Last night, I spent some time chatting with some teenage boys. We were heading in to see a movie, and I happened to be wearing a Boys Don’t Read t-shirt. They took exception.
“What does that mean?” The first said, pointing to my shirt – and yes, he was holding a book. I explained the blog, even mentioned how Jeff would be leading a panel about the Elusive Guy Reader at Wordstock.
“What?” They said, in unison.
“Pretty weak,” said his brother, who happens to be the starting running back on the football team. And also president of his class.
“Bliss, you need to tell these people that we’re not elusive – we’re right here.”
Well, okay. Suddenly the whole Boys Don’t Read schtick didn’t seem so funny, right? Or maybe that’s justification setting in – the realization that we are, in fact, right in what we’ve been blathering on about for the past months. Because guys do read. And some of them happen to read a lot.
So, of course, I asked what they liked to read – if they read YA.
Football Star: “YA? No. I read mostly fantasy and science fiction.”
His Brother: “I’ll read anything. I’ve read John Green and other YA. I’ve even read… Twilight.”
Football Star (to his brother): “What?”
Football Star: “Are you in love with Edward?”
Me: “Okay, let’s keep this on-topic.”
Football Star: “Wait – have YOU read Twilight?”
Me: “Hey, what do you guys think of ninjas?”
That conversation carried on until we walked into the movie theater. And I can’t help but wonder if we’re framing this conversation in the wrong way.
What if, instead of bemoaning the fact that Boys Don’t Read, we lifted up and encouraged the ones who do? What if we created programs that assumed some guys like to read and, you know, actually made it something they’d want to go to (here’s a thought: have a boys book club that meets at the same time as a girls book club… let biology work for us, people.) Because maybe they’re thinking: “Wait… I like to read… What’s wrong with me?” Maybe being a teenager already comes with too much anxiety, too many self-esteem issues.
Of course, I could be guilty of operating with a very small sample. Either way, last night I sat and watched a movie with two guys who were anything but elusive. It made me begin to question what it means to advocate for Boy Books and programs that target male readership. It made me ask difficult questions about what I write, all the things I say whenever this topic comes up. Because as they said – they’re standing right here.