problem in the amount of boys reading, although it would be nice to see it increase, maybe if schools could point people towards the type of books each individual would like. Food for thought I suppose…

    • hola dyf! thanks so much for stopping by. sounds like you and your dad have great taste ;) hope he enjoys the book and i can publish a few more that strike your fancy ;)

  • I got a notice about this blog – WRITING LIKE A BOY

    Thought it might interest you.

    http://musetracks.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/writer-inspiration-b-a-binns/

  • [...] I envisioned the series as a YA crossunder (though, on occasion, I do fret about publishing not making books more attractive to young men). It’ll be interesting to how the different shelving does or doesn’t change [...]

  • [...] feel about books that appeal to young people (especially young men) in in general? You already know I think they’re vitally important. But in particular, I love this representation of the book. This isn’t Nicodemus in his [...]

  • Hello,

    My apologies for being “late” to this discussion. You wrote:

    “In my hometown there was a genre bookseller named Future Fantasy. Small store, off the beaten path, beside a coin collector and a funky, old taquería. When I finally learned how to read at thirteen, I used watch their author signing schedule and bike my fantasy paperbacks over to get signed by the likes of Robert Jordan, Ray Feist, Tad Williams, and Robin Hobb. The booksellers, noticing what I read, would point me toward other books. Recently I had cause to think back to who was attending those signings. Certainly there were “adults” (anyone over eighteen), but there were also a fair number of people my age, specifically a fair number of boys my age.

    I’ve been thinking about this because at the past few reading events I’ve given I haven’t noticed _any_ young men.”

    First, I’d like to point out that small bookstores (heck, even large bookstores) that host author signings (or that can get the publisher to pay for the author to go there) are few and far between, especially these days. You were very lucky to live near enough to bike to such a store (do “helicopter” parents still let kids bike to stores these days? I don’t see it much, personally). On top of that, out here in southern California there are now restrictions on when teenagers can drive and how many teens of a certain age can be in the car at one time, etc., so even if there was a desire to attend a signing/author event, distance, driving regulations and the time the event is held may limit the abilities of the teens to attend or may limit the abilities of parents to take the kids to the event. Second, your novel is only out in hardcover, which is not totally prohibitive, but I know when I was a teen reading sf/fantasy, I was reading books from the school library and buying paperbacks with my allowance and newspaper delivery money; no way could I afford hardcovers, even into early adulthood, so until you have a paperback body of work for kids to afford (or parents to afford, often) you’re not going to see as many boys or girls at your signings. Third, there are now tremendous amounts of juvenile (7-12) and teen (13-?) sf/fantasy books available that were not available when I was a teenager, so I read Andre Norton, Piers Anthony, Alan Dean Foster, just to name a few. In other words, I–and you–read “adult” sf/fantasy books, but kids these days don’t have to do that, so the odds are even greater against them finding Spellwright, buying it and getting to an actual Blake Charlton author event.

    From my personal experiences and from what I’ve seen of children, whether a boy or girl is interested in reading will depend upon parents, siblings/peers, and teachers/librarians, in some sort of mix, and often that mix ends up favoring something other than reading despite everyone’s efforts (or, maybe, because of them :). All you can do is continue writing cool stories and putting yourself in front of young readers, and all I or anyone else who’s not a writer can do is try to make a positive reading impression on whatever young people are around in our day to day lives…and hope that something sticks.

    • Hi Jonathan! Thanks for weighing in on this post. I certainly hope you are right, as that would present a much brighter (from a bibliophile’s point of view) take on the present situation. Spellwright is about to come out in paperback, so I will soon have (at least anecdotal) data as to if that is effective. I wonder also if my experience wasn’t due to being a relatively small fish in a growing pond; I imagine that there are a lot of young men who are presently reading GRRM’s books ;)

  • [...] observation reminded me of this post by author Blake Charlton from last year.  In it, he asks whether the market for speculative fiction books has shifted to cater [...]

  • GammaPaladin

    6:45 pm Sep-14-2011

    Reply

    I started reading very early. I was reading very simple children’s books at two, and by the time I entered kindergarten I was already reading Hardy Boys type YA material.

    I would say that when I was a kid it wasn’t particularly harder to find books for boys than for girls, but I was mostly getting my books from the library, so I couldn’t really say whether or not it was true at the average corner bookstore.

    By the time I was nine or ten I had already fallen in love with the fantasy genre and was reading primarily adult fantasy fiction. I pretty well skipped the YA genre except where I was assigned to read it by my teachers at school.

