The Great White Whale

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I hated Moby Dick. I remember that book as the most tedious experience in twelve years of public education. Being a diligent student in a 9th grade honors English class, I nonetheless gutted my way through the whole testosterone-laden mess. I read about death on Kilimanjaro. I discussed how sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, which may include shooting the family dog. Shane was somewhere in there too.

In college, I complained about those reading lists. Where were the girl books? Where were the girls in the books? The single girl I can remember who was not an essentially passive mom or sister was Scout in to Kill a Mockingbird.

Eduhonesty: This is where my post takes a surprising direction. Years later, I think the local school administrators may have been picking the right books (with the exception of Moby Dick which is irredeemable in my view), given the nature of boys and girls. I am looking at an article on why Johnny won’t read. The research documents a literacy gap in our time, with girls being much more likely to become readers than boys. The article partly blames book choices that appeal to girls rather than boys. As I recall choices in my daughters’ schools, I realize that The House on Mango Street and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter are likely to have little appeal for boys. The Poisonwood Bible and Speak aren’t going to pull those boys in either. In fact, parts of those books can be expected to make boys feel extremely uncomfortable. No middle school boy should ever have to read about rape.

Our boys frequently are looking for role models in this time and while that crazy man on Kilimanjaro may not be the answer, the truth is that perhaps our book lists ought to be skewed toward the boys. The move toward nonfiction right now will help. Boys often prefer nonfiction to fiction.

In the end, my reasoning is this: My girlfriends and I all became readers despite a male-oriented set of reading lists in school. We went to the library and found our personal favorites in our free time. I read out the local science fiction section and moved on to mysteries. Some of my girlfriends devoured romance novels. But many boys may not feel as comfortable finding their niche in the library, especially after enough conversations with friends about how much they hate that book about Mango Street. If reading seems girlie, especially in this time of Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, reading may simply not happen.

At the very least, I suggest we need to be sure that choices for school reading lists are relatively gender neutral like To Kill a Mockingbird or Into Thin Air.