Alistair Maclean, 1973
Most of the book club posts that Carlo and I have put up have been non-fiction, but every once in a while a work of fiction provides a start point for a discussion. This is such a book. Not because it's a great book, or a timeless story, or a classic, or (Crick forbid) "Literature". The Way to Dusty Death is a pretty standard Alistair Maclean 'thriller'. Like many of his other stories, this one is a fast-paced tale of a man on a mission, with intricacies and secrets revealed, piece by piece, every chapter. Guns, fast cars, hot women, shadowy criminals... what's not to love?
So why am I spending time I should be using to work to write a book club about it? Because it's 'Dick Lit'. It was somewhat 'timely' for me to complete this book this week, as I've just discovered the new blog by author Cliff Burns, Beautiful Desolation. Not much up there, yet, but his Spleen section includes a mention of the 'boys don't read' phenomenon, and a possible explanation for it: the dearth of 'Dick Lit', the opposite of 'Chick Lit'; or books that boys might actually want to read, because they're NOT about deep characters with complex emotions and hopes and dreams and motivations and two X chromosomes. Dick Lit is, archetypically, stories about guys by guys. In other words, guns, fast cars, hot women, shadowy criminals, good guys, bad guys, and stuff blowing up (real good).
Alistair Maclean is therefore a Dick Lit author. I don't know if Mr. MacLean would have appreciated this classification, but he's dead so I doubt he'll do anything about it (if he does, that would be awesome). His more famous novels include The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare. I've personally read lots of his books, because my parents owned lots of his books.
The story here is basically pretty good, and it's very well written, but the ending is what really settles it in my mind as Dick Lit. It just...ends. No drawn out reunion scene, no tearful farewells (or hellos), just the bad guy dies spectacularly and the good guy wins and gets the girl. That's it.
This whole 'guys don't read' thing is interesting, but fairly contentious, I think.
I was reading an article in Time a few years back about the the widely discussed trend that male academic performance is dropping. Proponents of the theory suggest that an aggressive campaign to encourage female students has led to a dispassionate male audience. On the flipside, many feminist groups claim that this 'trend' is entirely made-up by the 'conservative' majority to bring women down.
I wish I had references for this, but they're from 'pop' magazines. Maybe it's something I'll look into.
The evidence I have for "boys don't read" is entirely anecdotal; it doesn't count as data.
My sister saw it first-hand in Australia, and has been talking about it with lots of other grade-school teachers. So it looks like the teachers are pretty convinced that their male students are not reading.
I've also just seen lots of newpaper and magazine articles that basically take it as a given that boys are not reading.
I'd really like to see good, solid data about this.
If it's true (I suspect it is), then grade 4 boys should absolutely be reading MacLean. I didn't talk about the role-model aspects of the characters in this book, to save space. But they're pretty good, considering this book was written in 1973. Also: the main good guy drives around in a red Ferrari when he's not driving a Formula-1 around a racetrack. Name ONE 10-year-old boy who would not find that instantly appealing.
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