I Am Giving a Talk on Boys and Reading In Illinois
(Peoria, June 11th), and working on the speech got me to thinking. Surely many of you know the basic arguments — Jon Sciezcka made them in that fall 2007 issue of the Horn Book that was devoted to boy and girl reading. Those of us who recall being boy readers — and those of you who are particularly attentive to the boys in your midst — notice that, all too often, "reading" is conflated with fiction, and, especially, the kind of fiction in which observations about character, feeling, internal development are the best parts of the book. Plot-based fiction, funny books, nonfiction — much less websites, baseball cards, and instruction books — are all seen as poor relations of real "reading," which involves those astutue explorations of self, friendship, and point of view.
But even as I wrote my talk, I realized that I may be just as wrong as the heedless interior-novel-lovers. I realized that while they blur "reader" and "the reader I was when I was a girl," I blur "boys who read, but not fiction" with "reluctant readers" and "nonreaders." In fact there is even a fourth blur — which was most true of me "boys who will read interior fiction, and even like it, but in a mix of much other reading." And then with the force of revelation I understood the real problem in how we speak about boys and reading: we know so little about it that we do not have a good typology of the spectrum of boy reading, in all its variables: the boys whose dads are professionals and read all the time, the boys whose dads never read outside of the sports page, the boys devoted to fantasy or spy series, the boys who give up reading any fiction, no matter how action packed, on the first page.
We need to break down the big category of "young reader" into its many sub-categories, and then begin to see what characterizes each. Otherwise we are just shifting around our mythologies, substituting one set of memories merged with observations for another. In this wider view, surely interior fiction will lose its pride of place, nonfiction will rise, and we will discover many styles, kinds, and types of reading — just as Roni Jo suggested. The one first step I urge in the speech is that we all begin by questioning our assumptions about what "real reading" is — so that we can notice what is actually going on around us.