A long time ago, I read a book by Jared Diamond called Guns, Germs, and Steel. It was a book about how civilizations end — by war, by disease, or by innovation, like the train. I was reading this book one day while substitute teaching, and every hour some boy would come up and question me about the book. They were always disappointed that it was a history book and not something like 1,000 Ways to Die. The classes were very good that day, maybe because they felt so much pity. They couldn’t bear doing the sub-baiting they usually do with such a geek.
So now I have a 13-year-old son, and he’s a fanatic about any implement of death. His friends give him hatchets and machetes for his birthday. His big decision this Christmas is, AK47 or shotgun (BB-gun, that is)? He has an amazing array of knives, and yes, I actually bought most of them myself.
My worst decision in a long line of bad decisions was buying him a Wolverine glove. It has three knives that appear to jut out from the knuckles. He bought it with his Christmas money on New Years Eve, and I was at the grocery store buying Steri-Strips and a finger splint before midnight. That wasn’t actually his quickest knife injury, however. Once we bought him a pocket knife at Bass Pro Shop and he cut himself on the way home in the car.
So you’re probably wondering why I haven’t removed all implements of death from my son’s possession and stopped buying them? I sometimes wonder the same thing as I buy another box of bandages. Then again, how is he going to learn to handle things carefully if I don’t give him a chance? I truly believe you have to screw up a few times to learn. Kids hunt here in Missouri very young, and though it kind of creeps me out, I’ve never heard of one of them shooting Dad instead of the deer. They’re taught to handle guns carefully at a very young age around here.
My son illustrates a point: (With exceptions, of course) Boys are just different from girls when it comes to guns and knives. My daughters had no interest in implements of death. They liked pink and sparkles and ponies and especially pink sparkly ponies. When it came to books, the girls would read anything but truly gross books and sports books about baseball (soccer was okay). They didn’t care if the main character was a boy.
My son, on the other hand, is very careful not to read anything that could be misconstrued as “girly.” I’m reading a book right now called Anna Dressed in Blood. This is clearly a boy book — boy main character, gross stuff, and a romance that is completely platonic (the object of his affection is a ghost). But the cover has a girl on it, so he wouldn’t get caught dead reading it in public. Girls will read Harry Potter. Boys would not read Harriet Potter.
Plus, boys like gross things, like ways people die. Farting. Fighting. Accidents. South Park. Skateboards. Horrible skateboard accidents that result in a big fight.
There’s a great website called www.guysread.com. It’s all books boys would like to read. The categories are things like “outer space with aliens,” “outer space without aliens,” “animals,” “people turning into animals,” “robots,” “ghosts,” “dragons,” “cars, trucks, etc,” and my favorite, “how to build stuff.”
When I was writing Shifters, I asked my son to tell me what he would like to see in a book. He wanted animals, specifically monkeys; spiders; scary stuff; and fart jokes. The fart aspect wasn’t really surprising. I almost had to take him out of the theater when we went to see the Larry the Cable Guy movie. He was laughing so hard and so continuously, I was really afraid he might pass out from lack of oxygen.
What he doesn’t like are long passages of soul-searching and a focus on romance. Romance is okay as long as it’s the spice and not the meal, but too much and he will put the book down. Yet, look in the MG/YA section of bookstore. Have you ever seen so much romance, paranormal or otherwise? For a boy, that stuff is like garlic to a vampire. They aren’t even comfortable being in the area. So they head for the adult books. Or avoid bookstores altogether.
So why aren’t there more great boy books? Sure, there are great ones, and I think “boy books” are often better than “girl books” because they have to compete for fewer publishing slots — even if I love a girl MG/YA, I often have problems with the writing; even if I’m not so crazy about a boy MG/YA book, I have to admit it’s well written. But there just aren’t enough great boy books to keep my son happy. I read somewhere that publishers have very limited slots for “boy books” because boy books, especially YA, don’t sell. Yet when my son finds a great “boy book,” he’s so grateful. And I was shocked he read the Hunger Games series, with a girl protagonist, so I know a great book can make him bend the rules, especially if the cover looks good and manly.
I’ve read blogs that say moms, teachers and librarians need to encourage boys to read books about emotions and deeper subjects, to try new things. Which frankly irritates me. Why do we constantly have to tell boys they have to change? If the vast majority of them are a particular way, maybe we should adjust to them instead of asking them to change for us. Maybe we should be writing and publishing more books they will want to read and stop whining that they don’t read what we write and publish. No one ever told my daughter she was being immature by not reading baseball stories. Why do we do that to boys? They’re just fine the way they are. We should quit trying to change them.
I don’t understand the implements of death. But I don’t have to. I’m not a 13-year-old boy. And he hasn’t cut himself in a couple of years, so he’s learning.
So I shake my head as he watches South Park, Family Guy, and 1,000 Ways to Die; as he plays his Xbox relentlessly; as he leaves the Xbox only long enough to shoot milk jugs and cereal boxes, then return to shooting stuff on his Xbox; as he tells gross jokes; as he wrestles and punches with his friends and father; as he rides his bike to various places to do physical things, like tether ball (and boy, do we hate winter); as he digs random holes for no apparent reason; and as he stalks the Internet for new implements of death to buy. I will support him, because who am I to tell him I know how to be a boy better than he does?