Do real men read books?

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Is it true? Do real men read books? Of course, it’s not. Because there’s no such thing as a real man. If a man is defined by strength, money, position or any other meaningless attribute, what’s the point? Where do such distinctions get us?

One of the few truths I know is that reading changes everything

I had troubles reading and writing when I was a child, and I didn’t understand much because I didn’t know much. Today I know about most things because I can read.

I’ve been listening to a bird for the past few days. (See picture below) It drinks from our birdbath and sits in a tree in my courtyard chirping away. It makes the one same chirping sound every three seconds, I know because it’s driving me mad. What is it saying? I don’t know because I don’t understand it. We don’t speak the same language. This is what life was like before I could read; with reading came understanding.

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I may not be able to understand birds, but I can understand most things today. Books have been the catalyst for almost everything in my life. The promotion of books to men is something I’ve been on about for years and so have others. Below are a few sites that are trying to get “real” men to read books.

Male Teachers Show That Real Men Read

Learn United’s Real Men Read Project

The Real Men Read Program

Houston Real Men Read Blog

Real Men Read Week

These sites are North American. Where are the Australian websites and programs? It’s been my experience that getting men to read books, especially books written by women is near impossible. After forty years of reading and writing, I’d take a guess and say that there are more female authors in Australia than male, now. So by my calculations that means if men are not reading as much as women, and especially not reading female authors, they are missing out on more than 50% of all literature written here in Australia.

That’s a poor statistic in my opinion; worse than that, I can see it’s a mindset that looks like it might never change unless we do something about it.

I wish more men would get involved in reading

I’ve been trying to coax men for years to get involved in literature, from poetry to book clubs. I’ve had little success. I’ve been running DiVerse for 10 years, we’re a group who transcribes visual art into poetry. I’ve asked many male poets to join the group, not one has taken up the offer.

This is the problem. Most men don’t want to be involved because it’s not something a “real” man does. I can see how this thinking infests itself into so many levels of Australian society. Maybe things are changing though, I’ve heard of male only book clubs. But I wonder if they only read male authors?

I read The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser. It is an excellent read. How I wish I could write like this. It’s my opinion that one day she will win the Nobel Prize for literature. This book came to me through a suggestion from my book club. A female member had found out about The Australian Women Writers Challenge and that inspired us to choose a book by an Australian female author.

I’d love to start the Australian Men Writers Challenge, but I couldn’t. Because men wouldn’t want to be involved in setting it up. Would you mate?

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20 Comments

    • Hi HMC,
      I agree, it’s no good. How does anyone begin to tackle this problem? My experience tells me that only when a a large part of the community get involved, then can change attitudes. I don’t see a lot people wanting to change the way men think or what they read. But this is what needs to be changed.

      How are we going to do this?

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      Cheers

      Rob

      • Just by talking about things, the wheels of change begin to turn. This is something I would like to take to my team. I am a Primary School teacher and work in Learning Support. It is disheartening when the boys get to a certain age and lose interest in books. To see men like you, calling for change, makes you a role model for these boys. So please don’t let the frustration win out. Lots of respect for what you are doing.

  1. I love this idea that there are websites out there to get “real men to read books.” How insane. I love this because my boyfriend and I live two hours away and he is currently reading me his favorite book over the phone. Real men do read : )

  2. Hi Rob,

    Awesome post!

    1) A few men do read but I think most of them that do read don’t see any reason to discuss what they read so I feel there is a silent majority amongst the male readers.

    2) If they aren’t reading books by women when they do read which is the premise made by the AWW that most books discussed are written by men and you are also right that a) most men don’t read and b) most Australian authors are female then doesn’t that mean that most of Australian literature written currently is ignored by probably nearly half the population that does read?

    3) I have no answers for you on how to get more men involved in reading though I know men who do write or want to write. And unfortunately, from my experience talking to men who read, Australian reading men seem to be fans of a few authors: Hunter S Thompson, Kerouac, Pratchett, Bukowski, Henry Miller. This fine but they do not seem to venture outside these authors. Some only explore within a genre. None seem to read an Australian author unless it is Tim Winton. No one is stating that these aren’t good writers because they are in their own way but it is also sad that they do not wish to explore or read more from Australian Literature or even other genres.

