Reading is a manly pursuit

A man's man: Ben McCulloch counted camp fires at Encarnacion.

A man’s man: Ben McCulloch counted camp fires at Encarnacion.

I recently started following The Order of Man on Facebook at the suggestion of one of my sons.

While I don’t need some dude who is a decade younger than me to tell me how to be a man, I enjoy a fair amount of the stuff they post and discuss. I don’t think they’re offering bad advice about manliness, but I haven’t dipped too deep into their content to necessarily offer a heartfelt recommendation for Order of Man.

I’ll say this: If you want to learn how to conduct yourself as a man and you don’t already have in your life some good role models, probably the internet is not the best place to figure that out. I would recommend you find some other men and a river or a path in the woods and let that be your starting point. But maybe the Order of Man podcast can be what you listen to on your drive to the wilderness.

Today one of the Order of Man’s posts came up in my newsfeed on Facebook, and I realized that one of the things they are encouraging men to do is to spend some time every day reading.

I am a lifelong reader. I started reading heavily when I was in middle school. Spy fiction is what I loved best of all back in the day, and then the Spencer series by Robert B. Parker. I devoured those Spencer novels.

In college I took enough English lit courses that I nearly majored in English. In my adult life, I largely switched from novels to historical non-fiction, but I still read fiction quite a bit. Currently I’m reading a Carl Hiaasen novel.

I’m a champion of reading. It broadens horizons. It makes you more knowledgeable, gives you clearer insight, challenges your assumptions, allows you to grow mentally, reveals human truths and understanding, and reading makes you a better man.

When I first started writing the Jackson Speed novels, my assumption was that my readership would consist almost entirely of men. The novels are about guns and horses and armies and war and beautiful women. I just figured that was the stuff that would appeal to men.

James “Old Peter” Longstreet is a recurring character in my books. Nobody at the Order of Man has a better beard than Old Peter had.

Ben McCulloch is a character in the first novel. This is historical fact: Ben McCulloch and a handful of Texas Rangers rode hell for leather through Santa Anna’s camp at Encarnacion in the middle of the night. With Mexican soldiers going bat shit crazy and shooting every musket and swinging every sword they could find at McCulloch and the Rangers, McCulloch COUNTED CAMP FIRES. He wanted to know the size of his enemy, and he was able to guesstimate the enemy’s size by the number of campfires they had.

There are not many men in the history of the world who can lay claim to the sort of manliness Ben McCulloch exhibited, and that was just one evening in a lifetime of machismo.

Anyway, I don’t want to go too far astray of my point.

The other thing I saw over the weekend is that some traditional publishers are hiring “sensitivity readers” to flag offensive content in manuscripts. I find this confusing and stupid. But it suggests to me something that I’ve believed for a long time: Men who have a traditional sense of manhood do not read books.

Having watched trends in publishing for a long time, it seems to me that the vast majority of books are intended for women. Women are the marketplace for publishers, and not a lot of books are being published for men.

I could be wrong, but when I try to find books that I enjoy, I don’t find them among the new releases.

Sure, James Patterson has two new books being published every week, and Lee Child always has a new release. I suppose Grisham and Clancy novels are intended for a male audience, but it just seems to me that most of the new books by new authors are targeted to women.

I don’t fault authors or publishers. You write and publish what sells. I fault the untruths that we told boys for a couple of generations. Somewhere along the line I believe we failed to disabuse boys of the notion that reading was a “girly” pursuit. I think we raised up a generation or two of boys who thought that time spent in a book was time in a feminine activity.

So, I found it refreshing when I read on Order of Man that they are encouraging men to read. I don’t know if they have a reading list or if it’s every man for himself. But I like the idea that there are men out there who are holding out reading as a manly pursuit.

When I was a kid I was enthralled with my dad’s knowledge. I remember, even in my early 20s, thinking that I would never know as much about the Civil War as my dad did. And then it occurred to me that when I was young my dad frequently had a book in his hand. And the books he had were nonfiction Civil War histories. So I started reading nonfiction Civil War histories to try to catch up with my dad. I’m not saying that I have an equal amount of knowledge (he has a 30-year jump on me, after all), but I will say that there was footnoted material in Jackson Speed at the High Tide that when he finished reading the novel my dad said, “You uncovered somethings even I didn’t know.” Now that’s book review worth having!

Maybe I’m all wrong and men are reading books and books are being written, published, and marketed to men, and I just don’t realize it. None of what I’ve written here is statistical and researched, it’s all anecdotal observation.

Nevertheless, I find it encouraging that somewhere out there men are telling other men that they should read books.

And if Order of Man has a recommended reading list, maybe I can convince them some day to put Jackson Speed on their list as a sort of “how not to behave like a man” guidebook.

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