It is not often I read non-fiction, and rarer still that I read autobiographical works. But Robert Webb’s coming of age story, How Not To Be A Boy, was one that I was keen to read. In part due to Webb being someone whose work I have enjoyed (I have fond memories of watching a Peep Show box set, sat in a garden chair on my first evening in my first home) but also because some of the issues explored in this book, regarding gender stereotypes, particularly its exploration of the pitfalls of masculinity.
Through this book, we learn about Roberts’ early life and upbringing, through to his college years and into adulthood, and all the challenges along the way. This includes humorous tales from childhood, and diary entries which offer a glimpse into the mind of a young man trying to navigate life in the aftermath of a tragedy. Each of the chapters focuses on particular character traits that boys and men are assumed to have – such as an unwillingness to share their emotional side, their role as someone who ‘protects’ and provides for women, and of course, a love of sport. But through the stories shared here these gender stereotypes are challenged, in what is an honest portrayal of a journey to manhood, and the impact of significant life events along the way. Amongst the memories shared are some difficult ones which made for a moving read. Webb reflects on a difficult relationship with his father, and a much closer one with his mother whose loss left a teenager in despair. Despite the inclusion of some difficult subject matter, this isn’t a particularly heavy read and there is plenty of humour along the way which makes it a book that is as funny as it is poignant.
How Not To Be A Boy was a book that I got into very quickly, and one that I finished in only a couple of sittings. It is a book that has the ability to make a reader laugh and cry, as it reflects on the ups and downs of life. I also found it refreshing to read a book written by a male which acknowledges the impact of masculinity, and the way in which the world expects a man to be. It presents how damaging it can be to a young boy when they are discouraged from behaving in a certain way, and encouraged to conform to traditional gender expectations. The expectation of a boy not to talk about their feelings, or not to be seen crying is a significant one, particularly in the case of a boy who lost so much, and had to carry an emotional burden him whilst trying to fit in amongst his peers. I found this book to be a compelling read, and one that raises interesting points, it is also one in which I recognised some of the things that are said, attitudes which I’ve heard before and will again, from members of my family, work colleagues and strangers on social media. This book helps to highlight the challenges still faced today in terms of encouraging gender equality, and openness.
I enjoyed How Not To Be A Boy which I found to be an enjoyable coming of age story which deals with some key issues. A poignant and insightful read that is not short of laughs, a story of a journey into adulthood that is told with warmth and compassion.