    So unfortunately for me, because I like guys who are well read, the Australian male to me is someone who pines for ’60s America, worships Kerouac, alarms me by thinking Bukowski is a role model for treating women and can only prove he has a sense of humour by the fact that he reads Pratchett. Oh and he writes, he’s writing a book with swear words tossed in where they don’t need to be and the opening scenes have something to do with a dead dog on the highway and the protagonist is an awesome but melancholy misunderstood guy against whom the world has a vendetta.

    This is all I know of the Australian male majority my age that reads. Probably because he is too silent on what else he reads. At this point I’d settle for a guy who tells me he reads atlases so he can secretly crow over the details in place names that the cartographers got wrong.

    The guys I know who do read more? They are older, they read other things, they give me reviews of this self help book, that memoir, and this book – did you not know it was listed for a major prize? They are also younger, and self named entrepreneurs doing pretty well, always on the look out for a mention of Branson or Godin and eager to tell me I should read that business book, that marketing one, that one about how to treat employees so they are more productive. Their enthusiasm makes me smile and makes me willing to overlook the point they have where you know, I don’t have employees.

    I can forsee a blog post in response to your awesome one. I will therefore go write it. But before I do:

    4) Your Aus Men Writers challenge – would this be a challenge to get men to write? Or get more male authors read? Or get more men to read? I think you need to be a bit clearer on that. And if I can help in any way I will.

    • Awesome reply Marisa. You are right about your first point. I do know men who read, but most won’t talk about it and most won’t read women writers, it’s weird but that is the mindset out there.

      No one knows the demographic for reading in Australia. I’ve tried to find such info on ABS, they do have stuff on literary rates, but not on what people read. I’m sure the libraries would have a good handle on this info.

      My experiences are just that, Mine. But I’d venture to guess that as men’s books receive more prominence over women’s books do, yes half the population is missing out.

      Silence and a fear of speaking out are a part of the problem with male readers. The bloody literary prizes do not help either. Neither do most traditional book reviewers. In this weekend’s Spectrum, the SMH, 18 book reviews, 13 male, 5 female authors. This is the normal equation. Is it any wonder people are not reading female writers.
      My challenge would be to get men reading women writers. How’s this, a men’s only book club that only reads women writers. That I’d like to see.
      Cheers for the comments.

      Rob

  3. I am participating in the AWWC so I could cross post reviews. Elizabeth did float an idea of an Australian Men’s Writers Challenge but that was directed more at reading Australian make writers which I think took the focus off the need to review women writers. But I think a focus on Australian blokes reading, then Australian blokes reading Australian women is a great idea. You can count me in.

  4. Hi Rob,

    I have ideas and I have also posted my response: http://marisa.com.au/real-men-do-read-they-just-dont-let-the-sexy-geek-goddesses-know/

    I can also start up a wordpress site for you where members (male of course) post their reviews of Australian literature. I am willing to giveaway a book to one of the first thirty to be interested.

    I also think a flickr group where members post images of famous aussie men/themselves reading books might be a good thing – the whole point is to change perception as well as get more to read right?

    We could also have a weekly twitter chat.

    Let me know if you like all these ideas.

  5. I’m happy to participate in an Australian men’s readers challenge and post-reading discussions. Although my personal experience is anecdotal, I can’t think of any close male friends who do actually read. As a young man, I was a bit of an anomaly in the working class suburb of Melbourne where I grew up and was constantly reading, much to the chargrin of my friends..(most of whom wouldn’t know what the word chargrin meant.). I was never one to succumb to peer pressure, so continued to do. I also encourge both my nine and twelve year old sons to read. I used to read to them at bedtime, every night, and sometimes they still like me to, even though they’re old enough to tackle quite complex reading by themselves these days. I’ve always tried to make it an enjoyable experience for them and we have some wonderful discussions about things we’ve read.They read now, because they want to read and for no other reason.
    As far as female authors go, I don’t have a problem with reading any author, regardless of gender and have recently been given a couple of works by female authors (both of them are Australian), which I’ll read in the next fortnight. I recently started a writers group in Grafton, NSW, where I live and put up notices around the town and asked friends to invite friends who write, or even others who wanted to, but have never put pen to paper. The response was fantastic and we have about a dozen or so writers, with a mildly fluctuating population and a gender mix that’s about even. Some of the writers are published and some not, but for the purposes of the group it really doesn’t matter that much. Everybody gets a turn to read to the group and accept constructive feedback. I have the pleasure of hearing several female writers – from screenplay writers, memoirists (is that word?) and a couple poets, who share equal time with their male counterparts. We’re currently in the planning process to put on a public event for the new Grafton cultural program. Some of the writing is good, some of it’s bad and some of it’s ugly (mine included – we can all have a bad day behind the keyboard) but I wouldn’t swap those people or my involvement in that group for the world. The name of the group is The Grafton, first Friday writers’ group and we meet at the Grafton community centre, Duke St. Grafton, and as the name suggests, on the first Friday of every month. . .

  6. Good on you R.B. We need more men like you. My experience is like yours. While I do know a few chaps who read, most want talk about it. One friend of mine reads a book every couple of days, he really does. But it’s only male fantasy authors, and he is very vocal and passionate about them.

    It’s great to hear your story and that you want to be involved. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know what happens.

    Again, thanks.

    Cheers

    Rob

  7. Hi Rob,

    Really interesting post and lots of great replies. I’m in Canada and saw this via Twitter. I hope you don’t mind my weighing in with two of our recently axed 1 cent pennies.

    My brother-in-law (Canadian, happens to be living in Brisbane right now–hi RM!) is an avid reader. He’s read tons of current books and is forever saying ‘the book was better’ when a movie come out, but he spent a ton of time in airports and in camps where he builds bridges etc. (and where tv and internet can be spotty.)

    Contrast him to my husband who startles the kids if they see him with a book in his hand. He reads the paper every day, surfs the iPad, is always reading something and stays well informed but doesn’t have an interest in novels. It’s not a stigma thing, it’s a little bit lack of long stretches of time, a little bit personal taste (prefers to practice guitar), and a little bit that reading novels feels like homework to him (flashbacks to college.)

    So I think you need to look at the variety of things that support or stop men from reading, time being a huge one.

    As for gender of the authors, you’re probably right that there are more female authors. Look at romance alone and you’ll find a ton of Aussie women writers. Which brings me to content.

    Obviously men aren’t likely to say, “Hand me that Mills & Boon Sexy. I’ve almost finished it” (although the ‘sexy’ might get them), but I think the content has to appeal.

    As a woman I balk at being told what to read and my experience with men is that they’re just as singular. I doubt they care about the gender of the author if the story intrigues them so saying, “Read this because it’s your culture and women authors deserve more recognition,” is like saying, “Eat your broccoli.”

    What do they get from reading a particular book? What’s the payoff for investing their precious time away from their other pursuits? Sometimes it’s all about the packaging.

    Just my opinion.

    Good luck with the Challenge. I’ll check back and put my brother-in-law onto it if it’s a go. He should read more about your culture and give your women authors more recognition ;o)

    • Hi Dani,

      Thanks for the comments and glad you found the article, it has caused people to take notice. So much so that we are starting a (site) challenge for men to review and comment on Australian female fiction authors. You will see that coming very soon. Interested people like yourself have shown us it’s something we need.

      I’d be interested to know how it goes in Canada for female authors. Women have had to set up a special prize, The Stella Prize http://thestellaprize.com.au/ because of the unbalanced representation of Aussie women winning book prizes here in Australia, even though there’s more women writing books. Things are a bit odd here. While we have a female PM, and a female Governor Genera,l the glass ceiling here is pretty disastrous. Most women are unfairly treated not just in book prizes but across the board. You may have noticed some of my comments about this on this site.

      Do you know what the figures are between women and men in Canada when represented in media books reviews? I’d also love to know how women fair in book prizes over there too. If you know where I can find this info can you point me to it?

      Thanks for the comments again and cheers

      Rob

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  1. Real men do read - they just don't let the sexy, geek goddesses know | Marisa Wikramanayake
  2. Guys Reading Gals: a new Aussie blog | Australian Women Writers Challenge

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