The Conversation About “Book Girls”
This morning’s Critical Linking from BookRiot included the following item:
Who are the Book Girls? They are readers, and in this particular case, they are girls and women. In fact, one of the sadder things about observing the Book Girls in action is realizing that they – walking from author signing to author signing in happy gaggles, toting friends and sometimes parents – are having their voracious reading habits and their devotion to the importance of talking about your feelings socially reinforced in a way that one fears may be far less common for boys with similar impulses.
Ah yes, the old girls read boys don’t let’s worry routine.
Mindful that a story about dubious trends in gendered reading would, at best, make me splutter my coffee and feel indignant, I cautiously clicked to read the original piece from NPR.
Having read the original, The Muscle-Flexing, Mind-Blowing Book Girls Will Inherit The Earth, I think BookRiot’s excerpt missed the point. In a troubling, reductionist way.
It’s easy to turn stories about books and girls and boys and reading into a story about gender, into hand-wringing over the worry that “boys don’t read,” or, as in the implication of the quote above “boys don’t read and they grow up emotionally stunted.” Sure, librarians, parents, and educators are preoccupied with trying to figure out how to help raise active, engaged readers, how to foster a love of books. And that’s no bad thing.
But I think the “girls are readers, boys are reluctant readers,” idea, while true in some cases, is a troubling and reductive mythology to spread, and I worry when a site designed for readers and book lovers helps reinforce that notion, even in such a sly and winking way.
Besides, that’s really not the story NPR was telling in this article.
Try this on as a pull quote instead:
The Book Girls are only partly real; like most heavily marketed-to demographics, they only sort of exist. Every Book Girl is something else, too – a sportsy girl, a scientist, a nail-art aficionado, a poet, a prodigy, a patient. But the force they are exerting is real. They have created a market for what they love, and they insist upon it. The things marketed to them are not the only things they love –some of the same girls who later showed up at the Roth panel were at the morning panel with John Grisham and Carl Hiaasen, neither of whom is probably being sold with the idea that he’s sharing a lot of readers with dystopian YA. They have allies in boyfriends and boy friends, in parents and other adults, in librarians and book critics. The world of their books is much more complicated than just them, and they are more complicated than just their books.
Here, let’s take a look at the story, and the phenomenon of the “Book Girl” as the marketing demographic construct it is. Partially shorthand for publishers shaping their upcoming lists and planning publicity campaigns. Partially data for those publishers to help devise forthcoming campaigns that will appeal to the ideal, constructed reader, in this case a Book Girl. The article acknowledges the power of this construct as a marketing force, along with the desires of the Book Girls themselves, the complexities of the worlds and characters they push to read, the books and worlds and characters they love.
I like the way the above paragraph acknowledges some compexity: “the things marketed to them are not the only things they love…the world of their books is much more complicated than just them, and they are more complicated than just their books.”
I particularly like the acknowledgement that these Book Girls are “only partly real, like most heavily marketed-to demographics.” This article is an exploration of this construct, this hybrid of marketing tropes and real girls seen and overheard carrying books by a reporter at the Javits center.
That’s what this story is: an observation piece, grafted into a reading trend piece about a specific demographic of readers, beginning with girls ages 11 and up, passionate about books and reading, both books explicitly marketed to them by the publishing industry, and reading more widely and more curiously than that genre. But it’s about books, and reading, and publishing and marketing.
That’s the story.
There are plenty of stories about the gender gap in YA reading habits.
- Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope? (New York Times, 2011)
- Gendered covers are failing young adult readers (The Guardian, 2013)
- Books for Boys and Books For Girls: Problems with Gendered Reading (BookRiot, 2013)
There are important stories still to be told about diversity in YA characters and readers, especially relating to the BookCon and the Book Expo. #WeNeedDiverseBooks is an excellent resource.
Yes, there are news stories about the divide between what and how boys read, and what and how girls read, and how to get boys to read more.
This wasn’t one of them, BookRiot. This wasn’t one of them.