Thursday, July 12, 2012

The McKays on Why Men Should Read Fiction

Over at The Art of Manliness, Brett and Kate McKay present the case for why men should read fiction. Excerpt:
While many men have stacks of books accumulating on their "to-read" pile, chances are that pile is composed primarily of non-fiction tomes. For the past 20 years or so, the publishing industry has noted a precipitous decline in the number of men reading fiction. Some reports show that men make up only 20% of fiction readers in America today.

There are a lot of reasons thrown around as to why many men today don't read fiction. Perhaps they had a bad experience with it in high school and swore they'd never read a novel again as long as they lived. It's possible that the male brain is just naturally more drawn to the straightforward, fact-driven nature of non-fiction. And some have suggested that men are getting their storytelling fix from the many excellent narrative non-fiction books that have come out in the past decade (e.g., The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Into Thin Air).

Whatever the reason, cognitive studies are beginning to show that men might be short-shrifting themselves by avoiding the fiction section in the bookstore and library. Today we make the case for why you need to put down those business books every once in a while and pick up a copy of Hemingway.
Read the whole thing. The McKays list a number of worthwhile benefits, such as increasing empathy, creativity and the ability to interact socially. And those are all great things. But I'd add that fiction opens up entire new realms of delight, and delight is what we're always seeking, be it in a ball game or a craft beer or any other typically manly pursuit.

(Picture: CC 2011 by Vermont Historical Society; Hat Tip: Brandywine Books)

5 comments:

F.T. Bradley said...

Fiction challenges the brain, I think.

Great post. It's topic dear to my heart, because I write for tween boys. I hope those of us middle-grade and YA will be able to keep guys' attention in fiction; it seems the loss of interest starts during the teen years.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

I wonder if the less male readership is a reflection of the masculinity of Hollywood? Superhero movies seem to be the flavor of the decade, replacing, say, the 90's balance between crazy action movies and crazy romantic comedies. So we have a gradient from Avengers (men have fun beating each other up for fun and profit) to Nolan's Batman series (an almost Virgilian celebration of one man's ability to bear the burdens of his society.) That's a lot of grist for men trying to figure out what it means to be masculine in our present environment, so maybe men just don't feel they need to turn to the written word for examples or entertainment.

If women are more hard-wired and/or socialized to thrive on complex interpersonal and social relationships, well, about the only place where that shows up is in books. Virginia Woolf argued that the novel (as opposed, I think, to the adventure story) was primarily a women's genre. Since then, Hollywood has figured out how to bring adventures to the wide screen, but has abandoned the more psychological form of the novel.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

Other random question: how often is "delight" tied to the exercising (and developing) our own talents? I enjoy making beer, playing first-person shooters, and home renovation partially because they represent both tests of my skillset and opportunities to broaden my expertise. Often, it seems, the deepest pleasure in literature is when it feels equally "challenging" in one way or another.

Sure, there's always a limited delight in watching a likable hero emerge victorious over a wicked villain. But I get much more involved when I get to work for my entertainment--either matching wits with Phillip Marlowe, trying to understand the dark implications of Frodo's moral failure, or puzzling together the opaque and Borgesian fragmented stories of Jeff VanderMeer or Gene Wolfe.

If books are to truly delight us, I think we need to get beyond seeing them as "mere entertainment," and start seeing the act of reading as akin to sports, hunting, beer-making, or any other delightful activity that requires the careful and sophisticated use of human skill.

Loren Eaton said...

F.T.,

Have you ever read John Christopher's The White Mountains? I've found it an excellent way to interest boys in lit. It has action, intrigue, mystery, all sorts of good stuff.

Loren Eaton said...

CR,

Other random question: how often is "delight" tied to the exercising (and developing) our own talents? ... If books are to truly delight us, I think we need to get beyond seeing them as "mere entertainment," and start seeing the act of reading as akin to sports, hunting, beer-making, or any other delightful activity that requires the careful and sophisticated use of human skill.

That's a really good point. I derive a great deal of pleasure from parsing books -- figuring out the author's intent, looking at the techniques he used, deciding what it can teach me about my own writing. It's fun. It's work. It's both!