The Dudes Who Read Young-Adult Fiction

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Photo: J Shepherd/(c) J Shepherd

The film adaptation of the best-selling young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars opened on Friday, which means that it’s time once again to argue whether adults have any business reading books written for kids. But here’s an observation: Many, if not most, of the essays and think pieces on the subject have been written by women.

But what about the men who can’t get enough of John Green, or Rainbow Rowell, or the latest dystopian trilogy? I was curious about the men who read YA, so I asked some people who would know: a guy who reads and blogs about young-adult novels, and a guy who writes them.

Adults — as in, people age 18 or older — now account for nearly 80 percent of sales of young adult titles, and men do indeed purchase fewer YA books than women, according to the most recent Nielsen figures, which the market research firm shared with Science of Us. Overall, 60.5 percent of the young adult books sold were purchased by women, and 39.5 percent were bought by men. That gender disparity mirrors Pew research from January showing that men read fewer books of any genre — an average of four a year, as compared to six for women.

Even if a significant number of men are reading YA, not many have been inclined to take to the internet to write about their love for the genre. Except, that is, for Aaron Bergh. Bergh is in his mid-30s, and is known at work for reading titles like Anna and the French Kiss on his lunch break. He also authors the blog Real Men Read YA, which he started in 2012 after falling in love with the genre and feeling a little sheepish about it--and then feeling annoyed at a culture that would cause him to feel sheepish about such an innocuous thing. Broadly speaking, he thinks some men might be resistant to books that threaten to give them, as he put it, “the feels.” He wrote in an email:

More women read YA than men. For sure. Why? Who knows. I think a big part of it is that men want to be "men," and in our society, a man would never read a book with teenagers on the cover. I mean c'mon. That's not “manly.”

I read YA because I love good stories. We all remember "those" years, and just like any form of entertainment, YA lets us revisit those emotions. I called my blog Real Men Read YA because after I started reading YA, I realized how much I enjoyed it and that I shouldn't care what anyone else thinks about it. These are great stories, with characters I can't forget. Being a Real Man isn't about all the "manly" stuff; instead, it's about being true to who you are.

A healthy appreciation for a tightly plotted, fast-paced read, and a nostalgic longing to remember the rawness of adolescence: So, exactly the reasons adult women read young adult fiction! Imagine that. But even Rick Yancey, author of the YA novel The Fifth Wave, said in an email that he’s not sure that he would be willing to pick up a young-adult novel if he didn’t write for the market. He continued:

I read YA for the same reason I enjoy writing it. There are less rules. Screw genre. Screw linear narrative. Screw every tried-and-true rule except one: ENTERTAIN. Some of the most innovative writing is coming out of YA now and I am more than happy to be a part of that. (As a disclaimer, I never purposely aim my work at guys or girls. I just try to write the coolest story possible.)

Anyway, as long as you’re reading something, you’re ahead of most Americans.