« Russia--The US Made Us Do It | Main | Monday A.M. Campaign Zen, Disco Ball Edition »

August 10, 2008

That Little White Picket Fence

Greetings. The Princess appears to have survived week one of home renovation hell. Fortunately she has detected no ill effects that ten days on a beach in Key West with Adrian Paul on tap (in case she needs her toenails painted a divine shade of shell pink!) wouldn't cure. All of this just goes to show that there is nothing like having one's house torn completely to shreds to the comforting sound of Manly Power Tools to give a person some extremely bizarre fantasies.

Throw in a few crises at work and we have all the required ingredients for chronic cirrhosis of the liver. Needless to say, such an atmosphere is not conducive to quiet contemplation. It was a relief this morning to wake early enough to have the house to myself; to be able to read the paper, have some time to think, write, contemplate the lint in my navel. This is my favorite time: early in the morning before anyone - even the birds - are up. The house is still. Even the dog is still slumbering downstairs. In a few moments I will no doubt hear his muffled but imperious "woof!" from the basement but for now, the golden hours of pre-dawn serenity are mine to savor.

I am happily reading about books. Apparently, little boys like reading about things that are gross:

The book's main character slaughtered his victims by running them through with sharp stakes. He once left hundreds dying slowly on a hillside while the soil grew "muddy with blood" and "blackbirds flocked around the corpses, fighting for a meal."

Although it has the contours of a horror story -- with splotches of red ink on its pages depicting blood -- it's actually a children's book. "Vlad the Impaler: The Real Count Dracula" is widely available in libraries and is making its way into middle-school social-studies classes.

...Publishers are hawking more gory and gross books to appeal to an elusive market: boys -- many of whom would rather go to the dentist than crack open "Little House on the Prairie." Booksellers are also catering to teachers and parents desperate to make young males more literate.

It would be easy to condemn movements like this as pandering to the lowest common denominator but as a mother of two boys, the article's observations ring all too true. My sons were both strong readers but their reading preferences differed sharply from mine. To interest them in reading I had to appeal to their tastes, not necessarily my own. Luckily, we shared an appreciation for all kinds of humor as well as a love of learning about the world around us:

Scholastic and other publishers are heeding the research of such academics as Jeffrey Wilhelm, an education professor at Boise State University. Prof. Wilhelm tracked boys' reading habits for five years ending in 2005 and found that schools failed to meet their "motivational needs." Teachers assigned novels about relationships, such as marriage, that appealed to girls but bored boys. His survey of academic research found boys more likely to read nonfiction, especially about sports and other activities they enjoy, as well as funny, edgy fiction.

For girls, especially as they grow older, a large part of successfully negotiating the world around them means learning to understand how the people around them think and feel. Relationships, whether they are friendships, professional contacts, or romantic liasons, are tremendously important to most women. While boys rarely devote more than a few moments of conscious thought to actively maintaining their personal relationships, girls generally begin doing so almost from birth. And if they want to learn about relationships, they could hardly do better than this refreshingly retro-sexual page turner:

... the four Meyer novels -- "Twilight," "New Moon," "Eclipse" and now "Breaking Dawn" -- tell the story of a regular girl, Isabella Swan, who falls in love with a not-so- regular boy, Edward Cullen. Edward is a vampire. New to the perpetually rainy town of Forks, Wash., Bella immediately falls for the pale and shockingly beautiful Edward -- who does everything in his power to resist his attraction to Bella. Edward has long fed only on animals, not humans, but his thirst for Bella's blood is beyond intense. Neither, it turns out, can stay away from the other, and what follows is a page-turning saga, a portrait of adolescent desire and first love at its most powerful and tender.

Bella and Edward find themselves "unconditionally and irrevocably in love," as Ms. Meyer writes. Despite this, there are barely more than a few passionate kisses in the series' first 1,700-or-so pages, and almost no kissing at all in its first 500. Rather, Bella and Edward are satisfied by nearness. An innocent touch of the hand feels "as if an electric current had passed through us," Bella explains at one point. Saying her beloved's name, Edward, is "a thrill" in and of itself. Edward's breath on Bella's face is a heady, intoxicating experience, and Edward is knocked nearly senseless by Bella's smell, which he describes as floral, "like lavender . . . or freesia." They are restless unless they are together. But when together, they create more sparks than either knows how to handle.

Oh, and then there's Jacob, Bella's best friend, also supernaturally beautiful (he's a werewolf) and in love with Bella -- creating a triangle that has fans declaring allegiances to one or the other of Bella's suitors. (Though Edward clearly wins the day.)

And here lies Ms. Meyer's secret. She knows that romantic tension is often better built with anticipation than action. That there is enough excitement in gazes, conversation, proximity and maybe a few stolen kisses to keep young lovers busy for years -- if they allow themselves to indulge in this slow kind of seduction.

Ms. Meyer's fans agree. This vampire love story has captured more than their hearts -- it has them demanding that young men behave like gentlemen.

...At the New York "Breaking Dawn" concert event, amid girls alternately chanting "Ed-ward! Ed-ward!" and "Steph-en-ie!" and screaming with excitement, one girl, Jordana, explained why she thought the relationship between Bella and Edward was so compelling and sexy, even though they never go further than kissing. "They are so perfect together and so into talking to each other and just being together, you don't even notice they don't kiss." Her friend Sarah added that "they show that you can have a perfect relationship without being physical."

