Boys' books vs. Girls' books

12 November 2010

Last week, I held up The Courage of Sarah Noble (historical fiction during the 1700's - it has a girl and a horse on the cover) and Jordan said, "That must be a girl book."  I immediately launched into a lecture that the kids have heard several times, then upon noticing Jordan's suppressed grin, I stopped, smiled, and said, "Jordan, are you pushing my buttons?"  He replied, "Yes.  I like pushing your buttons."

The lecture that the kids have heard several times I am now going to share with you, though I hope you don't feel like you're being lectured.  In my opinion, the whole idea of books that are only for girls and books that are only for boys is a modern myth.  I say modern, because this is actually a very recent idea.  (And when I say 'books' in this post, I am particularly referring to real books...meaning good, well-written books such as, but definitely not exclusively, the classics.  I won't give any examples of not-real books in order to maintain order and keep the tomatoes among the original holders, but I imagine some of you will be able to think of a couple of titles to which I am mentally referring.)

Here's an example:

Jane Austen, who is normally considered a girls' author, has until recently been quite popular among men as well.  Look up the term 'Janeite' on wikipedia, and you'll find that during the 1800's and early 1900's Janeites were mostly men, though the term had a slightly different meaning then.  It was used to label "the literary elite [who] felt that they had to separate their appreciation of Austen from that of the masses".  (To explain the term's meaning today, wikipedia draws comparisons between Janeites and Trekkies....)  Austen's novel Emma was dedicated to the Prince Regent (later King George IV) at his request because he was such a big fan, (though Jane Austen was not a big fan of his, and was not extremely happy with the honor).  Rudyard Kipling wrote a short story called "Janeites" about a group of WWI soldiers who were big Austen fans, and Kipling himself said, "the more I read [Jane Austen] the more I admire and respect and do reverence."  (Many of us feel the same, Mr. Kipling.  Well said.)  I could go on and on about Austen, as many of you well know, but I'll get back to the point.

The sex of the main character has nothing to do with it, nor the plot.  (Another example that goes the other way, All Quiet on the Western Front is a personal favorite, and it happens to be a war story with the main character being  a man.)  When you're talking about good, well-written books, then there is something that everyone can learn from it.  That said, I admit that some books will be more influential and enjoyable to one person than to another, and I even admit that some books are generally more influential among one sex over another, but for the majority of books, I believe the amount of influence has more to do with the reader's personality type than anything else.  However, the fact that some books are generally enjoyed among one set of people over another should in no way constitute giving the book a label that will prejudice people against giving the book a try.

But, human as I am, I still slip once in a while in today's culture.  Yesterday we finished the junior novelization of Disney's new movie, Tangled.  It was a cute story and I have hopes of it being a cute movie.  All four of the older kids enjoyed the book.  Later, I mentioned that maybe I could take the girls to the $2.50 theatre to see it (don't you remember when it was the $1 theatre?)  and Jordan gave up a howl of protest that consequently told me that my lecture had gotten through.  "Hey!  It's not just a girl story!  I want to go, too!"