Books for the boy that does not read
Every bookseller has probably heard some variation on “my teenage son/nephew/grandson doesn’t read. I want to get him a book. What should I get him?”
99% of the time, this is blatantly not true. He does read… otherwise why get him a book at all? The real question is actually one of these two, and its important to determine which:
“My teenager doesn’t read for pleasure, only for school. What should I get him to read for pleasure?”
“My teenager is not reading books that I approve of. How do I get him to read great literature that will get him into Harvard?”
Most of the time, the question is really #1. But #2 takes special handling so I’ll address it in a moment.
For both versions you need to establish a few things first things:
How old is he and is reading at grade level? How mature is he?
Is he not reading because he is too busy with other things?
Is he not reading because he has pushed to read ‘boring’ items in school?
What does he like in general? Sports, videogames, hiking, art, music, dogs?
Now to address those questions…
It’s often easier to select books for older teens as you don’t have to worry as much about rating and skip directly over teen lit and give them normal books. If the kid is in 9th grade or up (roughly age 15+) and reading at grade level, skip direct to men’s books. It offers a wider variety and he won’t feel like he’s being patronized. (Many teen books are unbearably preachy). If he’s reading below 9th grade level or is immature, you’re probably stuck with teen lit. This is partially due to the reading level, but mostly due to maturity. You don’t want to hand your customer something with a sex scene or too much violence for a 6th grader.
Overloaded schedules where the kid shuffles between karate, soccer, band, and tutoring are often to blame for teenagers that don’t read for pleasure. He wants to relax and turn his brain off in what little unscheduled time he has.
If this is the case, the best bet is to suggest short story collections. This gives the kid a chance of finishing an item in his brief downtime. I usually suggest to parents that they keep these in two places: the car and the bathroom. Make sure the material is available and he will read. (make sure he doesn’t get carsick from reading!)
Schools often overemphasize classics and analyze them to death. This trains boys that reading is WORK. School often also focus on ‘coming of age’ stories centered on girls. Teen boys REALLY don’t want to read (let alone analyze) anything having to death with a girl’s first period. Seriously. Neither I, nor any of my female friends, liked those books either. If this is what they’re reading in school, no wonder they don’t want to read!
For most boys you’ll want to select something that’s as far from literature as possible to counter this. Many of the men’s serials such as The Destroyer, Mack Bolan, Longarm, Slocum, etc feature lots of adventure and violence. This is the equivalent of pure brain candy with no redeeming value. It’s not great literature, but its FUN. And if they like it, there are hundreds of titles in the series.
A good option for younger teens are “choose your own adventure” books or the various movie & videogame tie ins. The reading is easy and if you’re seen the movie or game, you have a good idea of what the ‘rating’ is.
Picking something on a topic he already likes is a bit of a no-brainer. If he’s really resistant to reading, non-fiction will often be more palatable than fiction. Of course, sometimes the person doesn’t know what he likes. If they don’t know, ask what the last few movies they saw or what their best subject in school is. This will generally give you a clue. If they have no idea whatsoever (and you’d be surprised how often this happens), give them Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card or Louis L’Amour’s “Last of the Breed”. One of those two usually works.
Which brings us to the second type of “my teen is not reading” question. This generally means the parent doesn’t think what they’re reading is Great Literature. You can easily tell this one if they have the boy along, he selects something appropriate for their age and they say something to the extent of “that’s too easy”, “that’s garbage/trash”, “why don’t you read This Very Serious Piece of Literature?” and so on. Basically they don’t like them reading popular literature and think their kid should be reading nothing but classics. This is hard to deal with. The best you can do is suggest classics and modern prize winners that are good stories on top of being great literature.
If they’re REALLY reluctant to read they can often be lured into reading comics rather than full books. Parents may balk at this as not being “real reading” but it may often serve as a good stepping stone. Art Spielgman’s “Maus” is highly recommended to get around parents balking at comics. It’s a history of the holocaust, told in comic form that won the Pulitzer prize. For less serious reading, most American comic publishers will offer omnibus editions that collect together multiple issues and are near book size.
Japanese comics (manga) are widely available and are generally book sized. They may also run for dozens of volumes, so if they like one, there’s 12 more in the series… Aim for books labeled as “shonen Manga” as these are intended for boys. Many of these are also produced as cartons, so may be familiar to parents. Pokemon is probably the most familiar book from this genre. (There’s so much manga available, it really deserves its own article)
Next time, more specific recommendations!
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