Guys Don’t Read?

Heather and I were having some milkshakes the other night at our local Steak ‘n Shake, where we ran into two of my former students. I chatted them both up (they’re a couple) about things I remembered their being interested in. For the girl, that meant the Twilight series. (For the record, I haven’t read a single word of the books nor seen a single second of the movies.)

At some point, the young man interjected that he’d recently read a book, too, about business. He couldn’t remember the title, though, and he’d finished reading it a few months earlier.

Like any good lady friend, his girlfriend came to his defense. Her blithe response to his forgetting the title?

“Well, you know, guys don’t read.”

I fought back the urge to take umbrage at this remark. OK, not really. I knew it was offhand and not exactly true. But it still frustrated me.

See, I’ve always been a reader, or at least since I learned how to read. I’d fake illness as a kid so I could stay home from school to read a book. I’d read a book under my desk while the teacher lectured. I’d check out the maximum number of books from the library.

Among my group of friends in I high school, I was known as “the reader.” I finished every book we were assigned in school, so my peers would ask me for summaries and explanations. When we rented or bought new video games, my friends would toss me the instruction book and issue the command “Read it. Tell us what we can’t figure out just by playing.” While my buddies skimmed Sports Illustrated focusing on the “illustrated” part, I would pore over every article.

I majored in English in college. I still go to the public library once a month. I recommend books, ask for them for Christmas and birthdays, and regularly receive gift cards to Barnes & Noble. I’m a reader.

So I know it’s not true that “Guys don’t read.” But I also know that reading is seen as a sort of “amasculine” activity, and this fact frustrates me a great deal. For one, because I read, and I consider myself a [burgeoning] man. For another, I know lots of Real Men who read–regularly.  Still, I have to acknowledge that guys have bought into this notion, too–we typically don’t start book clubs.

Here’s where I stand on masculinity and reading: I think everybody should be reading something meaningful all the time–not just men. So I think gender is kind of a weak excuse for not reading. Gender might be the reason we don’t cry, share our feelings, or wear pantyhose. But it’s not the reason we don’t read–that’s something else altogether.

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Books for Real Men: All the Pretty Horses

You might not see much value in reviewing an 18-year old novel.  But when that novel is as awesome and essential as Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, well…I couldn’t assuage my conscience if I thought there were people out there who didn’t know about this story.  I mean, the only reason not to read this book is if you’re against taming wild mustangs, forbidden love, knife fights, and other general awesomry.

I’m not going into plot summary or other detailed descriptions of the novel because I don’t want to undermine any of its impact, so feel free to orient yourself on the book here. I hope, though, that what I mention below will be enough to intrigue you.

Much like a certain David Allan Coe song, this book is the perfect western novel:

It is set in Texas, though much of the action takes place in Mexico.

It features horses prominently.

The cowboys have cowboy names–John Grady Cole, Lacey Rawlins.  You just know these dudes have wry smiles, dry humor, and the kind of independence and self-sufficiency that put John Wayne, the Marlboro Man, and Bear Grylls to shame.

The poor cowboy falls for the beautiful ranch owner’s daughter, and he just won’t let pesky socio-economic issues prevent him from requiting her love.

As heretofore mentioned, it features a knife fight.

It shows a corrupt sheriff forced to his reckoning.

It shows that two hombres can stick up for each other, can be real friends, Lennie-Small-and-George-Milton-style.

**********

Now, down to the nitty-gritty.  I really like this book, maybe even consider it my favorite novel ever, because it works on both the great-story level and the meaningful-ideas level.  Here’s an excerpt in which the main character considers the nature of evil:

He imagined the pain of the world to be like some formless parasitic being seeking out the warmth of human souls wherein to incubate and he thought he knew what made one liable to its visitations. What he had not known was that it was mindless and so had no way to know the limits of those souls and what he feared was that there might be no limits.

This novel challenges its reader on so many levels (not the least of which is the non-standard punctuation and grammar).  Among those challenges are the most difficult kind, the kind which prompt the reader to evaluate man’s relation to the cosmos, to the divine.  And again, McCarthy does so while telling a freaking awesome story. (The book even won all kind of awards and stuff…if you don’t believe me, just look at 1992’s winner of this prize, or 1992’s winner of this prize, both in fiction.  And yes, Billy Bob Thornton made a crappy film edition of this novel, and whereas the typical axiom is “Read the book first, then see the movie”, I’d say “Read the book, then spend the 2+ hours you’d have spent watching the movie doing something more pleasant, like alphabetizing the non-perishable items in your pantry.”)

Check this novel out from the library, buy it used on amazon, borrow it from me…whatever you do, read it.  You can thank me later, probably after you can’t resist reading the last two novels of the trilogy which AtPH begins.

Books for Real Men: Where the Red Fern Grows

The beginning of a new series: Books for Real Men.

Since real men read (we don’t need a post for that premise—we can accept it ipso facto), a series on books for real men seems worthwhile.

My first suggestion is Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. (That is a manly name…you almost have to growl it. Like a redbone hound would growl it.)

The following is a list of why this book is manly (I’ve done my best to avoid major spoilers).

1.) It teaches companionship. Big Dan and Little Ann stick together from the moment Billy carves their names in that tree by the fire. Billy’s bond with his dogs goes beyond friendship. Since we’ve already determined that no man is an island, we can now add that dogs are an acceptable addition to (but not substitute for) his cadre of companions.

2.) It teaches loyalty. A life is willingly sacrificed to save other lives. Another being (might be canine, might be human…don’t want to give too much away) dies of loneliness and separation. I might even say this book defines loyalty, the same way Spider Man 3 defines terrible sequel.

3.) It teaches fiscal responsibility. Billy saves money to buy a dog (and is rewarded for his patience), he acts generously toward his family with his funds, and his family puts Billy’s earnings and winnings from raccoon hunting toward a larger goal.

4.) It teaches how to care for animals. Now, lest I unintentionally invite PETA into this mix, let me just say I’m not about to address the merits of hunting for sport. But real men know how the animal kingdom works. For instance, a real man might learn—as Billy does—that a raccoon will never let go of a shiny object once it’s in his fist. He also knows that rarely does a domesticated animal arrive into the world vicious; instead, he’s made that way by humans. This knowledge has multiple useful applications.

5.) It teaches delayed gratification. Billy has to wait to get his dogs. Billy has to raise and train his dogs until they hunt. He has to complete chores before he hunts. And sometimes he hunts without results. Real men—mature men…as if there were other kind—know that the best results often aren’t immediate; life isn’t like some chintzy gumball machine in which you place your quarter and get your chew.

6.) It shows the value of independence.  Billy walks through the woods to the booming metropolis of Tahlequah, OK (where he single-handedly takes on a group of snot-nosed city kids for messing with his dogs–and also shows the already-established importance of fighting for what you believe in), picks up the dogs himself, returns home through the same woods, and faces his justifiably frightened-out-of-their-gingham-dress-and-cotton-overalls-parents with the honest explanation that he had to go get his dogs.

7.) As we’ve already been informed, real men cry. And if you don’t cry as you finish this book…forget about becoming a man. You need to focus on becoming a human!