'Boys don't cry, boys are good at sport, boys don't fall in love with other boys, men are good at directions... ' In this memoir, Robert Webb, comedy writer and actor of Peep Show, That Mitchell and Webb Look and Concrete Cow, examines these 'rules"'about masculinity and asks whether they are actually of any use.
"I don't know what the words 'masculinity' and 'femininity' have to offer. Avoiding them, we still have a massive language of more precise words to describe individuals and their behaviour which somehow manage not to come pre-loaded with a steam tanker of gender manure from the last century. If we want to say that David beckham puts a lot of thought into his appearance, then we can say... oh, I've just done it. I didn't need to bring his sex into it. Or his attitude to sex...I could say that Lily Allen's songs are full of swearwords which are at odds with her 'femininity' - or I could get a life."
How Not To Be A Boy takes the reader from Webb's traumatic early childhood with his abusive father, through his school days, crushes and relationships to his years at Cambridge where he met his friend and co-conspirator David Mitchell. He shares his embarrassments as well as his successes, and reflects on the various role models who contributed to his ideas about what makes a boy, and a man.
The book is harrowing in parts, especially his experiences with his father, his mother's death from cancer and Webb's subsequent depression and anxiety. He writes frankly about his own failures as a boyfriend, husband and father, and what he has learned from them. There are also plenty of lighter moments, such as his experiences with football: "It's a long pass and I welcome the sight of the ball arching towards me in the same way that a quadriplegic nudist covered in jam welcomes the sight of a hornet"
While this book will no doubt appeal to Webb's fans, it will probably have a broader appeal as well since so much of what he talks about is universal, or nearly so. Even if you have never heard of him there will be something in here to relate to, be it gender stereotypes, teenage awkwardness, young love, grief or the music of Michael Jackson. How to Be a Boy is thoughtful, entertaining and thoroughly readable.
Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy of this book by Cannongate Books US, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.