You’re Supposed to Encourage Them, Y’know…

Ever since I got involved in book publishing, I’ve subscribed to the Publishers Weekly newsletter. (PW is a magazine that’s the bible for the industry—sort of a combination New York Times Book Review and literary Entertainment Weekly.) In one of the recent newsletters, there was a link to an article by bookstore owner Josie Leavitt, titled She’s Not a Strong Reader

“…after two failed attempts to get the book [the teenage girl] wanted, she finally let me help her. I got her a wonderful stack of Libba Bray and Sarah Dessen and left her alone, only to have her mother announce to me, ‘She’s not a strong reader.’ As if that explained why her daughter was taking her time to choose the right book.”

And that reminded me of a similar encounter I had at the 2005 San Diego Comic Con, only in this case it involved a young boy (maybe 10 years old) and a copy of a Young Adult novel that I was selling at my booth: Spider-Man Super-Thriller: Warrior’s Revenge.

Now why, you ask, would I be selling copies of a book written by Neal Barrett Jr.? Simple—because Neal didn’t write it, I did. In fact, it was my first novel! (Long story short, Neal’s manuscript had been rejected by Marvel Comics’ licensing division, and I was brought in to write an entirely new manuscript. Problem was, the covers had already been printed, so no author credit for me.)

Anyway, the boy’s eyes made a slow pass across the table and then locked on the Spidey cover. (It is pretty eye-catching, thanks to the great work of artists Mike Zeck and Phil Zimelman.) He picked up the book.

“It’s a novel,” I told him. “Spider-Man and the Hulk fight the Super-Skrull.”

His eyes got real big. He thumbed through it, liked what he saw, and told his father he wanted it.

And Dad balked.

“I don’t know…” He thumbed through it, too. “It’s not a comic book. Are you sure you’re gonna read it?”

“Yes!” the kid said. “I really want it!”

Dad frowned. “I don’t know…”

I was a little surprised by his reaction. I mean, after a dozen or so years of exhibiting at comic cons I’d gotten used to teens and adults grimacing when they realized that things like my other Marvel project X-Men: The Chaos Engine Trilogy and this Spidey adventure were actual books, with lots of words on the pages. Gah! How horrible that I actually expected them to read something without pictures! (Not that there weren’t some pictures—for Warrior’s Revenge, artist James Fry had provided ten fantastic illustrations.)

But here was a boy who saw all the words on the pages and still wanted to read it—and Dad was trying to discourage him? WTH, Dad?

“Y’know,” I said to the dad, “if he likes to read, that’s really not a bad thing.” The unspoken nudge being it would be a good thing to buy it for his son. (Besides, I was charging only three dollars—what a bargain! I mean, I recently saw a copy of it for sale at for $121.00!)

Dad sighed. “I guess…” He shrugged. “All right.”

He paid for the novel, I autographed it, and off the kid went, happily clutching his new book. And I stood at my booth and shook my head, wondering why any parent would want to discourage their child from reading.