Another pair of girls, Donna and Meghan, said they loved "the forbidden passion" laced throughout the series. (And, indeed, many girls wore T-shirts that said: "The forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest." This may be a reference to the cover art of the first book, which shows two hands holding an apple.) "Bella and Edward connect in ways other than with sex. They connect spiritually," Donna explained. "They just look at each other and sparks fly."

"It's not all physical," Meghan chimed in, saying once again a line I heard over and over from girls I interviewed. "I mean, Edward has been alive since 1901," Meghan continued. They both then stopped to do the math. "That's over 100 years and he's been waiting for Bella the whole time! He's never been with anyone else. That's the most romantic thing ever."

Teenage girls were not the only ones with a strong presence at the Twilight Party. Mom-fans from the online group TwilightMoms.com were out in full force, wearing T-shirts boasting their allegiance and excitedly talking about why the series is good for their daughters. "Edward is everything every high-school boy isn't," one said with conviction. This mother of a teenage girl went on to explain how boys "are only interested in booty calls, not romance," while the rest of the TwilightMoms nodded their heads in agreement. "Twilight shows girls that you can have the most intimate, romantic relationship of your life without any sex."

Another mother nearby had a litany of reasons why the series was good for girls. "Twilight helps girls realize they don't need to settle for anything less than what they really want," she began. "It teaches them to keep high standards. That there are guys that will treat them with respect. Girls today need to learn this, and they can learn it from this series."

I had two thoughts when reading this review. First, that many men would thing: "Great! Here we go again! Reinforcing the notion that a great relationship doesn't involve sex!"

And secondly, "If more men spent time talking to their wives - actually flirting with them again, respecting them, cherishing them - they might get more sex after marriage." A few weeks ago I read an article about marriage. It was pretty negative on the whole institution:

At the core of Dolan's thinking is the insight that even when we leave aside internal contradictions between models of marriage, each version presents intractable problems. The "fusion into one" conceit, notoriously absorbed into law through the fiction of "coverture" that made a husband the controller of his wife's rights, ignores the reality of distinct personalities with distinct goals. The "contract between equals" vision of companions and partners confronts religious, legal, and popular traditions that associate "equality with conflict," and hold that "once spouses confront one another as equals only one can win the resulting battles."

In Dolan's view, marriage rests on an "economy of scarcity" in regard to rights and privileges "in which there is only room for one full person." The traditional solution? Marriage "as a hierarchy in which someone, usually the husband, has to be the boss." On this view, "hierarchy resolves conflict while equality promotes it," an assumption that Dolan says underpins "many conceptualizations of marriage."

It's here that Dolan insinuates her most provocative idea — that marriage, by its confused nature, amounts to a form of "violence" against individuality, sometimes prompting other forms as well. At first blush, the notion sounds extremist. Yet Dolan makes sense of it. She hardly lacks examples of the more gory violence long associated with marriages gone terribly bad. But her perspective often proves most impressive not when she's revisiting women burned at the stake for actually murdering their husbands, but identifying a whole tradition of women diarists who fantasized their husbands' deaths as the only way out of captivity.

Dolan devotes only two pages to same-sex marriage, but the implications of her study for it are immense. Though plainly sympathetic to the idea on equality grounds, Dolan suggests that married gay people will confront many of the lingering biases of the "economy of scarcity" model — its presumption that one marriage partner must be privileged, its tendency to concentrate "entitlements and capacities in one spouse" until "that spouse absorbs, subordinates, or eliminates the other." Without the signposts of biological difference, how will the courts know who's who in gay marriages?

Dolan ventures no opinion. But Marriage and Violence forces a bigger issue into the policy limelight where gay marriage now finds itself. The book's incisive, detailed attention to abundant aspects of matrimony makes one realize that scholarship on marriage as a historical institution must be part of the nationwide debate on gay marriage. We need to contemplate, in a new light, those challenging concrete elements — the ownership symbolism of the ring, the wife's traditional taking of the husband's surname, so-called male "headship" in marriage generally, intercourse as a "conjugal debt," prenuptial agreements, wifely submission as subterfuge, the psychological subtleties that criminal law must confront in assessing battered women.

Until now, most media have taken the "marriage" half of "same-sex marriage" for granted. That's a recipe for more of the simplistic discussions we've heard so far. Dolan rightly seeks to "denaturalize" our clichéd conception of marriage by explaining its historical development. In that spirit, she makes clear that while she can't devote desirable space to such rich traditions as Jewish and Muslim marriage in her largely Protestant-driven narrative, they too, and their idiosyncrasies, must be part of any sophisticated conversation about the subject.

In the meantime, Dolan and the marriage scholars she ably represents and cites — such thinkers and inspired researchers as Nancy F. Cott, David Cressy, Alison D. Wall, and Stone — offer a further message to conservative opponents of same-sex marriage. If they truly understood the institution's history, they might fall to their knees and thank God that gay people want anything to do with such a conceptual mess.

Good nightshirt. Where to start? How about with "I do"? Because it seems that right after saying those two little words, so very many couples start saying, "I don't".

As in, "I don't..." have to do that anymore. I don't have to earn this person's regard anymore ... because I'm married now. I don't have to compete for his or her time. I don't have to pick up my own socks. I don't have to put out. I don't have to shut the bathroom door.

We become so careless. We all do. It's as though when we say those two little words, we forget that we could always lose our partner to someone else. The best thing about marriage - the sense of safety, of belonging, of being part of a couple, is also the worst. We become complacent.

