We’ve received quite a bit of blog traffic, generated dinner table conversation and Twitter talk on the subjects of gender and reading (whether as adults or teens.) We won’t rehash the conversation points, they can be explored more fully here and here. To summarize it’s been noticed that boys who eventually become men, don’t read in large numbers any more for many reasons.
So, with this conversation still bouncing around our blog and Twitter, our gender sensitivity receptors were attuned to a little talked about piece of book news. You see PEN American Center announced in the middle of May they were launching a new non-fiction sports book award.
It would be far from hyperbolic to say ESPN has become the trend leader for a vast majority of teen and adult men in America. Ask any guy what cable channel ESPN is, he’ll be able to tell you off the top of his head. Yet ask him what was the last book he read was, silence. And if a book was read, more than likely it was a birthday gift revolving around sports.
The PEN/ESPN award raises the profile of sports books and their authors. Writers like George Plimpton and David Halberstam are just two literary luminaries that established the high bar for sports non-fiction. And works like Friday Night Lights and Season on the Brink best exemplify how good sports non-fiction can get.
The award, $5,000, is for any literary non-fiction book published in 2009. The deadline for entries is June 15.
Sports books are eternally popular for male sports fans, in part because they are rarely dated. You may have update athelte profiles or new takes on sporting history, but even the evergreen titles remain well received. Sports fans live by previous glories, stats and achievements. A 2004 World Series win by the Boston Red Sox never diminishes, so why would a book published about that momentous win wither?
The ESPN name attached to this award however is a true wild-card. If the sports media giant puts even the slightest bit of weight behind these awards, reaching out to their viewership base, one can imagine a hefty spike in book sales. Even if its just in sports books, we’ll take it.
Sports books moved well in 2009, with Joe Torre’s Yankee Years racking up 320,00 copies sold (four of the top ten books of last year were New York Yankees related.*Oh the Red Sox fan typing this is biting his fist as you read*) However, even the name of Torre and the team from the Bronx could not move as many books as Stephanie Meyer or Dan Brown did, each selling one million books in one day last year.
Perhaps this new award, coupled with the massive influential force of the ESPN brand, can generate some buzz that reconnects men and boys to the written word?