Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope of Someone Saying Something Intelligent?

So, you know, whatever. A person stumbles across an internet link at a late hour, the link is Old Dude Thinks Ladies Are the Problem: this is not a new story, in the history of stories. Why this particular column rubbed us so far the wrong way is a mystery--maybe it was the general reek of condescension ("The current surge in children’s literature has been fueled by talented young female novelists fresh from M.F.A. programs who in earlier times would have been writing midlist adult fiction"); maybe it was the mental image of Mr. Lipsyte in a (custom, no less) baseball jersey; maybe it was that fucking illustration. We are no fan, as regular readers know well, of the White Girl Het-Loves Monster Cash Grab that is the bulk (but certainly not all! and fair exceptions, how we cherish you!) of contemporary commercial YA; but we are not fucking dumb enough to argue that the problem is vagina. The problem, y'all, is who's in charge--and who's in charge was not, last time we checked, the ladies.

We missed the halcyon era of no-girls-allowed boy-reading that took our fair nation by storm in those misty, rosy-tinted days of yore so compellingly evoked by Mr. Lipsyte. From what we can remember, boys didn't read much when we were a kid either, although we were too busy trying to figure out how to get Gary Oldman to sleep with us to put a lot of energy into researching the literary inclinations of our peers. The boys we knew who read, read what we did--the Dragonlance series in elementary school, Kerouac (got over it) and Derrida (didn't) in high school; and that probably tells you all you need to know about both the nascent Rejectionist and her young gentleman friends. Yes, there were lots of books about boys then. Here's a secret: there are lots of books about boys now. As our beloved Chérie l'Ecrivain so aptly noted, they often get shelved in adult fiction, because stories about teenage boys are so much more universal in their appeal than all that boring shit about periods and crying, or whatever it is that teenage girls get up to. A politically inclined person might point out that the problem is not, and never has been, a dearth of stories about boys--you want us to list off complex, moving stories about boys that explore difficult emotions and tough decisions, we'd be here all night, and we need to finish this whiskey and get back to BSG. Can we just pony up for once and admit, collectively, that the problem is a culture that raises boys to be sociopaths? We have been blessed with some stellar men in our life, and they all have one thing in common: they made a conscious choice to be allies, to be friends, to work every day to unlearn the truly terrifying messages our culture inculcates in its men. They all manage to read books just fine.

We would imagine that you could argue that boys read far more now than they ever did, thanks to the monolith that is Harry Potter. We do not have any concrete statistical evidence for this claim, but neither do any of the gents (and ladies! thanks, y'all, for doing that hard and ever-unrewarding work of calling feminism's bluff; with sisters like you, who needs the Men's Rights Movement) currently trolling the op-ed circuit with their gussied-up lament of "somebody got pussy up in here, and it sure stinks." Mr. Lipsyte is no stranger to the perils of being a man in a woman's world; his home press, Harper Collins, is in fact the property of that most famous of hairy-legged man-haters, Rupert Murdoch himself. Who can blame Mr. Lipsyte, then, for his yearning for such classics as The Chocolate War, a book that is refreshingly devoid of vagina and its many complications altogether. ("Editors who ask writers of books for boys to include girl characters--for commercial reasons--further blunt the edges," Mr. Lipsyte notes; one can hardly imagine the nightmare these poor emasculated writers must endure.) Indeed, young men persecuted by their peers is a sorely underexplored topic in the annals of fiction. It's not like Lord of the Flies gets taught to every American high school student ever in the history of time or anything.

Mr. Lipsyte chooses to close his piece with a condemnation of the current crop of "sports novels with preachy moral messages," followed briskly (but surely not shamelessly) with a synopsis of his own novel, Raiders Night--a book that sounds rather, to our untutored ear, like a sports novel with a preachy moral message. "They even talked, gingerly, about playing because Dad wants you to and how you could be kept in line by the fear of being called a girl or gay," Mr. Lipsyte writes movingly of the desperate young athletes drawn to his fiction. (Can you imagine a more oppressed figure than the high-school football player? Us neither.) Funny thing is, that fear sounds kind of like a spot-on description of misogyny in action. But what do we know. We're just a girl.