And thus, if we are not careful, the sense of excitement that was there when we were just dating, the challenge, the danger, the thrill - all of these things go away and are replaced by a dreary sameness. But Dolan has it all wrong. Marriage is not the death of individuality, but the conscious decision of two individuals to commit to something greater than themselves: a partnership. If they choose wisely, if they are equally yoked to a partner of roughly equal intelligence, willpower, and other gifts, there is a give and take over the years. We are not relieved of the duty to assert ourselves over time: if the balance shifts too far towards one partner or the other, the partnership will fail.

I have always loved the words of Khalil Gibran on marriage. A wedding does not create one person, but unites two distinct people with a common goal. They freely choose to walk side by side through life, because they would rather be together than apart. During the journey, each learns from the other:

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone, though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

I don't think marriage is going anywhere, for all the bleating of the chattering classes, because human nature hasn't changed. And it's reassuring that despite the constant bombardment of sleazy Victoria's Secret ads, our children still realize there is nothing sexier than that tantalizing space between a man and a woman, still waiting to come together for the first time.

If they can understand that desire is as much about the pursuit as about the attainment of our dreams, they will have learned much.

Posted by Cassandra at August 10, 2008 06:31 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


I had a neighbor who impaled himself on a white picket fence after a tumble from a ladder.

The good news was, the picket snapped off at the crossbracing.

The bad news was, he had to drive himself to the hospital...

Posted by: BillT at August 10, 2008 10:09 AM

Great quote by Kibran.

Posted by: Jeffrey at August 10, 2008 10:52 AM

Whatever happened to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew? Did Nancy Drew join "Girls Gone Wild" with the Hardy Boys filming 'Nancy' lifting her top for a YOUTUBE presentation?

I grew up on the Hardy Boys, Albert Payson Terhune's collie stories, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. No I-Pods, computers, or television. All we had was a vacant lot down the street, a can and a stick, and our imaginations.

Shane. Shane! Come back! 'Bye, Shane.

Now that is a story with a moral!

Posted by: vet66 at August 10, 2008 11:25 AM

Well, here's the thing about the 'Vlad the Impaler' story -- it's true. The truth is often pretty gory.

I've been reading Sidney Lanier's The Boy's Froissart to my son, a chapter or three a night -- it goes on for hundreds of pages. In one chapter, a detachment of the English army is beseiged in a city, and tries to send a servant to the main army for help. He leaves with letters to the Earl of Derby sewn inside his clothes, but is captured by the French.

The French tie him up, put him in a catapult, and shoot him over the walls. He falls to earth and... well, you get the idea.

This is not a story with gore for gore's sake. It's a chronicle of the Hundred Years war. That's how things were, and frankly, it's how they still are: we had worse things than that happen in our AO in Iraq, directed mostly towards Iraqis, but not exclusively. Sooner or later, you're going to have to know it: and boys are the ones, far more often than not, who are going to grow up to be the ones who have to deal with it.

Posted by: Grim at August 10, 2008 01:34 PM

Maybe we should teach boys how to appreciate MacBeth instead?

I don't know what to do with women.

Posted by: Mr. Oink at August 10, 2008 02:27 PM

Well, in my experience, first you set aside some time to listen to them talk about their hobbies. I think that was Cass' larger point here, but I only skimmed the part that talked about girls.

Posted by: Grim at August 10, 2008 02:31 PM

*stayin' in the back yard today with saws and air tools, deciding if I need to build a timeout bench while I'm at it*

Posted by: bt_pleads-the-or-a-fifth_hun at August 10, 2008 02:45 PM

Well, in my experience, first you set aside some time to listen to them talk about their hobbies.

That's the best excuse for heavy drinking that I've ever heard, Grim. "I asked them about their hobbies, and for my sins they told me.

Posted by: Mr. Oink at August 10, 2008 02:48 PM

It's a fine penance that repays old sins, yet arranges for new ones at the same time.

Posted by: Grim at August 10, 2008 02:51 PM

The problem arises when their hobbies include "Playing Doctor" -- with a real scalpel...

Posted by: BillT at August 10, 2008 02:57 PM

I'd heard something about this on the radio in the past day or so. They didn't say anything about the Vlad the Impaler book, though... In slowly building a classroom library (if I ever secure a friggin' teaching job...), I've tried to get a variety of material. I've got quite a bit of history-oriented stuff, but I've also gotten some sports-related books, too. I've got several baseball books, and a couple of those picture books from Rondi & Tiki Barber. I've not gone too heavy into chapter books, since I have no idea what age group I might end up with. There is a lot of difference between what the average first grader and the average fourth grader would want to (and be able to) read. I've got the Harry Potter series, but I started reading those before I decided to go back to school to earn my teaching degree. Don't have too much else, though I have read the first two Peter Pan books by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson. Kids will only read, willingly, what interests them. You just have to find the books that meet those interests... And I'm always open to suggestions, too.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 10, 2008 02:59 PM

Fotunately, all of my girls are nuns, or so I'm told by the missus. Although I though I have to admit, I can't imagine Sister Mary Ita dressed like nuns evidently do nowadays.

Posted by: Mr. Oink at August 10, 2008 03:00 PM

And I'm always open to suggestions, too.

And I'll be a gentleman and thank you for the straight line that I'm not going anywhere with.

Kids like anything that will let them use their imaginations to place themselves in the story -- the more painterly the prose, the better. Collier Brothers (I'm *old*, okay?) had a hard-bound series of myths and legends that incorporated probably everything Kipling wrote, and every kid in my class read them at least twice.

