It is said that men don’t read fiction anymore. Sadly, that statement can be backed up with hard data indicating its tragic accuracy. More importantly, young men don’t read fiction, meaning that by the time they reach middle age, the chances of them ever doing so in their lifetimes are slim to none.
This article wasn’t intended to point out the obvious handicap of adults not reading. A 2007 NPR study already did that, including the not-at-all surprising statistics regarding how often Americans in particular watch TV as opposed to reading. For pleasure reading in particular has been hardest hit, a fact those of us who write fiction find appalling and frightening in equal measure.
More recently, a 2013 poll indicated that twenty-eight percent of Americans had not read a book in the past year. Oddly enough, psychoanalysts are currently attempting to explain away the so-called “Fiction Gap” by saying women have more empathetic brains than men, meaning they are more drawn to words and ideas and emotions than their male counterparts. This sexy theory makes no attempt to explain why men used to be the primary readers in our society.
One of the major theories behind why young males aren’t reading fiction is that all one needs to do is look around to see how female-centric it has become. And while that may be true on some levels, it fails to take into account how and why we reached this point in the first place. If male readers were just as numerous as females at one time, what happened to change that reality? What are males not getting, or at least what do they perceive is lacking?
Simply put, more and more males are regarding reading as a “feminine” activity. Males have either been conditioned or conditioned themselves into viewing “all that reading” as a waste of time that could be better spent on something productive. The very concept of bettering one’s self via leaps of imagination is just as alien to them as the idea that one can actually learn factual information from much of the fiction on the bookshelves. They don’t believe it.
It isn’t uncommon to hear many Americans says things such as, “I only read for information.” Surely the Internet had been most influential in that but there’s something to be said for males not reading because they don’t feel that the male experience is being written about in a relatable way.
When my debut novel, “Dreamers at Infinity’s Core,” was published, I was amazed by how many teenage and young males felt a strong connection to the two male protagonists. It later occurred to me that they reacted that way because most stories in the contemporary dark fantasy genre either revolve around plucky females or feature males whose perfection is often off the charts in a blatant and pandering attempt to appeal to a female readership.
By contrast, my characters were fallible, relatively normal guys caught up in extraordinary situations. Since then, it has been obvious to me that males would read if they knew which books spoke to them and who they are. In this era of information overload, it’s difficult for them to know, and frankly, their teachers and professors probably aren’t much help with their pre-approved list of classics. If males are going to read again, they need a buy-in. So, here is a list of five authors whose works, while certainly of general appeal, deal meaningfully with the male experience.
David Wong- When I first ran across Wong’s debut novel, “John Dies at the End,” I was a bit perturbed at its similarities to my own “Dreamers at Infinity’s Core.” Not because it wasn’t a great novel with colorful characters and cool otherworldly goings-on, but because my came out first, so there! Still, the above mentioned novel and its sequel “This Book is Full of Spiders” are both perfect examples of relatable male characters and incredibly involving storytelling.
David Mitchell- British novelist Mitchell’s brilliance shines through on every page of his best work. The hyper-reality of his novels taps directly into the male urge to question one’s environment and rebel against what we do not find agreeable. That isn’t to say females don’t also experience this, but it’s rare that a current author so deftly portrays it from a male perspective without hammering it into the reader’s mind. “Ghostwritten,” “Number 9 Dream” and “Cloud Atlas” are chockfull of insight and genius and any intellectual curious person should read all three.
Max Barry- Sometimes the male perspective doesn’t have to involve male protagonists. Australian author Barry is that rare male author of speculative fiction who can write good female characters as well as male. His books are a pleasure to read because he gets the one thing many critics of the lack of male-centered novels don’t: It isn’t about having guys who like to belch and scratch and lust after women. Those things are okay, too, but it’s the story that matters most. Barry’s iconoclasm and sidelong glances at the stupider aspects of our society are perfect fodder for young males looking to connect with the concept of not accepting everything they’ve been spoon-fed. I highly recommend all of his books, but “Lexicon” and “Jennifer Government” are guaranteed to connect even more than the rest.
S.G. Browne- Males tend to be drawn to authors who are all over the map in regards to their creative output and Browne certainly fits that bill. Another strong male voice, this author wrote the definite zombie love story with “Breathers” and the ultimate tale of fate with the aptly titled “Fated.” Browne writes about love from the male perspective with all the self-loathing insecurity we experience the moment we fall for someone. Darkly funny and irreverent, this author could make any reluctant male a reader.
Chuck Palahniuk- The “Fight Club” and “Choke” author may often deal with female protagonists in his work, but he is undeniably a guy. From his depictions of mangled supermodels to angry young men with identity problems and adults film stars with delusions of grandeur, this man has single-handedly reshaped the landscape for males, writers and readers alike. Despite a dry period, any Palahniuk book is an event. And in case you don’t think he’s cool, the author has even admitted that a large amount of his fans who show up for book signings are bikers!