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Wednesday News: Women keeping boys from reading, men reading Romance, Comcast...

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Are Boys Not Reading Because of All Those Women in Publishing? – Forgive my bad pun, but oh boy. Despite the fact that VIDA’s figures don’t support the premise that women control the children’s lit publishing industry, children’s writer and illustrator Jonathan Emmett claims that women are keeping boys from finding appropriate reading material, thereby deterring their acquisition of reading skills and enthusiasm.

Writing for The Times of London, David Sanderson and Fiona Wilson report that author and illustrator Jonathan Emmett believes that “boys are being deterred from reading because the ‘gatekeepers’ to children’s literature are mostly women.” –Publishing Perspectives

I’m a guy who loves romance novels — and Jennifer Weiner is right about reviews – I wasn’t planning on mentioning this article written by Noah Berlatsky on Romance and the idea of a genre canon, but it’s generated so much discussion, both on Twitter and on blogs like Love in the Margins and The Misadventures of Super Librarian, that I decided to mention it, if only because I think the idea that Romance doesn’t have canonical works is curious (and untrue). I think Berlatsky is conflating his own taste with the concept of canon, which ends up placing him — a guy who’s read very little in the genre — in the position of Romance tastemaker. And, not surprisingly, that alienated a lot of female Romance readers. I have, by the way, included the donotlink.com version of the Salon piece, so don’t feel that clicking will send traffic to the site. However, whether or not you do read the article, definitely check out Super Librarian Wendy’s fantastic response, which includes some IMO indisputably canonical Romance works.

Oh, there are rafts and rafts of romance novels out there; teetering drifts of Harlequins and historicals and contemporaries, filled with plucky heroines and dashing or dastardly young men. I know that. But the question was, where to start? A friend recommended Nora Roberts at one point, and I gave that a try … but I couldn’t hack the dreadful prose — and this is from someone who rather enjoys “Twilight” and can even manage the occasional Robert Ludlum thriller. I’ve poked around online to find “best of” lists or other recommendations, but it soon became clear that there wasn’t even a provisional consensus on which books were the best or essential romance novels. Jane Austen showed up consistently, as did “Gone With the Wind,” but there was nothing that gave me a sense that certain books were clearly central, or respected, or worth reading. The genre is so culturally maligned that there has been no concerted effort to codify it. There is, in short, no romance canon. –Salon

Comcast earnings up 30% as it adds video subscribers – This Comcast thing is really starting to scare me. In their attempt to take over Time Warner (over whom they’re competing with Charter, and that’s a whole other set of problematic issues), Comcast is positioning itself to become so large that the question of whether consumers will actually have choice when it comes to cable providers is seriously imperiled. There’s just a lot of stuff here about which to be very concerned.

On a conference call, Chief Executive Brian Roberts said Comcast is studying the wireless market and is “encouraged by it.” With the wireless assets Comcast has, long term “we are in a position to think about where wireless is going and how we can participate in a way to build value and whether that is through our existing products or it’s a new product,” Roberts said.

By adding video subscribers in the past two quarters, Comcast is bucking a trend. In recent years most cable operators have been losing video subscribers to phone and satellite-TV companies. –Market Watch

Amazon smartphone could be controlled by tilting this way and that – Speaking of monopolies and competition, here’s more news on Amazon’s purported smartphone (Kindlephone). You can click on another link for a “roundup” of news related to the Kindlephone more generally, but this article focuses on the rumor that the phone will be controllable by physically manipulating it in a tipping or tilting motion. CNET is not enamored by this idea.

Is it just me, or does this sound like a terrible idea? Very novel, certainly, and an interesting way of clawing back screen space so the interface isn’t cluttered with menus or icons. But it would require the phone to be very, very good at tracking which movements are intentional gestures and which are cack-handed wobbles of the wrists — or there’ll be menus sliding in left, right and centre when you’re just trying to send a text. –CNET

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

27 Comments

  1. Maria F
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 05:52:03

    Norah -> Noah. I was confused until I figured out the typo! :)

  2. BevQB
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 07:41:54

    HearUsNow.org (associated with Consumer Reports), then click on “Stop This Merger” to send a message to to your elected officials about the potential Comcast-Time Warner merger. You can personalize it or just use their message:

    After sending a lengthy message about what I thought would be the direct consequences to the merger, particularly when considering the defeat of net neutrality, I did receive a response from one of our Congressmen.