And I'm somewhat bemused to discover some of you youngsters were in the dark as to how Vlad Ţepeş got that nickname...

Posted by: BillT at August 10, 2008 04:06 PM

If we are not careful, the sense of excitement that was there when we were just dating, the challenge, the danger, the thrill - all of these things go away...

You've obviously never tried to sneak upstairs -- past three drowsy dogs -- an hour after closing time -- without awakening the Spousal Unit...

Posted by: BillT at August 10, 2008 04:20 PM

Okay... I reallly need ed to work this after noon, but instead it's....Dump time.

Here are the books that boys should read before they grow too old to read them to themselves. This is not a complete list, but it's meant to be well rounded enough that all of what it matters to be a man is well represented:

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer The best "boy's book" every written. And I'll punch the first person who says otherwise right in the nose.

Lord of the Flies This is a story about how boys think themselves as being men, and how mistaken both men and boys are in that assessment.

Huckleberry Finn: If I am going to allow my chidren to appreciate the soul of rebellion, then there is no greater tale of such courage and perseverance that that of kid ahead of his culture.(Yeah, I know, the "N-word festures prominently, but explaining that whole mindset, one (I trust) is completely foreign to school-aged boys, is the function of being a parent. We provide the moral compass that guides them through the rough spots, without losing sight of the objective of the story. Anything else would be abandonment.)

Ivanhoe: Yeah, it's an old story about courage, honor, fidelity, fielty, and other personal attributes currently passe. But it's also about knights in shining armour. Boys like that in a man they want to be.

Treasure Island This dumb kid gets taken in by the the feigned friendship of the world's most eveil pirate, and somehow recovers! It's about pirates fercryingoputloud! Whooo hoo!!!!

The Bounty Trilogy I've never quite understood why the whole story of the mutiny of the Bounty never made it past the attenuated versions offered by Hollywodd. As good as that may be, the Troilogy is the ultimate epic of life in the Royal Navy. But for a boy today, it is probably a drudge, notwithstanding its excellent guidence on law and consequenses.

All Quiet on The Western Front: Why war is, and should be, the last resort of an intelligent species, and how as indivudauls we cope with the non-sensical demands for action demanded by our leadership.

The Jungle Book Every boy lives in a jungle. Here's their moral guidebook.

I could go on, and I invite you to do so. Just don't ask me how old I am.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 10, 2008 04:26 PM

+1 on Ivanhoe. That's a book that has the power to teach a boy to appreciate language: it's written in a fully archaic style, with all the baroque bells and whistles of early 19th-century literature. Yet, at the right age, he'll never be able to put it down.

Posted by: Grim at August 10, 2008 04:29 PM

And because I'm a poor typist, let me add this aa as a necessary book for boys:

To Kill A Mocking Bird Ther is no better point in the sky that I could point my son in the direction of than Addicus Finch.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 10, 2008 04:44 PM

Well, all right.

Already mentioned, to be read when old enough:

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.

Not yet metioned, for the boy to read when he's ready:

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle. There are many versions of the Robin Hood story, but this is the one that will delight a young boy.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Required reading for any boy of the 8-12 range.

The Boy Scout Handbook

To be read to the boy, before he can read them himself:

The Ballad of the White Horse by G. K. Chesterton. The greatest poem of the 20th century -- yes, yes, I know all about all the ones the literary theorists prefer. This one is the best.

The Boy's Froissart by Sidney Lanier. It's too long for a boy to read himself unless he is unusually disciplined, but he will sit and listen to it from an early age. Knights, archers, heroism, pirates, great battles, castles. The inspiration for Conan Doyle's The White Company, which is a good second-string book.

(You can also read a young boy the Pyle book, which he'll enjoy. Pyle also did a good version of King Arthur and a rousing collection of pirate tales, both for boys.)

Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory.

Beowulf, whichever translation suits you best.

A lot of the books I think you should read to boys are poems. They won't think to read poetry on their own, but poetry is traditionally a male enterprise, and all the great poets were men. (No offense to the current poet laurate of the United States, who is not; but, honestly, she's not Homer.)

Posted by: Grim at August 10, 2008 05:29 PM

By the way, Miss Ladybug, if you're looking for suggestions for younger boys, I have one. A friend of mine in Finland sent me The Canine Kalevala when my son was born. He wanted to make sure that his 'national epic' was included in the boy's education, which it duly has been (as it was in mine, although in a different, less-dogly form).

Posted by: Grim at August 10, 2008 05:34 PM

We have all of those and let me add:

The Great Brain series. The lad makes Tom Sawyer look like a saint.

The Last of the Mohicans Thrilling stuff.

The Dangerous Book For Boys Updated kewl stuff

Backyard Ballistics Spud cannons and other fun things with which to scare the neighbors, summon sheriffs and make the MPs tear their hair out.

Don't forget G.A. Henty, and some of the turn of the century authors whose writings are about boys with grit.

Any and all movies by John Wayne. These are a must. Clint Eastwood movies are edgy. Not that Mr. Eastwood can't tell a good story. I just don't recommend them until the lads are about 16 or older.

All of James Clavell's books. Especially Shogun and Noble House.

Posted by: Cricket at August 10, 2008 05:50 PM

I have to admit that I have a copy of The Last of the Mohicans on my bookshelf; but I agree with Mark Twain's opinion of it. I disagree, of course, with Twain on the subject of Sir Walter Scott: but I think he's right about Cooper.

Louis L'amour books can be very good on the same subjects: woodcraft, survival in the wild, man against nature, etc.

