Boy Books

Posted: November 19, 2011 in Books, General Musings
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

If you haven’t heard of Sam Sykes, I recommend* his work to you, both his novels and his blog. In particular, I recommend his most recent post, which has to do with the label “boy books.”

Like Sykes, I’m suspicious of labels, especially regarding books. I see their marketing value, because let’s face it: people hate making decisions. Labels help narrow down the choices people want to consider, which, ideally, leads to them buying something instead of walking out the store empty-handed. But labels can be abused to the point of actually harming the work they apply to. Take for instance science fiction and fantasy novels. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of people who’ve listened to all my measured, supported reasons for why a great deal of science fiction and fantasy have literary value and should be treated seriously only to respond with, “Okay, yeah, whatever, but you have to admit. It’s just not as good as normal fiction.” That’s usually the point when I put my head through a wall. Keeping all that in mind, there is only one reason I support using the label “boy book,” and I’m not even sure how good of a reason it is: it’s meant to help young boys feel like it’s okay to read.

Boys are told they don’t enjoy something as touchy-feely as reading the same way girls are told they’re no good in math and science. Of course, civilized, reasonable, rational people recognize that neither of these assertions is particularly true, and their perpetuation is a serious injustice that is still a long way from being fixed. Theoretically, labeling a book as one for boys could perhaps interest an underserved demographic. It’s a small step to breaking down the rigid expectations of the masculine gender, but it’s a step nonetheless.

Of course, I’ve heard this same argument applied to the Twilight books: “Yes, they’re horrible, but at least it’s gotten young people reading for once.” Having worked in a book store, I’m perfectly familiar with the people who lose their minds over Twilight. But trying to tell a Twihard their favorite series is the literary equivalent of an outhouse is like trying to tell a five-year-old that candy is in fact not food and that you need actual nutrition to stay healthy. So, my support for the label “boy book” is definitely tenuous.

Beyond luring young boys into the habit of reading books, I think the label has no value. In fact, for any other use, I find it divisive and insulting. While wondering what the label actually means, Sykes writes, “A boy book is a book that deals with habits or subjects that would appeal to boys. Violence, action, bloodshed, bodily functions or, in the case of this book, thinking about thinking.” I have to admit I was rather irate at the insinuation that a book about “thinking about thinking” made it more appealing to boys than girls. To clarify, I know this was not Sykes’s insinuation but rather that of the NPR reviewer, which really makes it all the more shocking.

Isn’t NPR supposed to be run by dirty liberal hippies? And one of their reviewers would actually go so far as to suggest that a book about thinking about thinking is inherently less appealing to girls/women? I hate feeling offended, so I wish I knew which book was being reviewed so that I could listen to this ninnyhammer for myself. I’d really like to regret calling him a ninnyhammer because that would mean he’s not and that he doesn’t actually have the caveman perspective that philosophical subjects are too boring/arduous for the delicate female mind.

In general, I find all the questions regarding what’s appealing to men and what’s appealing to women to be frustrating and overthought. Can’t we just like the things we like without it saying something more about our levels of estrogen and testosterone? Resist the pigeonholes, people!

 

*I have two criteria for recommending authors: I must have personally enjoyed their work, and they have to not be douchebags. Generally, I give authors the benefit of the doubt (that is, that they’re not douchebags) until I find out otherwise, but I had the pleasure of attending one of Sam Sykes’s readings and discovering that he does in fact meet the second criterion. But if I ever discover he, I don’t know, eats babies’ fingers, OFF THE LIST HE GOES!

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