    This whole issue is so anti-consumer that it’s actually scary.

  3. Carolyne
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 08:12:55

    I’ve been hearing about how books are keeping boys from reading for 25 years, and how editors (mostly female) must do more to fix this. The pressure has been on, constantly and heavily, for decades to provide more and more “books for boys.” No one complains when girls read “boy books” and the books sell millions of copies, but, oh my, if so-called “girl books” dominate then there’s a crisis in reading.

    Of course it must be the fault of the editrices. Not the multilayered reasons of culture, market, trends, socialisation, expectations for girls to identify with boys but not vice versa, value judgements, etc. grr grr.

    And don’t even get me going in what is supposed to qualify as “boy book” and what is considered to have so many girl cooties boys are encouraged to avoid it.

    I really should read the linked article before ranting, but since I’ve been fed this mandate my entire career, I can’t imagine it has anything to tell me.

    As you can see, it reduces me to incoherence sometimes.

    Ok, deep breaths…

  4. Gabby
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 08:20:41

    I read the Salon article yesterday, at the site itself. They have done articles like this before, so I really just skimmed it and looked to see what his “recommendations” were. But I am curious: Why would you not want to send traffic to that site? Is it doing something nefarious that I don’t know about, ie harvesting information? If you don’t want to answer, that’s fine, I just don’t want to keep going there if it’s detrimental to my online presence.

  5. Angelia Sparrow
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 08:54:08

    Does this man REALLY think kids care about the author or publisher?

    When I was a kid, I read because it was a good story. I didn’t care if it had a girl or boy for the hero and I was only vaguely aware that real people wrote the books. “Author” was just another line to fill out on the book report. I was 10 before I started realizing that “Author” meant there might be other books this person had written and if I liked one book, I might like the next. (Judy Blume was my eureka moment)

  6. Jane
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 08:56:46

    @Gabby – sometimes we call these types of articles link bait. They’re written in such a way as to drive traffic only and not actual discussion. Using DONOTLINK allows you to see the original article but the author loses traffic hits.

  7. mari
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 09:10:39

    I appreciate the non-linkage to Salon. I find their politics abhorrent and appreciate NOT giving them the traffic. Ditto for the NY Times, New Yorker and in general, the whole leftist literary industrial complex. Its a totally personal preference on my part, but it makes me gnash my teeth when I realize the only decent writing about the arts, books and culture, comes from a political mindeset that is very distasteful to me. Conservatives need to start participating in these cultural conversations.And I wish when people talked about “diversity” in writings about romance there was focus on diversity of thought, rather than the usual blah, blah blah of race, gender, sexuality. The letters of opinion all sound like they were written by grad students with specialties in queer and gender theory. And that’s not a compliment. Signing off now and ending my rant.

  8. Isobel Carr
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 10:03:48

    @mari: It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: stop ranting and DO something. That’s how all the “leftist” blogs, papers, and magazines you so despise got started.

  9. Aoife
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 10:08:17

    Berlatsky’s piece reminded me strongly of one of those stereotypical defenses for unequal hiring practices: “I’d love to hire more women/POC/fill-in-underrepresented-minority-here, but there just aren’t any qualified candidates.” He’d looove to read more romance, but there isn’t any out there that meets his high standards. Just a huge, huge eye roll from me.

    I thought Wendy the Super Librarian’s response was wonderful, as were many of the comments. While the thought of personally rereading some of the books on her list (The Flame and the Flower! Anything by Rosemary Rogers!) gives me a queasy stomach, there is no doubt those books were really influential. I’d also suggest Roberta Gellis as one of the first writers of quality historicals who also introduced series or themed books such as the Roselynde chronicles.

  10. SAO
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 10:20:25

    @Carolyne
    My kids definitely preferred heros (and more importantly covers) featuring their gender. My daughter would read either, my son really needed a boy as an MC. Some of the books, like Fablehaven, had both a girl and a boy and that worked for him.

    On the other hand, he had not much interest in sports, so the ubiquitous boy sports books didn’t keep his attention. He’s not interested in the super spy stuff, either.

    I think it’s perhaps freeing that girls can identify with boys and sad that the reverse rarely happens. Maybe it’s because we’re used to the idea that in books, we can sail down the Mississippi with Huck, rather than playing with dolls with Becky.

  11. Ridley
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 10:37:13

    The thing that really bothers me about Berlatsky is that he’s getting paid to write about romance instead of all the (mostly female) experts who fed him recommendations.

