How to Get Boys to Read — An Unconventional Approach

The New York Times published a story this morning about how bestselling author, James Patterson, will start publishing smaller books, starting in June. Why smaller books? Patterson wants to sell books (under $5) to people who have abandoned reading for television, video games, movies, and social media, says The NYTimes.

As a male, who hated reading growing up — my parents had to bribe me to read — I’m not convinced shorter books are the best way to get reluctant readers to love reading.

Here’s why: reading is boring — whether the book is short or long.

And I’d even go as far to say: reading books is so boring it’s becoming obsolete.

Before you flip out, or worse, stop reading this, let’s think about these two statements for a moment.

What is the purpose of a book?

To entertain and/or to educate. To preserve one’s ideas. To communicate status.

But how can a book be boring if it’s purpose is to entertain? Surely, you haven’t been reading the right kinds of books.

As it turns out, that’s the #1 solution to get kids to fall in love with reading — let them choose books they want to read, and celebrate those choices. In 2011, James Patterson wrote about this idea in an article for CNN. He said:

Boys should be made to feel all squishy inside about reading graphic novels, comics, pop-ups, joke books, and general-information tomes — especially the last. GuysRead.com has categories such as “Robots,” “How to Build Stuff,” “Outer Space, but with Aliens,” and “At Least One Explosion.” It’s a wonderful site for finding books that will turn boys on to reading.

Teachers and school administrators might want to consider this: in many schools, there’s a tendency not to reward boys for reading books like “Guinness World Records” or “Sports Illustrated Almanac” or “The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll.” Too often, boy-appealing books are disproportionately overlooked on recommended reading lists.

Big mistake. Tragic mistake. Avoidable mistake. It’s all about attitude. If your kids’ school library isn’t a boy magnet, the school probably needs to check its attitude.

 

Makes sense. But let’s think about the purpose of a book again.

Can a video entertain, educate, preserve ideas, and convey high status?

Yes, to all of the above, except for conveying high status.

It’s no surprise that kids and adults like learning and being entertained now more through digital media than books. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, digital media engages more of your five senses than books ever will.

Of course, some of you reading this probably prefer books to movies or video games, I am one of you, but we’re a dying breed. Kids born today don’t “get” magazines. What does that tell you?

Don’t books aggregate complex thoughts better than digital media? Yes, for now. But soon that won’t be the case. For example, look at a 19-minute TED Talk. The majority of people giving TED Talks are authors, and almost invariably they’re all able to distill their book’s big idea down to a 19-minute visual presentation.

Which brings us to another question: What is the purpose of reading a book?

Typically you pick up a book for one of two reasons: to learn something new; or to be entertained; hopefully both. Now that we’ve established that digital media can, for the most part, accomplish what books can do — but in a faster and more entertaining way — there has to be another reason why humans read books?

I’d argue it is for status.

People pay a lot of money to have enormous libraries, and will go out of their way to carry around cumbersome books in public, talk about and post pictures on social media of all the books they’re reading, and to what end? To look smart. Education is a symbol of status.

I think a better angle to get kids and adults reading again — especially in the times we live in today — is to play up the benefits of reading for status.

Look at who kids and adults idolize? The Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musks of the world. Smart, nerdy, rich guys. And if movies have taught us anything, it is that rich guys attract women.

I fell in love with reading because of a girl. Yep, a girl I liked in University was really into reading. She was beautiful, smart, and read a lot, so I decided I was going to learn to love reading. Eventually, I got addicted to books. How’s that for motivation?

Another way to get kids to read is to validate reading as something cool and leverage the power of mental models. Robin Sharma created the 5 a.m. Club — a club for entrepreneurs and high achievers who take pride in waking up at 5 a.m. every day.

Is getting up early cool? No, and neither is sleeping in.

But everyone knows the early bird gets the worm, so Sharma validated the idea of getting up early as something cool that high achievers can share.

This might sound like I’m promoting reading for all the wrong reasons. I am. But, I think the pros outweigh the cons here.

The benefits of reading in our society are plenty, just like getting up early. If you can convince kids that reading is cool and a symbol of high status that society values, I think that’s a better approach to take than trying to play up the confidence angle of having kids read 20 short books in a week.

Of course, reading 20 books in a week and bragging about it on Instagram is another way to show you’re high status. So maybe Patterson’s idea will work after all.

Nick Papple,
Managing Editor
The Daily Brief
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