How to get Boys to Read
Everyone in the book industry knows that women read more than men, especially when it comes to fiction. According to numerous surveys conducted in the U.S., Canada, and Britain, women make up 80% of the fiction market. In other words, to quote Ian McEwan, "when women stop reading, the novel will be dead."
I, for one, do not foresee a future in which women stop reading. I have worked in a book store for too long to ever see that happening. Nevertheless, I would get personal satisfaction out of seeing the percentage of male fiction readers experience a bump, or even just a "beump", as Chief Inspector Clouseau might say.
Now, if we want more men to read fiction, it stands to reason we should try getting more boys to read fiction. Many women enjoy fiction as adults because they grew up enjoying it as children. Perhaps boys are too busy playing in dirt, collecting bugs, beating each other up, and maintaining their scab collections to bother reading novels, but here are some possible ways of encouraging young males to pick up a freaking book for once:
Tell them reading is rebellious.
Because it is. Too many boys think reading is uncool. Where does this notion come from, I wonder? Maybe they are being exposed to too many so-called "moral" books in school -- books that purport to teach them to be "better people" -- which has led them to distrust stories. Boys won't want to read if they think they're going to learn a lesson. Try leaving a stack of banned or controversial novels on your coffee table with a note that says Dangerous: Do Not Touch, and watch how quickly they make off with them.
Tell them that if they read, girls (or boys) will like them.
Because they will. While it appears to be true that being a nerd is "in" right now, wearing thick-rimmed glasses and possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of Joss Whedon's oeuvre simply won't suffice when it comes to wooing the object of their affection. But a familiarity with literature just may do the trick. Even if their date doesn't recognize the literary references they're dropping, they'll come off as smart, eloquent, and even a little mysterious. Soon they'll find out that the biggest sexual organ really is the brain.
Tell them the book is better than the movie.
Because it probably is. There are some notable exceptions -- Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride, and Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest come immediately to mind -- but for the most part, an adapted film is likely a tamer, less detailed, dumbed-down, jumbled, and less satisfying version of its words-on-paper counterpart. The next time a teenage boy you know watches Troy and thinks it's the best thing ever, hand him a copy of The Iliad and tell him Brad Pitt is a sissy.
Tell them reading will make them rich.
Because it won't. This one is a blatant lie, albeit a white one. But telling a white lie every now and again can sometimes engender positive results. Reading ignites the intelligence you already have, but may not be putting to use. It will enrich your vocabulary, improve your syntax, increase your ability to conceptualize, and make you a better communicator in general -- all things that will come in handy in future job interviews. Reading certainly won't make them any poorer, at least not culturally.