Writer’s Desk: Getting Boys to Read

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It’s one of those not-so-secret secrets in education and the publishing world that when it comes to making books for kids, it is much much easier to do so for girls. Why? Compared to their feminine counterparts, boys just don’t read, and when they do, their reading comprehension lags. According to the Brookings Institute:

Reading scores for girls exceed those for boys on eight recent assessments of U.S. reading achievement.  The gender gap is larger for middle and high school students than for students in elementary school.

What to do? Since it’s education, there is advice aplenty. But perhaps the best idea proposed so far has come from Nick Hornby (High FidelityAbout a Boy):

I have boys, and boys are particularly resistant to reading books. I had some success recently with Sherman Alexie’s great young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian – I told my son it was highly inappropriate for him, and one of the most banned books in America. That got his attention, and he raced through it.

Now, take that advice out of its parental and educational context and think about how you would apply it to your writing. Channel your rebellious inner middle-school kid who doesn’t want to be told what book they can read.

New in Theaters: ‘Wild’

Reese Witherspoon explores the great outdoors and finds herself in 'Wild' (Fox Searchlight)
Reese Witherspoon explores the great outdoors and finds herself in ‘Wild’ (Fox Searchlight)

wild-bookCheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir Wild—about her brave and highly foolish decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with no training as a way of exorcising her painful past—was many things that a bestseller and Oprah often aren’t: emotionally lacerating, unexpected, vulnerable, and clear-eyed about people’s weaknesses and dark sides. For the inevitable and surprisingly spot-on film adaptation, Reese Witherspoon plays Strayed in what could be an Oscar-worthy performance. That’s Nick Hornby of High Fidelity behind the keyboard.

Wild hits theaters this week. My review is at Film Racket:

Strayed is first spotted on the side of a mountain, pulling a bloody toenail out after days of grueling walking in too-small boots under a groaning pack one could fit the possessions of a small nation-state into. Dropping one boot down the side of the mountain by mistake, she impulsively throws the other boot after it, screaming in rage. Director Jean-Marc Vallee shoots it in all the wrong ways, with slow-motion and elongated vocals, trying to create a drama that the story hasn’t earned yet. It’s a rough start to what is mostly a solidly-crafted and cathartic drama of discovery about a woman who nearly kills herself in order to learn how to live again…

Here’s the trailer:

Department of Weekend Reading: July 18, 2014

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Quote of the Day: Cash by Johnny Cash

They're here to make you feel bad about your choices: the record-store clerks of 'High Fidelity'.
They’re here to make you feel bad about your choices: the record-store clerks of ‘High Fidelity’.

high_fidelity-posterIn the eternal classic High Fidelity, John Cusack plays Rob, a happily embittered record-store owner who spends a lot of time talking to the camera, when he’s not grousing about women, his employees, life. While his particular angle is music and the collecting rare examples thereof, many of his ruminations about that habit (“fetish properties are not unlike porn”) could apply equally to most any other art form. For instance:

What really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films — these things matter. Call me shallow but it’s the fuckin’ truth.

Anybody out there who doesn’t believe deep down that there isn’t some truth to what he’s saying? Shallow or not, doesn’t bonding over the shared love of a particular cultural object (book, film, whatever) stand as its own unique and valid type of connection?

cashbook1Here’s Rob on books:

I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I’m certainly not the dumbest. I mean, I’ve read books like The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Love in the Time of Cholera, and I think I’ve understood them. They’re about girls, right? Just kidding. But I have to say my all-time favorite book is Johnny Cash’s autobiography Cash by Johnny Cash.

Note the obsessive’s need to add the wholly unnecessary “Cash by Johnny Cash” there, just in case you didn’t get what he meant with “Johnny Cash’s autobiography.”

And here, just for kicks, the Top 5 Records scene from High Fidelity: