Today’s WSJ has an interesting article on the publishing phenomenon that The Dangerous Book For Boys has become. Here are some choice excerpts from the piece (free today, sub req’d later):
"Dangerous" has become the breakout hit of the season. The News Corp. unit initially ordered up 91,000 copies. There are now 405,000 copies in print. One senior HarperCollins executive, extrapolating from overseas sales and population data, projects that "Dangerous," which lists for $24.95, could sell as many as four million in the U.S.
The book, by English brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden, purports to aim itself at a particularly inscrutable and un-book-friendly audience:
boys around the age of 10. It tries to answer the question: What do boys need to know?
The unapologetic message is that boys need a certain amount of danger and risk in their lives, and that there are certain lessons that need to be passed down from father to son, man to man. The implication is that in contemporary society basic rules of maleness aren’t being handed off as they used to be.
The book aims to correct that. It does so with a pretelevision, prevideogame sensibility, and also by embracing a view of gender that has been unfashionable in recent decades: that frogs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails are more than lines in a nursery rhyme, and that boys are by nature hard-wired differently than girls.
But "The Dangerous Book for Boys" is also aimed at boomer dads, who nostalgically yearn for a lost boyhood of fixing lawn mowers and catching snakes with their fathers — even if that didn’t really happen as often as they think it did.
Paul Bogaards, an executive for rival publisher Bertelsmann AG’s Alfred
A. Knopf, says he took a copy home to his eight-year-old son, Michael, whom he describes as "junked up on Nick, Disney and Club Penguin," a
Web site. Mr. Bogaards says Michael took to it immediately, demanding that his dad test paper airplanes into the night, even missing
"American Idol." He adds: "That’s the good news. The bad news is that he now expects me to build him a treehouse." He concludes:
"Million-copy-plus seller easy, with the shelf life of Hormel Spam."
Concerned that the book would seem too British, Collins asked the authors to adapt parts of it for U.S. readers. A section about royalty was replaced by the 50 states, American mountains and the Declaration of Independence. Baseball’s most valuable players and "How to Play
Stickball" supplants the chapter on cricket. But rugby made the cut: it was tough, dangerous and better-known in the U.S. A "Navajo Code
Talkers’ Dictionary" superseded Britain’s patron saints.
The gender-exclusive nature of "Dangerous" bothers some women. In a posting on the livejournal.com Web site, one woman, addressing the book and boys in general, wrote: "Here’s a tip, kiddies: maybe the girls want to have the same kind of fun you do, instead of sitting around the house and learning how to be a servant."