Posted by: Grim at August 10, 2008 05:54 PM

When I was back aboard ship, many many seasons ago, it devolved to me (in addition to my regular duties) to become ship's librarian. On a tiny destroyer escort where the ship's library could easily over-run the closet -sized spaced put aside, the librarian was responsible for getting the books into the hands of his shipmates before the closet overflowed. Take them. Read them. Share them. BUT FOR GOD'S SAKES DON"T BRING THEM BACK!

And as I remember Grim. the books favored by my shipmates, overwhelmingly so, were westerns. I may have not shared their enthusiasm, but that wasn't my job, was it?

Posted by: spd rdr at August 10, 2008 06:26 PM

I think great books transcend gender.

I've read a lot of what I consider utter nonsense about how boys won't read if they can't "relate" to the reading material and girls won't read, or their precious self images will be damaged if they don't have "sympathetic female role models" (IOW, if the book isn't about a female character, and idea I consider complete rubbish).

I read all of spd's suggested books for boys and more besides: The Prisoner of Zenda, The Great Impersonator, The Good Earth, Treasure Island, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I will freely admit (and this may be a girl thing) that Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer were perhaps less interesting to me than any other single selections on that list :p

But I read them, and with great enjoyment. I also read the entire Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, with far more enjoyment. I think that was easier for a girl to relate to. And I read Little Men. And all of Jane Austen, believe it or not. And most of Charles Dickens. The thing with reading is, once you begin, you get sucked in.

There was very little that I didn't read. I had a Great Books series as a child. I read the whole thing. Cover to cover. And loved every darned minute of it. Best money my parents every spent. I parked myself near the mailbox every month, waiting for that month's installment to arrive.

Shortly after we got married, we signed up for the once-a-month Harvard Classics. And the Great Books series. I love books, and being sent things you might never read on your own is a delight you can't even begin to imagine. And they are meant to be taken down from their shelves and used too. What a pity if they just sit up there, gathering dust.

PS: Of them all, I must confess to loving Ivanhoe, even with all its faults (and from the female perspective, Ivanhoe has a LOT of faults). But it has heart, and there is something in being steadfast in this transient world that will always earn my love.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 10, 2008 06:28 PM

I had my wife troll the used bookstores for many miles around looking for used L'amour books to send me in Iraq. I left them all behind -- most of them at Victory, but a lot at FOB Hammer as well. I met a Sergeant First Class who had never read a book from cover to cover in his life when I got there; by the time I left him, he'd read the whole collection, before passing each one on to others in turn.

Cass: Ivanhoe has no faults. None, I say! :)

Posted by: Grim at August 10, 2008 06:32 PM

In addition to all the great work mentioned, I might offer SciFi and particularly anything by
E. Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, H.G. Wells...

L'Amour was my downfall. After reading a bazillion of his westerns and then learning of his jack of all trades life, I set off as a very young fellow in pursuit of a broad sampling of life before entering a delineated (career) path. So I blame L'Amour for my misspent, but thoroughly enjoyable youth.

Someone mentioned age... and following that thought, when I was a young'un and we had the blood lust fall upon us, we would gather together, go outside and play football, box (gloves were a plus when we had em) or climb trees to string zip-lines. Of course there was fishing, thrashing around in the woods, and during hunting season... well we were all familiar with blood...

Regarding connubial behavior after the I do, if you're not acting like you're hitting on you high school sweetie, for the most honorable of reasons, of course, then IMO you might want to rethink your strategy or reevaluate your partnership.

Just my 2 centavos as I head to the timeout chair in the corner, with a beer. =8^}

Posted by: bt_what-me-worry_hun at August 10, 2008 07:01 PM

And speaking of poems, Rudyard Kipling... now back to my chair.

Posted by: bt_what-me-worry_hun at August 10, 2008 07:07 PM

I've figured out what my problem is...no one told me those were books for BOYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyone read Tom Swift or the Hardy Boys? LOL

Posted by: Maggie100 at August 10, 2008 07:09 PM

Grim, I'm shocked I tell ya on missing one. When the kids are a little bit older: Grimm's Fairy Tales.

A collection of folklore that covers a vast swath of humanity

Posted by: Allen at August 10, 2008 07:24 PM

One can learn a lot from those, it's true. :)

Posted by: Grim at August 10, 2008 07:45 PM

I would have to add The Contender by Robert Lipsyte and The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton.

And Maggie...no one ever told me they were boys' books either. 'Splains a lot.

Posted by: Meandering down memory lane at August 10, 2008 07:58 PM

Nobody said they were only for boys: just that they were good for boys. :)

Posted by: Grim at August 10, 2008 08:32 PM

Oh, I wasn't arguing that any of you said that.

I was more taking issue (a bit) with the article. I agree that boys do like gross things, and that they like humor. But I think, actually, that the issue is more that books are competing with video games and TV than that boys need boy-specific books.

It always annoyed me no end when I was growing up to read that girls needed girl-specific literature. That is just plain dumb. I read textbooks on anthropology, for Pete's sake, just because I found the subject interesting. I read everything I could get my hands on when I was a kid. I read labels on boxes. I read newspapers. That was because we didn't have TV all the time.

When my kids got a bit older we got cable and gameboys came out. All of a sudden they were glued to the TV or veging out with their friends. I banned the TV except for certain hours and sent them outside, or took them to the library. They went back to reading books or rode their bikes. Images are really powerful and kids lose the ability to concentrate and amuse themselves if you hand them entertainment, ready made on a platter.

