I’m one of those parents that buys books for his future child, my son at age nine, fourteen and so on. I remember confusing the bookseller at the flea market when I told her I was buying Susan Cooper’s set of The Dark is Rising novels for my then infant son. Not so bookish, but I once considered my future son’s opinion of my taste in music when buying albums – when I was twenty and unmarried. Now you know what kind of dad I am, nerdy, elitist, hopeful, and slightly pushy. Ah, fathers.
Anyway, my head always turns when I see things pop-up in the news like the 160 Books All Boys Must Read, released this week by the UK Education Secretary. The list is peppered with violent tales and what NewKerala.com calls “sporty-working class heroes”. Since most of you have never gone to the movie store with me I’ll let you know what I think of violent tales and sporty working class heroes. While I fail the stereotypical tests of masculinity in most of my hobbies, past-times and occupations (I’m a reading, church-going artist) there is one where I pass: loving bloody, violent, thunderingly apocalyptic tragedy and adventure. The UK Education Secretary doesn’t have to tell me twice what boys like.
Of course, The Guardian had to poop all over that, in Bad Books Won’t Get Boys Reading:
The resulting list is a pile of cack – sub-Tolkien and not-really-books – studded here and there with gems.
It would appear that unless you’re a copper-bottomed classic that Johnson once read, your only hope of appearing on the list is if you’re about spies or wizards, are a compendium of factoids, or are composed largely of pictures.OK, that’s harsh. But there are plenty of books here that I’ve never heard of – and one or two that haven’t even been published yet. The ones I’ve never heard of are presumably recent publications that librarians have seized on after boys cited them as being marginally preferable to a poke in the kidneys with a stick.
Some of them may be quite good – but by being there, they’ve knocked something else off the list. While the quality of the books may be debatable, therefore, their position in anything that might be called a literary canon is not: they’re not in it. There’s no sense of continuous heritage, of anything timeless, or which might alert these putative boy-readers to the fact that once upon a time, books relied on a good, moving story and weren’t packaged with raised lettering on the cover and a picture of weaponry, or dragons.
Here’s the full list of 160 Books all Boys Must Read.