How Not To Be a Boy Hardcover – Illustrated, 29 Aug. 2017
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- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1786890089
- ISBN-13 : 978-1786890085
- Product Dimensions : 14.4 x 3.2 x 22 cm
- Publisher : Canongate Books; Main Edition (29 Aug. 2017)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: 71,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer reviews:
"With enormous poignancy and insight . . . Webb's early portrait of himself as a hapless underdog navigating the boulder-strewn path of masculinity is vividly drawn and very funny . . . Echoes of Adrian Mole" (Guardian)
"Takes us deftly from hilarity to heart-stopping hurt . . . A truly great read, full of heart" (DAWN FRENCH)
"Frank and compelling . . . Laugh-out-loud funny . . . also, in parts, blink-back-tears sad. Why would I blink back tears rather than give full rein to the emotion? Well, Webb can explain" (Mail on Sunday)
"Written with wit and clarity, How Not To Be a Boy is a funny, rueful, truthful book. I enjoyed every page" (STEPHEN FRY)
"A brilliant telling of a sad story, it is also a manifesto for a change in attitudes . . . I laughed innumerable times and cried twice . . . You should give a copy to any young male you care about *****" (S Magazine, Sunday Express)
"A witty, honest coming-of-age story with a subtext that tackles masculinity and manhood. Webb has a storytelling skill many would kill for" (IAN RANKIN)
"Funny, poignant, revealing" (Daily Telegraph)
"Simply brilliant" (JOANNA LUMLEY)
"Funny and wonderful and necessary" (SARAH MILLICAN)
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Top reviews from United Kingdom
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The narrative is driven largely by extracts from his diary, and punctuated by conversations his 40-odd year old self has with the teenage Robert, the twentysomething Robert. There's a sense of the ridiculous throughout these moments, the benefit of hindsight throwing perspective on the younger man's feelings; not that they are any less the deeply felt at the time.
Webb's prose is fluid, fast, readable and the pages fly by. There is a build up of momentum which ends rather suddenly; the book ends almost with a sigh, as if the author is glad to have told this story, and raised many more questions than he can (or claims to) answer. It seemed more a starting point for my own reflection, rather than a conclusive memoir: as Webb implies, life is very much ongoing, rather than a state one arrives at eventually.
He makes us laugh, he makes us think, occasionally he wets the eye. I read the book in two weekend sessions, and felt uplifted, encouraged and a little more human at the end of it.
This would have been a 4 star had he just stuck to the autobiography – I could even have tolerated the tedious views on the ills of gender stereotyping if it just didn’t seem to get into way of so much of the story, which was in many places very funny and insightful.
As for the celebrity reviews, I can only assume they didn’t read the whole book perhaps skim read to ‘the funny bits’. In future I will treat such endorsements with a high amount of suspicion...
The clue is in the title and, for once, the blurb. For this is really a story of how someone kicked so hard against the stereotypes he didn't conform to that he ended up conforming to them. So here's sensitive, angelic Robert, growing up in rural isolation, doting on his mother, but surrounded by tough-talking, beer-swilling, football-loving, fist-throwing male archetypes. You might imagine this was a recipe for disaster and, in some respects, you'd be right. For here is young Robert, markedly different from his much older brothers, frankly fearful of his father, feeling different from them from an early age and yet navigating a possible path out of it all through selective education and grammar school, where the encouragement of one teacher in particular makes him realise another world is possible. That maybe that other world includes Cambridge, and performance. And then, on the cusp of getting out, the escape tunnel collapses as Robert suffers personal, familial tragedy.
The story might have ended there. Towards the end of the book Webb pauses to consider how different his life almost was; he doesn't use the phrase Jonbar points but that's what he's talking about. But even all this autobiography, and the years that follow - Cambridge, Footlights, meeting David Mitchell, meeting his future wife, Peep Show, Let's Dance for Comic Relief, marriage, parenthood - that's really just the means by which the real point of the book is illustrated. For really, this is a book about gender stereotyping, feminism, mature masculinity (Robert's phrase, not mine), societal conditioning, all that... and the inevitable, damaging effects they have on, well, everyone really. But especially those who don't conform to the stereotypes. They're the ones who are scarred.
So this is an autobiography of sorts, but one with a theme. It certainly isn't the sort of autobiography that recounts anecdotes from Peep Show or The Mitchell and Webb Look or Back or any of the rest of it. Indeed, the only time his career really gets a look in is when something in it illustrates either how messed up he had become or how he found a path out of, in his own words, being a "pompous dick". And he has found that path - no pompous dick would be this open, this honest, this raw about themselves.
What do I make of it all? Simply that this is a book that I think everyone should read, regardless of age and gender. And more than that, I think this is a book that middle-aged men must read. Oh, and if, like me, you used to watch Peep Show then inevitably the first-person narrative of this book will have you hearing Robert's voice in your head, Jez-style. But that's not a bad thing, is it?
I rarely enjoy celebrity autobiographies, but read 'How Not To Be A Boy' in one long weekend binge. I didn't want it to end, and wish Robert were a real-life friend of mine so that I could ask him about all the unfinished stories that developed through the course of his memoir. The book will, I think, appeal to both men and women but perhaps not while they themselves are still young.