Books, at least, allow their imaginations free reign and make them engage in some sustained train of thought over a long period of time. I wonder whether we aren't losing that, the same way I observed my sons' friends losing the ability to play games by the rules and get along with each other b/c the only "play" they knew was video games. It was kind of sad.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 10, 2008 08:55 PM

You know, I got down Ivanhoe tonight, and read the part where Ivanhoe, "the Disinherited Knight," meets the Templar in the lists at Ashby de la Zouche. It was necessary to abridge small parts of it; and to explain many of the words; but the boy was fascinated.

So the magic does work, even when the boy is quite young yet.

Posted by: Grim at August 10, 2008 09:00 PM

Ta da!
Never underestimate your children, or their children. Let them underestimate you.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 10, 2008 09:12 PM

"Just my 2 centavos as I head to the timeout chair in the corner, with a beer. =8^}"

You did bring enough for everyone, right?

*she says as she dusts out the inside of her pointy cap and nudges Carrie awake*

Posted by: DL Sly at August 10, 2008 09:25 PM

If you'll accept one that's not in a Spanish accent, we're drinking Red Stripe tonight at the Hall.

Posted by: Grim at August 10, 2008 09:30 PM

"I could go on, and I invite you to do so. Just don't ask me how old I am." - spd rdr

Yes, Mr. rdr is about to pass another gall stone, er , milestone. Shouldn't you be heading for the Outer Banks right about now?

Good luck and good fortune on surviving another year, old man!

PS. Talking about books, I grew up on reading the "juveniles" by RA Heinlein. And a boatload of books by his peers, Isaac Asimov (as Paul French) and Arthur Clarke.
"The Call of the Wild" and "White Fang" are great for young boys (and girls too!) especially if they love and understand dogs.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at August 10, 2008 10:03 PM

It's just funny to me that so many of the books I read are now suggested as reading matter for boys!

Heinlein's juveniles were the first ever science fiction I read. I think I still have a copy of "Have Spacesuit Will Travel" around here, a sentimental favorite. Oddly enough, I didn't care for some of these the first time around, I liked them better later on. I was running around trying to convince everyone I could to try that new translation of Beowulf. My husband suggested that I might have more success if I toned my sales pitch down a bit...

Posted by: Maggie100 at August 10, 2008 10:59 PM

Here's the thing. Why is not a single person recommending the Bible? At least the translated one; it is a bit tough navigating through Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic I understand.

Even if you are not a Christian (or a Jew), there's plenty of red meat for a boy to chew through in there.

1. Adam and Eve. Genesis 3.
Moral: Don't do what your wife asks you to. Especially when God has told you otherwise. You'll live longer.

2. Jacob and Leah/Rachel.
Moral: Always consummate your marriage with the lights on. You do not want to accidentally screw your wife's sister.

3. Judges (the whole book)
Moral: The risks of a completely libertarian society; some serious badassery, especially from Deborah, and even Ehud.

4. 1st and 2nd Samuel, especially David as shepherd
Moral: You can kill a giant with a slingshot and a pebble.

5. Hosea (Hosea)
Moral: God sometimes orders you to sleep with whores (and in some cases, marry them).

6. Songs of Solomon
Moral: Sex is completely cool with God. Remember, Solomon is the same dude with over 700 women in his harem.

7. 1st and 2nd Kings
Moral: If you don't listen to your elders and start dissin' em, bears will kill you.


Anyways, yeah, I like most of them books on everyone's list. F&SF is always good, and Tom Clancy's earlier works are pretty alright also.

Posted by: Gregory at August 11, 2008 12:13 AM

It's late (or early, depending on your perspective...), so I'll keep this short. I really like the suggestions people have made, and I plan on taking actual note of the titles to add to a list of books I want to read. While I have read some of them (To Kill a Mockingbird was required reading my sophomore year of high school), others I never did. And, before I provide any books to my (future) students in my classroom (as opposed to whatever might be available in the school library), I want to have read every book so I can be prepared to address any parental issues. I might also take the time to list some of the books I've acquired - other than the ones I've been able to "review". Like the classics I orders cheap in hardcover off a box of Little Debbie snack cakes - abridged, easier reading versions first (less expensives), and I plan to also add those very same titles in the original versions, too (also off a box of Little Debbie snack cakes). Well, I do have to be at work in the morning. I'll be back on this thread to comment tomorrow after work, I'm sure...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 11, 2008 02:30 AM

Grim, I'll always take a beer offered by a friend -- Spanish accent or nada.


Posted by: DL Sly at August 11, 2008 02:47 AM

I read Nancy Drew (and my brother's Hardy Boys series too) as a girl. And Greg, I also had a Bible Stories book that I read over and over again. It was an excellent introduction to the real thing.

I also found Heinlein a bit difficult to take to at first. But that is another good thing about reading. If it is a habit, it teaches persistence.

One thing I learned from reading is the truth of the old maxim, "Don't judge a book by its cover..." or by the first reading (or first chapter) either. Often a book I didn't much care for at first came to be one of my favorites if I just tried it again a few years later ... when I was ready for it. And often books that took a while to get into were engrossing once the story line and characters had time to develop. Books, unlike TV and the Internet, require - and teach - patience and persistence.

