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.