Reprinted from my blog at fiftyisthenewfifty.com
Chauncey Mabe knows books. And well he should. Mabe was a book critic for The South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 22 years. He’s an accomplished freelance writer and ghostwriter. And his apartment in a Fort Lauderdale high-rise has more books stuffed into it than any other apartment – or house, for that matter – I’ve ever seen.
Chauncey Mabe is also one of my closest friends. We’ve know each other for more than thirty years. (And we still keep a regular “Bad Cinema Night” tradition, in which we purposely hunt down the greasiest food and the lowest-rated movie – so bad it’s funny —we can find.)
When I posed the question to Chauncey, “Is men’s literature dead?” he thought about it for a minute.
And then he answered, “No, men’s literature isn’t dead. But men aren’t reading it.”
“You’d think men would be reading ‘masculine’-type things like spy novels, war novels, or crime,” he continued. “And those types of books are certainly being written by men. It’s just that men aren’t reading them. In fact, the overwhelming majority of readers of ‘Men’s Literature’ are…women.”
Chauncey Mabe (his dad named him after a ballplayer he knew when he was in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Minor League system) says the statistics are sobering:
Espionage Thrillers – 69% of the readers of these books are women.
Science Fiction – 52% of readers are women.
Mystery and Detective Novels – An astounding 86% of the readers are women.
Men, he says, are more enamored of electronic gadgets, video games, and fantasy-league football than they are of a good book. And he lays the blame partially at the feet of our educational system.
“Boys often start out reading books when they’re young,” he says. “But then they turn into adolescents, and get more interested in sports…and girls. That, of course, can’t be helped. But – at exactly the same time, our English teachers start focusing more on symbolism and abstract concepts, instead of story, myth, and character…which should be what reading is all about.”
When asked if electronic readers such as Nook and Kindle would be a boon or bane to men’s literature, Mabe says he thinks, in the short term, that it may get more men interested in reading. But, he adds, once the technology gets more sophisticated, men will probably use their I-Pads to watch TV rather than read.
“There are great writers producing great men’s books these days,” he says. “And telling real men’s stories.” People, he says, like Jon Krakauer, author of the mountain-climbing epic “Into Thin Air.” Sebastian Junger (“The Perfect Storm”). Elmore Leonard (“Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight,” “Hombre”). And Benjamin Black (“A Death in Summer”), the pen name of an Irishman who writes crime fiction.
“Men’s literature isn’t dead at all,” Chauncey Mabe says. “It’s actually alive and well. It’s just that men aren’t reading it.”
When asked which writers/books every man should read, Mabe listed “Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain; “The Kon-Tiki Expedition,” by Thor Heyerdahl; “Treasure Island” and “Kidnapped,” by Robert Louis Stevenson; “The Lonesome Dove,” by Larry McMurtry; and authors such as Ernest Hemingway (his short stories rather than his novels), Peter Matthiessen, and Philip Caputo.
“We actually live in a golden age of writing,” Chauncey Mabe says. “Even with all the junk being produced by ‘popular culture’ today, there are still wonderful books coming out all the time. And wonderful men’s books coming out all the time.
“But until we figure out a way to pull men away from their gadgets and their TV’s, most of the people reading them will be women.”
Resource: Chauncey Mabe’s blog, “Open Page,” is at www.flcenterlitarts.wordpress.com.
Steve Winston (www.stevewinston.com) has written/contributed to 17 books, and his articles appear in major media all over the world. In pursuit of “The Story,” he’s been shot at in Northern Ireland. Been a cowboy in Arizona. Jumped into an alligator pit in the Everglades. Trained with a rebel militia in the jungle. Climbed 15,000-foot mountains. Flown World War II fighter planes in aerial “combat.” Trekked glaciers in Alaska. Explored ice caves at 11,000 feet in Switzerland. Driven an ATV to the top of an 11,000-foot peak n Colorado, and – much scarier! – back down again. And been thrown out of a reception given by the Queen for the British Olympic team.