    Looking back… There was certainly a lot of things pitched explicitly at the teen girl market, and not much pitched at the teen boy market, but I didn’t really notice because I was spending my time reading Eddings and Tad Williams and Raymond E. Feist and Stephen King and so on.

    I read The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion and Terry Brooks’ Shannara work before most kids would be reading their first Judy Bloom books. So the YA genre seemed sort of condescending to me. That was an unfair assumption and in later life I read a lot of it and realized that a lot of the best authors actually write for the YA market, but when you’re 10 you’re sensitive to being treated like a kid.

    Especially when you’re constantly having to prove to the librarian that yes, you can in fact read that book you’re checking out.

    Looking back though, I can think of a few reasons why young males as a group would be somewhat less inclined toward pleasure-reading than young females. To start with, statistically speaking, the male of the species develops reading skills at a slightly slower pace than the female. Which means that more boys than girls get shamed and scolded for poor reading skills, and develop an aversion to the activity.

    That easily leads to boys experiencing negative feedback from their peer group if they -do- read for pleasure, which further discourages it.

    The old adage that girls will read books about boys but boys won’t read books about girls probably also holds some merit, though that seems like less of a reason to pitch books specifically to girls than a reason to write books about boys and get both markets.

    But look at Disney, compare how many movies, tv shows, and physical products they produce for the female demographic as opposed to the male. Probably 80% of Disney’s products are aimed at little girls, and easily 95% of what’s on the Disney channel is. And it’s not like it’s hard to get boys to turn on the TV.

    I think it’s probably true that it’s harder to get boys to read than to get girls to read -on average-, but mostly I’d imagine it’s simply that it’s easier to pitch a product to the young girl demographic than it is to pitch to the young male demographic.

    That’s not specific to the literary market though :)

    • Wow, sorry, just noticed I hadn’t yet responded to this. It’s an interesting point you make–that perhaps modern commercial forces are focusing more on girls than boys. I’ll certainly be thinking about that next time I’m in a bookstore as compared to, say, Target.

  • As the father of two teenaged boys I have found it frustrating at times to find books that I didn’t mind giving to my sons. Many of the fantasy writers today seem to take pleasure in offering R rated material. My boys know all the colorful language they need to know without me handing them new ways to apply the knowledge.

    Orson Scott Card has pointed out that when you include all color language or so called “adult” situations in a book you will limit your audience. He’s right about this. What parent will hand their child a book with things in it that the child is not allowed to discuss out loud at school? Isn’t this habit likely to harm sales in the future as we’re inhibiting the current generation of readers of Sci Fi/Fantasy ( people like me) from introducing their favorite books to their children?

  • Hello Blake,

    I’ve been reading through your older posts, came across this one and just had to put my two pence in.

    As you well know, I am female. I am also, among other things, a reader, a gamer (text and video) and a mom and step-mom of, count them, five boys and two girls.

    The YA and pre-teen market of books is absolutely geared towards the “traditional” girl. As a prior commentator wrote, they are mostly pink and sparkly. I thank the powers that be for JK Rowling and Harry Potter. My oldest son had no interest in books until he picked up HP and he has been reading ever since, even going so far as to troll through the boxes of stored books I had.

    The next two have only minor interest in reading, however their favorite high school class was Shakespeare. I know it had a huge amount to do with the teacher. I do occasionally catch them actually reading others books, and now they have access to my library since it is no longer in storage.

    The next one has other interests and issues which don’t need to be discussed here.

    I have high hopes for my youngest son who is still small. Both his father and I are avid readers who read different sets of authors when we met and ended up merging our tastes. He already shows a love for books and gets very excited when we are in that section in Costco.

    As for the girls who are both older than the boys, they read when they can. They both have children of their own and the younger one is a teacher.

    As for finding books for boys, when the big ones were smaller, the Goosebumps series kept their attention. But if it were me being asked what book / books I would hand to a young (teen) reader to start them off, I would likely skip the youth section all together and head straight for Card’s Ender series and McAffrey’s Pern. If there was a preference for thrillers or spy type novels Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum make the grade. And there is always Michael Crichton who I can’t place fully in any genre.

    If there did seem to be a need for more “youth” oriented novels I would say that Mercedes Lackey’s urban fantasies fit the bill nicely.

    So I’ve rambled a bit…and I must refer to Katie’s comment about “wanting to smash something, cause, you know, not a boy” before I sign off. Right there with you, girlfriend!

    Oh, and my two best buds in school were avid readers too, and one of them is a guy.

    ~I

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