by Alison Flood)
The bestselling author Andy McNab has spoken out about the importance of keeping boys reading, in the wake of a survey which found that men are turning away from books in record numbers.
McNab, who served in the SAS before turning bestselling author with Bravo Two Zero, was responding to a new study for the Reading Agency conducted by by OnePoll, which found that 63% of men admit they don't read as much as they think they should. Almost 30% of men went so far as to admit to researchers that they hadn't really picekd up a book since they were forced to read at school.
"I possibly know more than most that keeping young men engaged with reading is a tough job," said McNab. "When I joined the Army straight out of juvenile detention I had the reading age of an 11-year-old, and I meet kids at the schools where I'm doing talks who are just the same. We have got to keep these boys reading because once they stop, they never start again. It doesn't matter what they read, we just need to get them into the habit of it and then keep them doing it."
Men were also much more likely than women to plump for the film or television version of a book, the survey found, with nearly three quarters of men saying that they would prefer to watch a screen version of a book, with the same percentage of women as likely to go for the book itself.
The survey, of 2,000 British men and women, found that men blamed a lack of time for their failure to read, with 20% also saying they found reading "difficult or don't enjoy it". One in five, meanwhile, admitted that they had pretended to read a certain book "to appear more intellitent".
"I've definitely pretended to have read something I haven't in the past," said McNab. "I've got years of books to catch up on, having not read anything as a kid or young man. But I'm really enjoying doing just that. I'm working my way through the classics and I think they are great. I am off to do a motorbike ride across the US next week and I have got a copy of A Tale of Two Cities to take with me. That is next on my Charles Dickens hit list."
McNab was joined by fellow author Matt Haig, who warned that "the danger is that the fewer books men buy, the less incentive publishers and booksellers will have to reach out of them. And so the heavily-promoted novels will increasingly become aimed squarely at the most likely group of readers: women. And so it becomes a vicious circle."
Haig's novel The Humans is, with McNab's Today Everything Changes, one of the 20 titles selected for World Book Night on 23 April. The event will see 250,000 copies of the 20 titles given away by volunteers and institutions, in an attempt to reach what organisers said was "the 35% of the population who, for whatever reason, don't read for pleasure". This year's books have been specially selected "to appeal to and inspire people who haven't yet been turned on to reading", said organisers, with a particular emphasis on books for men and teenagers.
Haig believes the issue around men failing to read was is one of marketing, more than content. "There are as many books being written as ever for men to enjoy," he said. "It's just about making them feel relevant. TV dramas and even video games start with words. Words are the essence of culture. Books are pure essence. They are not for women or for men, but for all of us. Without books, civilisation falls into the dark ages. It wouldn't just be a shame, but a catastrophe if half the population stopped reading."
"That is why World Book Night and the giving of books is such a great idea," said McNab. "If we can inspire people to pick up a book and read, then we can really change people's lives."
The WBN titles for 2014 are:
1. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (Orion)
2. Four Warned by Jeffrey Archer (Quick Read) (Macmillan)
3. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (Vintage, Random House)
4. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith (Simon and Schuster)
5. Confessions of a GP by Dr Benjamin Daniels (The Friday Project, Harper Collins)
6. Hello Mum by Bernardine Evaristo (Quick Read) (Penguin General)
7. Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon (Penguin Michael Joseph)
8. Theodore Boone by John Grisham (Hodder & Stoughton)
9. The Humans by Matt Haig (Canongate)
10. The Perfect Murder by Peter James (Quick Read) (Macmillan)
11. Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (Transworld)
12. Today Everything Changes by Andy McNab (Quick Read) (Transworld)
13. CHERUB: The Recruit by Robert Muchamore (Hachette Children's)
14. Whatever it Takes by Adele Parks (Headline)
15. Black Hills by Nora Roberts (Little, Brown)
16. The Boy With the Topknot by Sathnam Sanghera (Penguin General)
17. Geezer Girls by Dreda Say Mitchell (Hodder & Stoughton)
18. 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman (Macmillan)
19. After the Funeral by Agatha Christie (HarperCollins)
20. Vengenance is Mine Inc. and other Stories by Roald Dahl (Penguin Michael Joseph)