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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

I Really do Mean Easy

Boys and Reading — A Short Success Story

This has been a crazy week for my older son’s travel baseball team — tonight is the fourth game in five nights. Going to so many games gives the parents — the same ones come to all the games — plenty of time to chat. One mom was worried. Her son is one of the best players on the team. Watching his great batting form, seeing him pounce on a little dribbler in front of the plate and whip a strike to the first baseman, cheering as he makes a diving grab at second, it is clear that his skill comes from endless practice and attention. He plays wells because it means so much to him, and he has devoted endless hours to honing his skills. But, his mother laments, he will not read.

Of course I gave him the Deb Hanson example and talked about boys and sports nonfiction. No luck, she answered. She went to the store to buy the biography of some recent star, and the only books on the shelves were Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa — to which her son properly said "I won’t read about them, they took drugs." But I’m not so sure a biography is the place to start anyway. I asked my son, what would he recommend and, without skipping a beat, he said " Dan Gutman’s World Series Classics. As he correctly rememebered, the book is dedicated to "kids who hate to read but love baseball." It is not that the book is so amazing, or current — it is neither. But Sasha has read it over and over again and he knew it was a winner. He told me, I told the mom, her son keeps asking when he can get the book (we forgot to bring it to the last game, will tonight).

But look at this obvious sequence:  boy loves baseball, does not read. Mom keeps not being able to figure out how to use his passion to get him into book. Another boy who loves both reading and baseball has a favorite. Problem solved. Word of mouth. All that is required is finding a few good matches — those leaders, such as Deb found in Florida, who see that, yes, some books are cool. Once they love a book, their word convinces the others to try. The key is simply to be open to what the boys want to read — not trying to guide them where we wish they would go. And once the fire is lit, it spreads.

Addendum: I’ve also formed a book club for men, and we all read….nonfiction. The first book was on the history of finance, second on the "great game" — Russia and England dueling over Afghanistan; the third about Ivar Krueger — the titan of finance who crashed in 1932, and next up is Lewis and Clark. We love getting together, doing a bit of reading, trading war stories about the economy. What the boys do on their baseball team we do in the living room — share interests, experiences, and some reading based on our interests. It really does work.


  1. Marc, I couldn’t agree more. Last year I was blessed to start a high school reading class which, believe it or not, had more boys signed up than girls and the same will hold true this year. I worried about finding books the guys would like, but it turned out that they advised each other and taught me in the process. Whoever says guys won’t read hasn’t been listening!

  2. Nothing works as well as word of mouth, we just have to pay attention to what teenagers are saying.