And patience and persistence are two virtues that seem to be in short supply in today's world. They are needed to make friendships work, to make marriages work, to succeed in school, work, and in life. In life, we are often asked to persist with endeavors that, at first, may seem somewhat dull or unrewarding, but which - if we only give them a chance and our best efforts, may prove rewarding beyond our wildest dreams.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 11, 2008 06:24 AM

The Yearling
Johnny Tremain
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
Homer Price
Where The Red Fern Grows
Little Men
Jo's Boys (little men all grown up)
Farmer Boy (story of Almonzo Wilder as a boy)
Anything by Jules Verne
Old Fashioned Girl (even my sons liked this one)
Under The Lilacs
Hans Christian Andersen
Don't forget saga type poems like Beowulf, the Volsung Saga and the Mabinogian as well as the Song of Roland. There are good children's versions of these poems.
Christopher Paolini's books. I was surprised that I liked them.
Rosemary Sutcliffe's books are historic and pretty accurate and still in print.

Posted by: Cricket at August 11, 2008 10:38 AM

Grim suggested "Lord of the Flies." A good counterpoint to this book is Heinlein's "Tunnel in the Sky," which may have been written in response to it. In "Tunnel," a group of high school boys/girls are trapped on a planet far away, but establish a functioning society instead of falling into barbarism.

More thoughts here.

Posted by: david foster at August 11, 2008 02:15 PM

Credit where credit is due: it was actually spd who suggested Lord of the Flies.

Posted by: Grim at August 11, 2008 02:16 PM

"This vampire love story has captured more than their hearts -- it has them demanding that young men behave like gentlemen."

Even if they're vampires?

Gregory: I was waiting for someone to bring up the Bible. Somebody, writing about reading and writing, told of a friend of his - an atheist - who gave his son - also an atheist - a Bible, and encouraged him to read it - mainly so that he would appreciate all the references to it througout literature.

It's amazing - but satisfying - that you all came up with so many books. At least some of us are still reading.

Looking back, I find that the books I read were ones I came across and thought I'd like (most all science-fiction from the Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke era (we really ought to start calling that the HAC era), and E. E. "Doc" Smith and Lovecraft and .... I don't know if I went for one that somebody said, "Here, read this, you'll like it.".

Kipling's Jungle Book is a lot more serious than people think. There's danger in them thar jungles; life and death struggles happen all the time. For poetry, Kipling has few equals in English. He's a master of rhythm - pick one: Danny Deever:

Danny Deever

Unlike today's pocket video games, which require long hours of undivided attention, books require long hours of undivided attention.

No, wait - that can't be right.....

Posted by: ZZMike at August 11, 2008 02:35 PM

"For girls, especially as they grow older, a large part of successfully negotiating the world around them means learning to understand how the people around them think and feel. Relationships..are tremendously important to most women"..I think this is generally true, and has some implications:

1)Women are usually happier in jobs where they achieve results by bringing their personalities to bear on the personalities of others--call it "salesmanship" or "manipulation" or "relationship building"--they are less happy in jobs in which relationships matter less. An electronic circuit or a gear train doesn't care about the personality of its designer; this probably has a lot to do with the shortage of women in engineering. (Not that relationships are unimportant in engineering, but they aren't *of the essence* in the way they are in some other fields.

2)Men, on the other hand, often have some catching up to do when they enter fields that are relationship-intensive, such as management or sales. The newly-appointed male manager may find himself thinking about relationships a lot more than he ever previously did.

3)Women use people and their emotions as raw materials and tools, much in the same way men use a drill or a rifle. This MAY lead them (women) to consider people as objects, whose own goals and feelings don't matter, to a greater extent than men do. Certainly women in general seem to be notably more self-centered than men.

Posted by: jeff at August 11, 2008 03:33 PM

Women use people and their emotions as raw materials...

Note the corresponding dearth of successful female roofing contractors.

Posted by: BillT at August 11, 2008 04:21 PM

jeff, your #3 is quite possibly the biggest load of bullshiite I've ever read in my life :p

But you just go on believing it.

Posted by: Cass at August 11, 2008 05:19 PM

I don't think it's the same kind of attention. Or perhaps I didn't choose my words carefully. I don't think playing Halo fires up the same kinds of neurons that reading Shakespeare or Lord of the Flies, does.

Posted by: Cass at August 11, 2008 05:22 PM

I see someone finally mentioned RAH - _Tunnel in the Sky_ is one of his many "juveniles", all of which are a) good stories, and b) have a definite moral point to them. Honor and logic are the main ingredients, which will resonate with almost any young boy.

Posted by: bud at August 11, 2008 06:44 PM

Heinlein is an agnostic (or possibly atheist, never was quite sure myself), a pervert, and a superbly fine writer.

'Time enough for love' and 'ack, i cannot remember the name but it was something like Girl Friday' were two books that permanently warped my brains. Seriously 'hardcore' stuff.

Cassandra, I don't know about your version of the Bible Stories book; a number of the ones I have tend to sanitise stuff.

I have very little else to say in terms of books to recommend, other than what has already been stated here. I read Enid Blyton and L. M. Montgomery, but I would not say those were typical boy books, so to speak. A better recommendation would be David Eddings' Belgariad, I think.

Posted by: Gregory at August 11, 2008 09:55 PM

No, Heinlein and his wife (the third and last-Virginia) were Methodists. Sez so in "Tramp Royale". Just sayin'.

