Why Men (and Boys) Don’t Read - My MLA Presentation
Yesterday I had the great pleasure of delivering a presentation at the Maryland Library Association’s annual conference in Cambridge, Maryland at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay. My topic was “Why Men (and Boys) Don’t Read,” based partly on my book Men Don’t Read: The Unlikely Story of the Guys Book Club. (The book is available here, at Amazon, and the usual online places.)
(photo: Harry Brake)
Like most conferences and conventions, MLA had multiple events running at the same time as my presentation, so I was delighted and amazed to have 37 people in attendance, several of whom were my coworkers at AACPL. (Thank you all!)
Although most of my book focuses on men and reading, I spent significant time yesterday talking about the problems of boys and reading. If you want some sobering information, just Google “boys and reading” and see what you find. There are many reasons why this is a problem, but one of the issues I focused on involves a generalization (yet one that’s often true) that boys are more interested in reading about things they can use right now. That might include how to shoot more baskets, run faster, build a treehouse, play Minecraft better, or something else. Boys generally (there go those generalizations again) want to read something that’s going to pay off now, not weeks, months, or years from now.
So if we can identify the activities boys like and find a way to work reading into those activities, we have a greater chance than we would if we just kept reminding them of the importance of reading. (Not a topic they're very jazzed about.) I gave several strategies for such activities, some of which I found in a book called Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys: Literacy in the Lives of Young Men (2002) by Michael Smith and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm. Although the book is over 20 years old, the information in it is still valid. (And you can find it cheap on the used market.)
But we also talked about reading for girls, men, and women. We are in a place right now (which is partly due to COVID, but we can’t totally blame this on the pandemic) where people of all ages are reading less. Oddly enough, this is a time when more books are available than ever in so many different formats. I talked about some of the reasons why reading is not generally a priority for our society and why the problem isn’t new. More importantly, I discussed what we can do about it.
I was overwhelmed at the number of people I talked with after the presentation who told me they couldn’t wait to get home and try some of these methods and techniques I discussed. I was delighted to hear this, but told them I don’t have all the answers. We all have to work together: librarians, teachers, and parents. We have to share our resources, our victories, and even our defeats. It’s a long game we’re playing here, and we have to be patient.
By the way, I attended other presentations at MLA, all of which were terrific, but the best one was led by Barb Langridge who runs A Book and a Hug, a fantastic website for helping determine a reader’s personality type, which greatly helps in recommending and choosing books for readers of any age.
My entire MLA experience was tremendous, but if there was a disappointment, it was the fact that the presentations were not recorded. Yet if you would like for me to speak to a group in your area, please let me know. You can reply here or contact me via Twitter @awolverton77. (Although my book covers some of this material, the focus on younger readers is more prominent in my in-person presentation.) Again, feel free to contact me if you’re interested.
In the meantime, keep fighting the good fight. Reading is for everyone, for all ages and all groups of people. Keep reading!