It's publication day for my new novel, Centuries of June, and I encourage you to buy a copy for the man in your life. Not only does this novel feature a mystery with eight naked women in his bed, but literary fiction is just plain good for men.
Don't take my word for it. Science says that a man who enjoys the arts is more likely to enjoy life and be in better health than those men who do not. A team of scientists in Norway surveyed more than 50,000 Norwegians over several years, and the results of their study were just published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health: "[P]articipation in receptive and creative cultural activities was significantly associated with good health, good satisfaction with life, low anxiety and depression scores." Men who attend cultural events are 14 percent more likely to be satisfied with life. Strangely, the impact is not as great among women, but that's probably because so many women already read novels.
Art is good for you, it turns out. It follows that reading must be good for you, too. Even reading sad or unhappy novels is better than reading no novels at all, and the only thing worse would be reading bad novels.
But why is it so difficult to get men to read? I invited a fellow alumnus of my college to attend a reading I'm giving in Pittsburgh at the end of June and asked him to bring his friends, and he said he didn't know anyone who reads any more. Book clubs — which can be a great way for couples to hang out together — are almost always women only. What happened to Jack while Jill is happily reading?
Part of it is cultural, at least here in the states.Reading — particularly reading literary fiction or, heaven forbid, poetry — is seen as effete or effeminate or somehow just not serious. Reading is impractical. What good will it do me? Well, aside from making me happier and healthier? Smarter, too? And more creative?
What can be done about this sad state of affairs, this emasculation of reading? We have to start the program all over. Give dad a book this Father's Day a novel or two. If he's a little macho, maybe Cormac McCarthy's classic Blood Meridian would hold his attention. Or start him off slowly with a teaser of short stories. Barry Hannah's Long, Last, Happy would surely help with the old blood pressure.
But our real target is the sons and grandsons. We've got to find a way to make it hip to read. Short of outlawing books altogether, perhaps we can hint at the illicit pleasures of a good book. Hide a novel under the mattress for him to discover. Make him wonder what he's missing, Dad, when you're chuckling over some forbidden novel.
I dunno, say, a murder mystery/ghost story that takes place in the bathroom of an old house one night in June, with an octet of naked suspects, a spirit guide in a borrowed bathrobe, and a cat that likes mulligatawny stew. I hear that Centuries of June, out today, might be just what he needs to make him happy.
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Keith Donohue is an American novelist, the author of the national bestseller The Stolen Child and Angels of Destruction. He also has written reviews for the Washington Post. He lives in Maryland near Washington, DC.
Books mentioned in this post
Keith Donohue is the author of Centuries of June