    When will we stop craving male approval and start pitching to Salon/Slate/Atlantic ourselves instead of holding a man’s hand and educating him on the genre so he can write about it?

  12. Robin/Janet
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 10:40:12

    @Maria F: LOL, thank you for noticing that! Must have been a subliminal thing, since some of the discussion yesterday focused on Berlatsky’s persistent dismissal of Nora Roberts.

  13. Moriah Jovan
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 11:53:06

    See, I thought the NORAH thing was a subtle and very clever dig. *overthinking*

  14. Carolyne
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 12:18:58

    @SAO: The irksome part to me is that it’s even a common thought to say a boy-book is sailing and a girl-book is Barbies. Heroines of the Katniss type don’t have much time for Barbies. Delilah Dirk is all girl.

    More books with equal parts male and female heroes–or dare I say it, where the heroic boys are more in the Watson/Robin role than the Sherlock/Batman one–might help the boy readers learn how to stay engaged with reading through the point where male reading habits drop off, without editrices being lectured at least twice a year, every year, for several generations, that they need to stop doing so much girl stuff and pump in more farts, sports, and racing, and make clear on the covers that the girls are sidekicks.

    I exaggerate, but I do have strong feelings. And managed to help raise a boy reader, too.

  15. Robin/Janet
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 14:26:30

    @Moriah Jovan: My former boss used to get a kick out of identifying all of the references and relationships in my work that I had not seen while I was writing it. But I can’t take credit for being clever enough to do it intentionally, because my intentional/conscious mind works more in the way of a blunt instrument.

  16. Kate Pearce
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 15:37:10

    Noah’s kidding, right? Here’s the thing, Men love making meaningless lists about how many steps a player took in a football match, or how often he hit a ball, or what number the diesel engine on platform 9 is so he can write it in his little notebook.
    Women, (and women are the primary readers of romance) Talk To Each Other about these books. Every dedicated romance reader carries the tropes of the genre inside them and can discuss them intelligently and sometimes passionately with other like minded souls, sometimes on sites like this. We don’t need no stinking lists to understand our genre.
    Read a thousand romances, work out what you like, Noah and then come back and let’s talk. :)

  17. hapax
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 17:30:38

    Here’s the sad thing. Girls, in general, are okay with reading books with boy heroes, because Default Human Being = Male. Boys, in general, are not okay with reading books with girl heroes, because Female < Default Human Being.

    It sucks, but that's the patriarchy for you. We're not going to fix this little irritating facet of the problem without fixing the entire culture; but on the other hand, we're not going to fix the entire culture without fixing this early, and influential, manifestation of it.

    The very WORST "solution" to the problem of "boys don't read"* is to reinforce the frikkin’ status quo with gendered stereotypes and segregated libraries.

    *which, by the way is not true at all. Authors who whine about this usually mean “Boys don’t read MY books (or other books I consider “worthy”). Even boys who don’t like fiction will usually read tons of non-fiction on favorite topics, or magazines, or game manuals, or websites, or comics.

  18. txvoodoo
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 17:40:49

    ” the question of whether consumers will actually have choice when it comes to cable providers is seriously imperiled.”

    Um, most of us already don’t. Geographic monopolies being what they are, you get the cable provider that has the franchise in your area. You move, you get a new one.

    And that’s an entirely different issue that needs to be addressed!

  19. hapax
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 17:53:33

    Oh, ugghhh, I made the mistake of reading that Salon article — the mouth-breathing, fedora-wearing, Brony of a romance-reader article. (What would be the equivalant of “Brony” for romance, I wonder? Too bad “bromance” is already taken…)

    He’s glad, you see, that there isn’t a “romance canon” (although there is), because that allows him to keep all those good romances his private Super Sekkrit thrill. The hundreds of millions of girls who read, enjoy, discuss, review, and yes, make “canon” lists don’t really count, because they just don’t Appreciate and Understand the romance genre like he, the sensitive, intellectual, Jane-Austen loving MALE Noah does!

  20. SuperWendy
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 18:23:12

    True Library Story for you all. Yesterday (no lie) I had a teen boy come up to the reference desk and wanted to know if we had a book called “Chain Reaction.” Titles, obviously, are not unique and that one isn’t exactly terribly original – but the first book that popped was Simonne Elkeles. Romance. The age fit so I asked him, “by Simone Elkeles?” He said, no – but then he said, “I read this book Perfect Chemistry and I wanted the next two in the series.”