He just liked to make fun of the hypocracies in life. And towards the end of the Fifties, he was really sick of the censor lady at Scribners who kept messing with his books. A pervert? Just honest about what he really thought. Were we all a little more honest and less hypocritical about our sex lives.
And those books like "Friday", "Time Enough for Love", "J.O.B.- A Comedy of Justice" and especially "Stranger in a Strange Land" were NOT the "juveniles". They were written for his adult audience, although I read "Stranger" when I was still a kid. Which should explain a lot..:)

Some of RAH juveniles I grew up reading:
"Tunnel in the Sky"-nice comparison to "Lord of the Flies"
"Have Spacesuit-Will Travel"-one of my favorites
"Farmer in the Sky"-not likely with our real knowledge of Ganymede these days
"Red Planet"-not like the movie of the same name
"Between Planets" -first RAH book I ever read
"The Rolling Stones" - a post-prequel (go figger!) to "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" (NOT a juvenile) as Harriet Stone showed up in THAT book as a little girl. And that book ties into "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls" (not a juvie either).

More juvies:
"Rocket Ship Galileo" - fighting the Nazis again!
"Destination:Moon"-maybe not a juvenile? But made a pretty good movie for the era.
"The Man Who Sold the Moon"-mebbee not a juvie?
"Citizen of the Galaxy"-serious anti-slavery tome
"The Starbeast"-eats cars when hungry. Pretty funny book, actually.
"Starman Jones" -problems with a photographic memory.
"Time for the Stars" -relativity and twin-telepathy! Together in the same book!

and many, many more!

His all-time most popular book, "Starship Troopers" was actually written in a few weeks in 1958, at the end of the "juvenile" period. He was starting up the manuscript for the big book, "Stranger in a Strange Land", and then had gotten so mad at the Eisenhauer administrations' weak responses to Soviet Russia, that he got fired up and wrote "ST" in just a few weeks to get the ideas out of his head and on paper.

I defend RAH to all comers, and will do it for free, of course. I'll be here all week, and try the house special, it's great!

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at August 11, 2008 11:50 PM

Methodists? Yeah, okay, don't see how that contradicts my point...

/sorry, Wesleyans, but you know what I mean...

Hey, I'm perverted too! But just' sayin...

I never really was much of a Heinlein fan - I like about 3 of his books (the two above mentioned, and there was another one where he managed to bring dead people's minds back to life somehow - could never find out what that story was) - but he really was one of the Golden Age of SF guys, along with Asimov and Sagan (possibly Bova as well).

Sad to say, but I was a huge Asimov fan. Even his mysteries.

Posted by: Gregory at August 12, 2008 01:22 AM

No one listed Podkayne of Mars!!!!

The Bible was not much read at home because it was a 'school' book--sunday school started at Genesis in January. I appreciated parts of it as literature much later.

I never noticed that my son particularly favored gore--he did prefer history and biographies. My daughter was bit more of the stereotype but she also read biographies or history, neither liked science (drat).

Posted by: Maggie100 at August 12, 2008 02:02 AM

History, you say, eh? Biographies?

Ah, yes... 100-Year War, 30-Year War, War of the Roses, Battle of Hastings, D-Day, VJ Day, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Crusades...

Napoleon, Wellington, Attila, Genghis, Belisarius, Saladin, Shih Huang Ti...

Ah, yes, those were indeed the days. I liked history and bios too.

I would recommend Mythbusters. TV series, sure, but it might help to start off a love of natural sciences in them.

Posted by: Gregory at August 12, 2008 05:32 AM

Gregory--it's too late! They're 26 and 30! I loved to read but neither of them did much outside of school until I stopped offering what *I* thought they might like. Around 4th grade he finally started reading when he didn't have to--and it was the Civil War that caught him, then biographies of the generals. He read more and of a greater variety when older, but he still prefers non-fiction of this type.

My daughter had problems similar to dyslexia and didn't like reading until she was in junior high--that's why I remember one of her first free choices in elemetary school was a book about Sojurner Truth. When older she started reading the "girl series" type stuff as well as history. She was in the IB program in high school and did her major history paper on the Cold War--her choice--with far more reading on the subject than required.

Neither watched much TV, and they were born before the video craze, although my daughter did have one of the early game boys. They just did other things instead of reading much while growing up, no matter how many books of what kind I dragged home!

Posted by: Maggie100 at August 12, 2008 10:11 AM

I was busy last night, trying to improve on my resume with a little help from a friend, so I didn't get back to this post to comment like I wanted. Just grabbed those abridged classics off the shelf:

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Secret Garden
Treasure Island
Black Beauty

Yeah, I realize only two of them are "boy books". These are intended for readers about 7 to 9 years old. Like I said before, I'll get the original works, too, so I can have books available at various reading levels. They are all from the Classic Starts series, which I see also includes The Story of King Arthur and his Knights, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Swiss Family Robinson, Gulliver's Travels, Around the World in 80 Days, The Red Badge of Courage, Little Women, A Little Princess and The Three Musketeers (and the list goes on). I think these would be great for kids who are wanting to read on their own, but aren't quite to the level of the original works. And there are titles (41 in all?) that would interest both boys and girls.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 12, 2008 09:20 PM

The Three Musketeers is a great book for older boys. I really liked it as a teenager. As an adult, I've returned to it and been appalled by the heroes' amorality towards each other and the women in their lives -- but that didn't make an impression on me as a youth.

Posted by: Grim at August 12, 2008 09:47 PM

Swiss Family Robinson.
Tunnel In The Sky
Lord of The Flies.

Hm...thanks for the ideas people. I come here to get knowledge and instead get ideas for teaching.
You are a bad influence.

Jeff, your #3 is total crap. Individuals can be self centered. It isn't gender specific.

Posted by: Cricket at August 13, 2008 09:05 AM