Why are guys afraid to shop?
How will boys learn to shop if they don’t see grown men shop?
Why don’t boys browse bookstores and shop the same way women and girls do?
How does “the market” know what boys want if (a) boys don’t know how to ask for it (b) boys don’t know how to shop for it and (c) it’s bought for boys but not by boys?
Yes, the retail season is upon us, and the statistics still hold: 98% of adult shoppers in our children’s bookstore are female and easily half of the books they’re buying are for boys. Oh, but they want something special for the boy, something he will enjoy.
I suggest I’m the Biggest Thing In the Ocean; they want Velveteen Rabbit.
I suggest the Sports Illustrated Almanac for 2008; they prefer Treasure Island.
I suggest some adventure, like Into the Wild; they would rather give something “meaningful” like the Kingfisher Collection of Poetry to Be Read Aloud.
People. I have no qualms with you wanting a gift of a book to be special, something that can have meaning down the road, but lets face facts: all your best efforts are turning boys off from reading more than anything else. Worse, if you are a female adult at least ten years older than the boy in question, and you insist on pressing your ideas about what constitutes a good book onto a boy, you are guaranteeing that the boy will never trust a woman to recommend a book to him.
Think about it. You’re a child — you can pick any age that you prefer to imagine — and it’s the holiday season. You get some time off from school, you get to see relatives and loved ones you don’t see often, there are holiday specials on television, you don’t have bills, you don’t have a job, and you’ve got a few years before you even understand what it means to be a responsible citizen in the world.
Now, what kind of a book do you want?
Don’t let your adult self answer, let your inner child speak. You’ve got all the time in the world, and for the sake of argument let’s say you’d love nothing more than to sit around and read your way from meal to meal, sunup to sundown. What do you really want?
One year, when I was that boy, I got a two-foot tall stack of collected Peanuts comics, the digest-sized ones. My parents were poor and the books were used and I couldn’t have cared less. I had days worth of reading and I re-read those books a brazillion times.
Another year I received from a female relative a collection of Australian aboriginal tales, boringly retold by a white man with dull paintings by another white man. I think I eventually got around to reading a few of the stories after I finished college.
One family friend — a librarian no less — bought me a field guide for rocks and minerals one year (I never collected or expressed an interest in geology, ever) and followed it up the next year with Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Oy! I’d have much preferred my own copy of Martin Gardner’s Perplexing Puzzlers and Tantalizing Teasers, a book I checked out from my local library a dozen times a year I think. But nobody ever asked me what I was reading, no one ever asked me what I was checking out at the library, no one asked me if I even wanted a book on rocks or birds.
So I meandered a bit, but here’s the crux of the biscuit. Women know how to shop in general but not necessarily for the men in their lives; men and boys haven’t got a clue and until they know what and how they will always find themselves with the crappy end of the stick. Somehow men learn how to buy things like cars and sports equipment so I know it’s possible for them to learn what they like and how to shop for it.
Parents of the world, teach your boys how to shop and to know what they like!
And buy them lots of books, the kind they will actually read.