I Am Not a Target Market: Questions for Brian Harvey

Welcome once again to I Am Not a Target Market, a mini-series that explores the reading habits of the modern male.

So far, I've talked to a bookseller, an avid reader and two literary critics/authors. These guys are all fiction lovers which counteracts the notion that guys only read non-fiction. I decided that I wanted to get closer to the front lines and talk to a librarian to see what men/boys typically borrow and if that tends to be fiction or not. Brian Harvey came to the rescue and filled me in on what's happening at his branch, what his book club's reading and why he despises James Patterson:

B: Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Brian Harvey. I'm 31, I live in Toronto and I work at the Oshawa Public Library. I'm obsessed with books and reading. I do other stuff sometimes, watch a little TV, I like to cook and I hang out at lot at two pubs in my neighborhood, the Victory Cafe and Clinton's. Mostly I read, though - about three hours a day during the week, a little less on weekends.

B: What is the ratio of men to women that frequent your branch? What genres/titles are popular with your male readers and do you do anything in particular at your branch to accommodate/attract them?

This is kind of two questions in one. The ratio of male to female patrons at my branch (which is right downtown and the city's largest library) is pretty even, I think. It may even tilt a little heavy to males because of the neighborhood.

That being said, in terms of actual borrowing of books I'd say it probably comes down to 60-40 female to male. Men tend towards non-fiction and they seem to prefer sports, war, crime and biographies of political figures, soldiers and athletes. In fiction I find there's a pronounced preference for thrillers, adventure, that kind of thing. I don't notice many men reading James Patterson and I don't know who's reading him if that's the case.

B: Do many boys frequent your branch and what genre/titles are popular with them?

Boys are a different story. We rarely see boys under 12 in my area because there is a separate children's library downstairs. Teenage boys tend to come in only for video games or to use the internet or they come with girls. When they do borrow books, which is pretty rare, they tend to be non-fiction about the usual boy things: war, sports and crime or manga.

B: You told me that you have to read a lot of YA for work. Does there tend to be more female-oriented YA than male-oriented YA and is there a difference in quality in what's available for both? What's some of the best YA for guys that you've read recently?

Highly unscientifically I'd say about 70% of the YA books published today are female-oriented. So that tends to be what I end up reading. Also, most of the teenagers who come to us looking for books are girls, so you kind of have to know your audience I guess. Little Brotherby Cory Doctorow, is probably the best guy-oriented YA I've read in a long time. It has important points to make about society but it's really exciting, it doesn't let the message overwhelm the story. Manga is huge with teenage boys but I don't read a lot of it, I get confused by the structure of the pages. I feel like, in fiction at least, teenage boys are not well served by the publishing industry.

B: Tell us about your book club, the gender ratio and what type of books you typically select.

I've been in a book club for about two or three years now. In its current incarnation it's split 50-50 men and women. It was started a year or two before I joined by a friend of mine and a couple of people I didn't know then but who are really good friends of mine now. We meet once a month at a member's apartment, eat dinner and talk about the book. The host selects the books.

We mostly read fiction, mostly current (our only rule is that the books cannot feature horses as the main form of transportation or gas lighting as the main form of illumination i.e. classics) and that tend towards what I guess is called literary fiction (don't even get me started on how much I hate that designation). Our February selection is The Road, which I've read before.

B: What are your reading habits? You've told me you read mostly fiction, why is that and what do you get out of fiction that you don't out of non-fiction?

I make occasional stabs at non-fiction but it makes up probably less than 10% of what I read. I've been trying to get through Zeitounfor about a month. I keep trying to read this book called On Killingbut I think I've given up on it. I tend to read genres in spurts, other stuff gets mixed in but there are definite themes: February was a very high adult graphic novels month, January for some reason was a lot of LGBT fiction. I haven't figured out what March is going to be yet.

I like stories about ordinary people doing pretty ordinary things, and most non-fiction tends to be about big events, theories, extraordinary people or what have you. My interest in those kind of peaked at about 18 or 19 and since then has really dwindled off. It's why I tend to steer clear of genre fiction as well. Or maybe I'm a starry-eyed romantic and non-fiction is just too real. I like that answer better.

B: Has any of your favorite fiction informed your philosophy of life? What protagonists are your heroes?

I'd say the exact opposite is true. I have what can only be called a profoundly pessimistic view of the world, so most of my reading is done to counteract that. My favourite books are all very optimistic in their worldview. The protagonist survives whatever ordeal is put before him and generally everything works out okay. The non-fiction I read tends to confirm my bleak outlook but rarely are they favourites of mine. An example is Methland, easily one of the best books I read last year. If you haven't read it stop doing whatever you're doing right now and go buy it (or borrow it from your local library!) But I'll never read that book again, it's just too depressing.

B: Bonus question: how was Heat Wave, that Castle spin off book?

Heat Wavewas pretty terrible, as I expected it would be. It was supposed to be a thriller like Stephen Cannell or Patterson or something but it was pretty weak. You knew who had murdered the victim as soon as they walked on stage (so to speak). And the language, ugh. So much filler. I think the phrase "Detective Niki Heat" occurred more times than the word "and." It only took an hour and change to read though and was still better than the James Patterson book I read.

I have a real hate on for Patterson, I think he's a hack, a misogynist and basically everything that's wrong with our friends to the south is indicated in his books. Patterson is the small pox of modern writing and he's going to kill us all.

Many thank yous to Brian! Methland was one of my favorite books from last year as well, though I thought the book contained a lot of hope as well as bald, depressing truth. So ! Next we're going to take a closer look at why so many men love sci-fi/fantasy by talking to THE Sci Fi Guy himself, Mr. Doug Knipe. Stay tuned folks, ACBA will be riiiiiiight back!


Heather said...

I have really been enjoying this series. Thanks.

´´Saray´´ said...

Fascinating interview; this guy sounds like someone who is genuinely in love with books and I could not agree more on his assessment on James Patterson´s ´talent´.


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