    Dude. That’s Simone Elkeles.

    It took everything in my power not to jump across the desk and hug the kid.

    Boys will read. Boys do read. It’s a matter of selling it to them in the right way.

  21. Janine
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 20:00:49

    @Ridley: I like your suggestion. As one of the people who recommended a few books to Berlatsky on Twitter, I never told him that those books were canon, just that they might be in line with his reading tastes.

  22. Moriah Jovan
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 21:01:38

    @hapax:

    Even boys who don’t like fiction will usually read tons of non-fiction on favorite topics, or magazines, or game manuals, or websites, or comics.

    My 8yo XY tax deduction prefers nonfiction, how-to manuals, and books of lists. He has a voracious appetite for facts and details. Fiction’s iffy. Once he’s INTO a story, he’s fine, but getting him to start is a nightmare. “I can’t find anything that interests me!” is usually his battle cry.

  23. Hestia
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 21:43:26

    My then 9-yr-old son started reading Nancy Drew graphic novels. He started reading them because a couple of them had zombies or something (which he loves) and just moved on to the rest of them, because, well, he’s him and he doesn’t really care. (At the time, I ran the grade school library so I observed this all with some amusement–and pride.)

    But then a weird thing happened. Other boys, seeing him reading Nancy Drew graphic novels, started reading them, too. My son, who is tiny and talks like a college professor, had become something of a bellwether — maybe because he just so thoroughly enjoys the heck out of reading. So, cool. Boys reading “girl” books. No way I wasn’t going to encourage that.

    But, of course, it all had to come to an end — a couple of weeks later, one of my son’s friends brought back his Nancy Drew books.

    “How were they?” I asked casually.

    “I didn’t finish them,” he admitted. “My mom said they’re girl books.”

    Heart, broken.

  24. Megaera
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 22:35:39

    txvoodoo is right. I’m in the process of switching ISPs right now because the indy ISP I’ve been with for fifteen years is being squeezed out of the market. My other two choices? CenturyLink for DSL or Comcast for cable. Period. And both of them are *horrible* to deal with. It’s like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea.

  25. SAO
    Apr 24, 2014 @ 00:00:26

    @Carolyne
    So do you dislike the Hunger Games covers, which show neither Katniss’ s gender or race?

    I run a school book sale in a very white school and I think the kids should read more about people of other races but if a book has a black kid on the cover, it will be unsold at the end of the day. Although I haven’t seen any sparkly pink pony and black girl covers, which would be an interesting experiment.

  26. Kaetrin
    Apr 24, 2014 @ 01:36:48

    My son is a big reader. While it’s true he often reads books with a male protagonist, he doesn’t limit himself to them either. The book he was most excited to read this year was Tanith Low and the Maleficent Seven by Derek Landy, which is a spin off of the Skulduggery Pleasant books. And the main character in those books which he adored and read all of over the Christmas holidays is a girl too – Stephanie (aka Valkyrie). He’s not too fussed about the gender of the author either – he loved the Deltora Quest books by Emilie Rodda too.

    If I could get hold of it, he’d totally read Julie of the Wolves too.

    I can’t think he’s alone in his reading tastes.

  27. michelle
    Apr 24, 2014 @ 13:34:17

    @Hestia:

    “I didn’t finish them,” he admitted. “My mom said they’re girl books.”

    I see this from time to time at the bookstore. I get this reaction from parents/aunts who are trying to buy books for boys. When speaking to the reader in question, it’s clear that his tastes are broad enough that he’s willing to try anything – but he’s not the one with the wallet.

    My younger son is the bigger reader (I have two). He will read girl protags – or boy – but … he likes humor. He likes the YAs of Anthony Horowitz; he liked the Bruce Coville middle grades. Again, he didn’t care about the gender of the protags. Neither does the oldest son, when he does read.

    But: I think some of the parents are trying to deflect possible criticism from their son’s peers, because when I was the age of my youngest, teachers would say: “You run like a girl!” in co-ed PE classes. “You cry like a girl. You whine like a girl. You talk like a girl.” None of this, of course, was said in a positive way. And it’s a thing kids then pick up. You don’t want the “like a girl” to stick to your child if it’s going to cause them pain. So you discourage things that might make them targets.

    This doesn’t actually work, and it reinforces that mindset.

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