'Reading's a chick thing," said my soon-to-be-former flame. We were talking about how I don't have cable and spend what would be TV time in a cozy chair with a book.

He told me I was crazy.

He was a funny, charming, intelligent guy, with a successful career in finance and a passion for sports - especially the Yankees. He scanned the Wall Street Journal faithfully for anything relevant to his field. But the only book I ever saw in his house was an old, dusty copy of James B. Stewart's Den of Thieves - a 1991 thriller set in the world of insider trading.

No surprise we broke up.

Another ex of mine owned one of Donald Trump's books and a hefty coffee-table tome that he never actually read but used as an exercise tool.

One time in a bar I told a guy I'd just met how much I enjoyed reading. He said he hadn't read a book since the fourth grade and was proud of it. End of conversation.

According to Publishers Weekly, 68 percent of book purchases are made by women (and we suspect they are buying for themselves, not the men in their lives).

And the National Center for Education Studies reported that 71 percent of women, vs. 57 percent of men, have read a book in the last six months.

"If I had to make a huge, sweeping, overgeneralized statement, guys probably read less - and less fiction - than women," says Jeff Garigliano, a senior editor at Portfolio magazine and the author of Dogface, a "guy" book about a punishing summer camp for kids who've been bad.

The reason men read less, Garigliano says, is that they think they should have outgrown the notion of make-believe, so they can't find as much enjoyment in fiction. When they do read, they tend to go for nonfiction and biographies. Just the facts, sir.

Where does the divide begin? And when?

Jon Scieszka, editor of the entertaining anthology Guys Write for Guys: Read (Viking Juvenile, 2005), says the problem starts in grade school, with too much required reading - and too little of it of interest to boys.

"In general, boys like more information, and they're more likely to be nonfiction readers," says Scieszka, who was an elementary school teacher in Manhattan for more than 10 years.

When boys do read fiction, Scieszka says, they pick action/adventure books and humor - not on most school reading lists.

Scieszka saw the difference in reading habits in his own home. His daughter was a voracious reader, while his son didn't want anything to do with books.

"He got to think that all books were required reading, or for a test. Every book he had to read came with a list of questions and a paper that had to be done," says Scieszka. "He thought it was torture."

It is perfectly within our grasp as a society to reach reluctant readers, Scieszka says. That's one reason Scieszka's Web site, Guysread.com, lists recommended books for action/adventure-oriented boys and more sophisticated versions of the same for grown men.

Scieszka says his site is more popular with public libraries than with schools for a good reason: "Libraries have the chance to be that place where you can read whatever you want."

Scieszka should meet Lee Porter. A 31-year-old rarity, Porter got hooked on reading early.

Porter grew up in Cherry Hill with parents who introduced him to the library early and encouraged the reading habit. In the summer, Porter says, he preferred to spend time inside reading instead of away at camp.

Most guys grow up seeing the women in their lives - teachers, mothers, librarians - doing all the reading, Porter says. So he thanks his parents for making reading natural behavior for a guy.

Porter, who recently graduated from Rutgers Law School, has a love of literature that shows in his Center City apartment. Books by Ernest Hemingway, Denis Johnson and Charles Bukowski line his shelves, and more are stored in his parents' home.

He says his reading habits - which include taking a book to Phillies games - aren't typical among his male friends.

"I know a lot of my friends don't read. Most are into sports, and it takes a certain discipline to do both, especially when you're focused on your job and maybe starting a family."

Ah, if only I could clone him.