Don Rogers: Last of the manly readers?
I read a lot, apparently to a disturbing degree in this age.
Blame my parents reading to me at bedtime. Blame their example, mostly Dad stretched out on the living room punee with the paper and then one book after another, each tome thick. Mom when she could, sitting, an alert eye on my sister and me. Blame our long library visits, all of us leaving with stacks.
A report on a weird national survey had me taking stock.
Let’s see, what I’m currently reading … books on the nightstand: “The Map of Salt and Stars,” by Zeyn Joukhadar; “The Ministry for the Future,” Kim Stanley Robinson; “Afghanistan,” Jonathan L. Lee.
Beside the bathroom sink, for brushing my teeth: “Captivate,” Vanessa Van Edwards.
On my Kindle app: “Children of Ruin,” Adrian Tchaikovsky; “The Human Age,” Diane Ackerman.
On my Scribd app: “New Kings of the World,” Fatima Bhutto. And the app’s audio books I’m reading with my ears: “Walden Two,” B.F. Skinner; “On Trails,” Robert Moor; and “Braiding Sweetgrass,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, though I’m slowing to a quit on that one about midway through.
Not to mention the magazines, manuscript excerpts, white papers like the one I read for this piece.
So this poll by the Survey Center on American Life for the American Enterprise Institute, a center-right think tank, notes a growing gap between men and women’s reading habits to go with Americans reading less and less over the years. Educated women read the most for pleasure in the past week, 50%, and men without college degrees multiples less, at 15%. Uneducated women read nearly as much as educated men.
Men? We go more for video games and like to talk politics more than women do, yet vote less than them, according to this survey. Go figure. Could this be an earmark of a Fox News addiction? But that question is not in this survey subtitled, “The Growing Gender Divide in American Life.”
Then there’s the question itself: “Books read for pleasure …” I don’t read for pleasure, only on purpose, for knowledge, for the lessons. Everything I choose to read relates directly to writing, reading’s close cousin on a broader quest for wisdom.
Is my answer, then, zero?
My apex masculine models are my father and my hotshot fire crew superintendent, both big readers. Renaissance men. Degree-less autodidacts, each brilliant.
My father’s type was Hemingway and of the sea, his best moments under full sail racing off the coast, usually Waikiki’s, where I sprinkled his ashes near his father’s in swells blue as his eyes.
The Supe, well, he’s all fire and spark in every way, and has given me some of the best writing advice of anyone going back four decades now.
I bring this up because other parts of this odd survey ask about notions of masculinity and femininity. Most respondents rated themselves in the “somewhat masculine” or “somewhat feminine” range. Only 36% of white males identified themselves as traditionally masculine.
For all my excess reading, I counted myself straight off in the manly man category, no “somewhat” about it. My howl at the moon, tip over garbage cans and, um, never mind instincts, most of my interests and all of my flaws are there.
In my fiction writing groups and workshops, I’ve gotten a lot of compliments about my ability to channel female characters. I even get side-eye sometimes.
But this is huge! Truly! The assessment couldn’t be better news. I want to slip on the mantle of different genders, cultures, even alien beings in my storytelling. Here’s the very path to enlightenment, I believe. Maybe even publication.
And progress. Real men have little need to pose or swagger or otherwise puff up, in my understanding. They do all sorts of things besides run chainsaws and tell tall tales around campfires — dance, nurse, cry watching chick flicks, maybe crochet, whatever they want, without apology.
They don’t care how you view them. I know I don’t. According to the survey, though, that kind of makes me a liberal.
Anyway, real men do read. I know some. I am one.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299
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